Charges dropped against widow in attorney's death

By Ed White

Associated Press Writer

FARMINGTON HILLS (AP) -- Prosecutors who received an unexpected autopsy result dropped a murder charge Wednesday against a woman who had been accused of killing her ailing husband as a result of a botched at-home medical procedure.

Authorities cautioned, however, that Laura Johnson isn't in the clear. They plan to take hospital records and autopsy results to experts for another opinion on the strange death of lawyer Lloyd Johnson.

Nonetheless, the dismissal of charges was a victory for Laura Johnson, a week after her 47-year-old husband died at a suburban Detroit hospital.

"We're relieved it's over," defense attorney John Williams said as he accompanied Johnson on a courthouse elevator.

Johnson, 46, declined to comment as she dabbed her eyes and walked with a cane.

Police found a large pool of blood in Lloyd Johnson's bed, as well as surgical gear and jars of suspected human tissue in the couple's home. The Oakland County prosecutor last week filed charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter and unlawful practice of medicine against his widow.

But on Tuesday medical examiner L.J. Dragovic said Johnson's death was not a homicide. He said it was an accident due to an open wound on his lower back from an old boating injury that hadn't healed. Dragovic noted other factors: Johnson weighed 413 pounds and had diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis and other ailments.

In asking a judge to dismiss the charges, assistant prosecutor Paul Walton explained why they were filed. He said Lloyd Johnson, although unable to speak, nodded affirmatively when asked at Botsford Hospital if his wife had performed surgery on him.

"The patient's father, mother as well as son believe that the wife is trying to intentionally harm the patient by ... giving him extra medication as well as performing unnecessary procedures," Walton said, quoting a medical report.

Laura Johnson told one of Lloyd Johnson's children that she thought she had killed him, Walton said.

Outside court, the prosecutor said he doesn't believe Laura Johnson intended to kill her husband but the second-degree murder charge is appropriate when authorities find a "disregard for human life."

Walton said it's sometimes filed, for example, in cases of death caused by a drunken driver.

"You have a victim that has compromised health," Walton said of Lloyd Johnson. "You have an individual who has committed some type of act that furthers the deterioration of health. ... There was a tremendous amount of loss of blood."

Johnson's lawyer has said she had provided wound care for two years and was "vindicated" by the medical examiner's findings.

Walton addressed criticism that the prosecutor's office was too quick to charge Laura Johnson before the autopsy results were in. He said police had much evidence and authorities also were concerned about her fleeing with her two young sons. She was arrested at a school last week.

"That starts the clock ticking for us," Walton said.

Published: Fri, Oct 1, 2010