LEAGUE CITY – Cook Memorial Cemetery in Liberty, with its historic graves, some of which are more than 150 years old, seems the perfect final resting place for Anne-Christine Johnson — peaceful, quiet and beautiful, said Stephanie Johnson, her mother.
Stephanie Johnson ventured over to the historic cemetery to visit her daughter’s grave a few hours after she delivered a victim’s statement Monday in a courtroom where Shaun Philip Hardy, 35, the man who killed her daughter, was sentenced to 30 years in prison as part of a plea agreement.
After devoting her energy to Hardy’s prosecution for almost three years, Stephanie Johnson was filled with an odd mix of relief and frustration, she said.
Hardy was sentenced for killing his former wife in late 2016 and keeping her body in a suburban garage for more than two weeks, prosecutors said.
Ultimately, there are no words to describe how she felt about it all, Stephanie Johnson said.
“To be clear, I would prefer to take my chances at trial because I think a Galveston jury would be quite capable of seeing through Shaun’s lies,” she said.
“But I guess there is some comfort in knowing he will at least do some time and finally admit that he slaughtered my daughter in cold blood,” Stephanie Johnson said.
“Dec. 8 will mark the third anniversary of her death, and in the intervening years he has merrily dragged us through every legal maneuver his attorneys could think of, and his father could pay for.”
In the agreement, Hardy pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 years for murder and 20 years for tampering with evidence, according to court records. Hardy will serve the sentences concurrently.
Stephanie Johnson, along with the slain woman’s father and one of her siblings, read victim impact statements during the sentencing hearing, Stephanie Johnson said.
“By law, you must spend at least 15 years of your 30-year sentence behind bars,” she told Hardy. “But I am a lifer sentenced to the cruel-and-unusual punishment of trying to forget the grisly details you voluntarily provided of my daughter’s slaughter at your hands.”
Hardy broke down in tears while being led from the courtroom, she said.
Hardy told police his former wife had been holding a knife, which he kicked, plunging it into her chest, according to case records.
He then slipped a plastic Kroger bag over Johnson’s head to put her “out of her misery” because the knife wound had caused her to cough and gurgle, according to a probable cause affidavit.
“You’re a fabulist,” Stephanie Johnson told Hardy on Monday. “We’ll never know the truth of how or why or even when you finally decided to desecrate Anne-Christine.”
Hardy’s attorneys broached the possibility of a plea agreement with prosecutors a few weeks ago; but District Attorney Jack Roady instructed his team to reject any agreement that didn’t include Hardy pleading guilty to murder and receiving a sentence of at least 30 years, Chief Assistant District Attorney Paul Love said.
“The family has been living with this,” Love said. “The key is that he pleaded guilty to the murder charge and is gone for a significant period of time. That would have been the whole point of trial, for him to be found guilty. This gets him to plead guilty.”
Ever since late 2016, when Hardy was arrested, and just after police found Johnson’s body wrapped in plastic sheets, prosecutors including Love, and Stephanie Johnson, have endured several setbacks.
Defense attorneys first convinced a judge to disallow jurors from hearing one of two recorded statements Hardy gave after his arrest, and later to grant a continuance, pushing back a trial date, because several documents had not been turned over to the defense team.
Even after Monday’s plea agreement, the story isn’t over for Stephanie Johnson. She’s fighting Hardy’s father in court over custody of one of Anne-Christine Johnson’s children.
“He’s still fighting me in court over access to my grandson, who lived in the house for two weeks while his mother decomposed in the garage,” she said.
Because the case is in family court, all of the files are sealed. Attorneys for the Hardy family did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
Hardy will be eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence, Love said.
Shortly before Anne-Christine Johnson’s death, she wrote to a friend that she planned to help other women escape abusive relationships once she was done with Hardy, Stephanie Johnson said.
“Anne-Christine’s words challenge us all to help save battered women like her from abusers,” she told Hardy in the statement Monday.
“Instead of asking ‘why did she stay,’ we should wonder how easily victims of domestic violence are controlled by people like you, marginalized by police and retraumatized by a legal system obligated to protect them.”
Matt deGrood: 409-683-5230; firstname.lastname@example.org