Loudoun County Circuit Court Judge James P. Fisher ruled on Thursday that a recent psychological report done on Douglas Johnson, the man charged with attempting to murder two Sheriff’s Office deputies on Christmas Eve 2017, would not be admitted as evidence in the upcoming jury trial.
On Dec. 24, 2017, Loudoun deputies Katherine Fischer, Tim Iversen, and Justin Nyce responded to a domestic dispute at Johnson’s Sterling home at about 4 p.m. After an hour-long effort to deescalate a days-long dispute between Johnson, 41, and his then-19-year-old daughter, deputies decided to arrest Johnson on a domestic violence charge.
Johnson, a former U.S. Army major who was awarded a Bronze Star after serving 42 months in combat zones and who was working in the intelligence field with the highest level of security clearance, allegedly then became agitated, went to an upstairs closet, refused to come out and lunged for a 1911 .45-caliber handgun. Fischer then jumped on Johnson’s back while Iverson attempted to activate his TASER. Johnson then fired three shots, two of which hit Iverson in his arm and both legs and Fischer in her leg. A third bullet was found lodged in Iverson’s vest.
In May 2018, a grand jury issued 11 felony indictments against Johnson—two counts of attempted capital murder, two counts of aggravated malicious assault, four counts of use of a firearm in committing a felony and three counts of discharging a firearm inside a building.
On Thursday, Fisher ruled that a forensic psychological report prepared on June 26 by Dr. Stephen Lally—who reported that Johnson suffered from “moderate to severe depression and PTSD” at the time of the shooting and was actually attempting to kill himself rather than the deputies—contained speculative opinions and failed to establish clinical findings for an insanity defense because it did not describe “irresistible impulse,” but instead described Johnson in a “frenzy” at the time he shot the deputies.
Fisher said that admitting the report as evidence in the trial would be “extraordinarily confusing” for the jury. He simultaneously ruled that Lally’s testimony on Johnson’s mental state during the time of the shooting would not be allowed.
Lisa Caruso, Johnson’s defense attorney, argued that Lally’s report described Johnson’s action as being an irresistible impulse in which he meant to commit suicide and not shoot at deputies. She said that Johnson didn’t have a premeditated plan to kill himself, but that he resolved to do it in a single instant. “In that moment, he realized it was over,” she said.
But Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Sean Morgan argued that an irresistible impulse to commit a crime separate from what a person is charged with can’t be used as a not guilty by reason of insanity defense.
Morgan also argued that admitting Lally’s report and testimony in the trial as evidence would have misguided the jury’s outlook on the case by presupposing for its members that Lally’s report should have been interpreted as the truth. He said jury members should decide on what the truth is on their own, without influence from the witness stand.
Fisher also ruled on Thursday that Caruso would be allowed to obtain copies of interview video recordings of Fischer, Iversen and Nyce, which are in the possession of the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office. Caruso said that Sheriff Mike Chapman was unwilling to release the recordings for her review without a court order.
In Caruso’s request for the videos to help build Johnson’s case, she wrote that the videos contain “favorable information to [Johnson] not previously disclosed, inconsistent statements and evidence of prejudice and bias.”
Johnson’s five-day jury trial is scheduled for Aug. 19-23. If convicted on all charges, he could face up to two life terms in prison for twice attempting capital murder; two life terms for two counts of aggravated malicious assault; 13 years for an initial count and two subsequent counts of using a firearm in committing a felony; and up to 30 years for three counts of discharging a firearm indoors if done maliciously and up to 15 years if done without malice.