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2nd jury agrees: Killer should die

Judge will make the final decision for an inmate convicted in the slayings of two women.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 19, 2000


TAMPA -- For the second time in two years, a jury has recommended that Ray Lamar Johnston die for attacking and strangling a woman.

The jurors who convicted Johnston two weeks ago of killing Janice Marie Nugentspent about an hour Wednesday deciding by a 7-5 vote to send him to death row. Circuit Judge Rex Barbas will make the final decision, although it's rare that a judge goes against a jury's wishes.

The recommendation comes 15 months after a different jury found Johnston guilty of first-degree murder for killing LeAnne Coryell. The judge in that case agreed with the jury's recommendation and sentenced him to death.

The jurors in Nugent's case spent most of the day Wednesday hearing competing arguments as to why Johnston should be put to death or be given a life sentence. The most emotional moment came when Nugent's daughter took the stand to read a statement she had written explaining what her mother had meant to her and the community. The testimony reduced several jurors to tears.

"Losing her was like losing part of me," said Janice McCarthy, as she lost her battle to fight back tears. "It's awkward and strange to talk about her in the past tense."

Police linked Johnston to Nugent's February 1997 slaying soon after his arrest in the August 1997 slaying of Coryell. Malio's restaurant employees said he and Nugent were seen there together.

Nugent, a 47-year-old accountant and licensed massage therapist, was discovered in her bathtub, beaten and strangled. Investigators said there was no forced entry into her home on W Chelsea Avenue, suggesting she knew her attacker.

Johnston, 45, had said he was innocent of killing Nugent and Coryell. Coryell, a 30-year-old dental assistant, was found beaten, strangled and raped not far from her Northdale apartment complex in August 1997. Bank cameras later caught Johnston using her bank card, and Johnston later admitted to killing her.

The jurors in Nugent's case heard about the Coryell killing and details of several other rapes and robberies Johnston committed. One past victim took the stand and detailed how Johnston had raped her in the 1970s.

- Graham Brink can be reached at (813) 226-3365 or brink@sptimes.com.

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