EXCLUSIVE: Person of interest in ‘stray round’ killing has history of weapons offenses

Lee’s note: I just published this on the Herald-Tribune site.

by Lee Williams

SARASOTA COUNTY — When he shot a protester outside of Sarasota’s Planned Parenthood with a pellet gun on Nov. 19, 2004, Todd Johnson was only 18 years old.

The projectile struck a sign that the man was carrying.

The protester was not harmed.

The man carrying the sign told police that Johnson and a girlfriend walked out of Planned Parenthood and were leaving in a Volkswagen Golf, when the protester walked toward them and asked if he could talk to them about the facility.

“As the victim approached, the driver pointed what appeared to be a handgun out the passenger window of the car and fired a shot,” a Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office report of the incident states. “The victim said he heard something strike the sign he was carrying in front of his chest.”

Johnson sped away, but the protester got his license number.

Todd C. Johnson, in a 2004 booking photo provided by the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office

Todd C. Johnson, in a 2004 booking photo provided by the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office

Deputies found him outside a store on South Tamiami Trail.

Johnson admitted being at Planned Parenthood and exchanging words with the protester, but he denied shooting anyone.

His girlfriend, however, told the lawmen that Johnson shot the protester with the pellet pistol, which he had taken from inside her home.

Johnson was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

He pleaded guilty, but the adjudication of his guilty plea was withheld, and he was sentenced to 90 days of probation.

A month prior to the Planned Parenthood shooting, deputies found a pair of brass knuckles in Johnson’s pants pocket, when he and several others were patted-down after a disturbance. They charged him with carrying a concealed weapon, a first-degree misdemeanor.

Now, Sarasota County Sheriff’s detectives have interviewed Johnson several times about the shooting death of 48-year-old David Morse.

Morse was killed on May 16 by a single .22 caliber bullet that investigators say they believe was fired from the backyard of 4632 N. Shade Ave., where Johnson lives with his mother and stepfather, April and Michael Lipstein.

Someone at the home had hung a target on the wooden fence in the backyard. The fatal round passed easily through the thin wood and traveled 200 yards before striking Morse.

On May 17, according to the search warrant affidavit, officials at the Medical Examiner’s Office contacted Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office detectives and said they had found a small-caliber gunshot wound at the base of Morse’s skull. The projectile had fragmented — only pieces were recovered — and did not exit Morse’s skull.

Putting the pieces together

Following a neighborhood canvas, detectives were told about an accidental shooting at Johnson’s home, which occurred about a month before Morse was killed.

Johnson had shot himself in the knee with a .40 caliber Glock 22 “while cleaning his gun.”

During an interview about Morse’s death, Johnson allegedly denied shooting any firearms, and instead claimed he had friends over at his house that may have fired his gun.

Johnson voluntarily turned over ammunition and a . 22 caliber rifle to detectives, who asked him to meet them at the Sheriff’s Office for a

David Morse

David Morse

more formal interview.

He never showed up, so the detectives went back to Johnson’s home to talk with him.

During this interview, Johnson claimed he and some friends were drinking during the afternoon of May 15.

“Johnson further stated he showed his friends his new . 22 caliber firearm,” reports state. “Johnson claimed he consumed too much alcohol and passed out on the living room couch. Johnson claimed one of his friends may have taken his firearm and discharged it in the backyard while he was passed out.”

He refused to name his five friends.

But a family friend, the wife of a Sarasota County deputy whom Johnson confided in, told investigators that Johnson had told her that his girlfriend was going to testify he was passed out during the shooting, but that he fired the gun.

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About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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