Bellmead man who killed in-laws during family cookout convicted of capital murder, sentenced to life in prison
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - A Bellmead man who shot and killed his mother-in-law and father-in-law during a family cookout in 2020 was sentenced to life in prison without parole Wednesday.
Jurors in Waco’s 54th State District Court deliberated about an hour before rejecting Johnny Alvin Wilson’s self-defense claims and convicting him of capital murder in the deaths of Rachel Strickland, 40, and Christopher Wilson, 42, the grandparents of his 3-year-old son.
Because prosecutors Staci Johnson and Donald McCarthy did not seek the death penalty, Judge Susan Kelly sentenced the 39-year-old Wilson, who has a previous murder conviction in Arkansas, to an automatic life prison term with no possibility for parole.
Wilson, who did not testify during the three-day trial, told Texas Rangers in a videotaped interview after his arrest that he was fearful of Christopher Wilson and his brother because they had threatened him numerous times over the last several years. He finally admitted killing Strickland and Wilson, who divorced three years before their deaths, but initially told the Rangers that he had a memory blackout and could not recall killing them.
Christopher Wilson and Johnny Wilson were first cousins and family members were not happy that Johnny Wilson married his second cousin, Ashley, and had a baby with her.
Ashley Wilson, 24, who married Johnny Wilson in 2018 after her father threw her out of the house, testified for the defense, while her brother, Landon Wilson, 16, and Haley Wilson, 18, testified for the prosecution. Johnson lauded the courage of Landon and Haley Wilson after the trial.
“Haley and Landon Wilson had to grow up very quickly and did a job most adults could not do by having the courage to stand up to their parents’ killer,” Johnson said. “Along with the help of some passionate police officers and an attentive jury, they received justice for their family.”
After Wilson was sentenced, three of the victims’ family members, including Haley Wilson and Strickland’s mother, angrily chided Wilson during emotional victim impact statements.
“You took my baby, my only daughter,” the woman said. “Why? Because you are a coward. You are not brave enough to do anything and I hope all the people you go see in prison that each and every one of them sees what a coward you are.”
Another family member told Wilson that he “stole a precious gem from our family.”
“Rachel was the most beautiful part of all of us,” she said. “She was never cross ways with anyone. She was there to take care of your son when you could not. Her back was turned to you. She begged you not to do that… I am glad you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison and I hope that it is the worst, sickest place that anyone could be sent to.”
Haley Wilson called Wilson selfish and said his actions left her with no parents and sleepless nights.
“You took my mother and dad away from me for no reason,” she said. “I have nothing left. You not only killed one of my parents, you killed both of them. You are only thinking about yourself. You are selfish.”
In defense testimony Wednesday, Ashely Wilson testified that Johnny Wilson let her move in with him on Florida Street in Bellmead after her father kicked her out of the house. They had a son in 2019 and she and her parents were somewhat estranged, even though they lived nearby.
On the night her husband shot her parents, she said Wilson and her father were getting along fine at first, even though he and her mother showed up uninvited to the cookout. She said her father was drinking heavily that evening, a fact confirmed on autopsy by his blood-alcohol level of 0.139%, well over the legal limit for intoxication of 0.08%.
“My father and Johnny got into,” she said. “My father said he was going to come back later that night with his brother and mess up Johnny and take me and my son.”
She said her husband walked away to “cool off” but assured the jury that the threat from her father was real and said her husband, who is small with a disabled right arm, was scared.
She said 30 minutes passed and she went inside to change into her swim suit.
“It was like he wasn’t there,” she said of her husband. “He was physically there, but in his mind, he wasn’t. He just went physically dark.”
She said her husband just “boiled over” after the most-recent threat combined with the many others over the years. Johnny Wilson told his wife’s younger siblings, who were in the pool, to leave. Then he shot her father multiple times. After her mother ran to help him, Johnny Wilson, who reloaded his revolver, stood over her and shot her in the back as she pleaded for her life, she said.
“She said, ‘Don’t do this. Stop,” Ashley Wilson testified.
She told the jury that her father sent her a text message on March 29, 2020, that threatened harm to Johnny Wilson and ended with “my word, my bond.”
In closing statements, defense attorneys John Donahue and Jon Evans told jurors that Wilson was acting in self-defense because he was fearful of Christopher Wilson.
However, Johnson countered that Wilson committed a premeditated, cold-blooded act. She said it was premeditated and not self-defense because he carried a pistol in his waistband that day, he reloaded his gun with a handy speed loader, and he tried to send the teen siblings home so they wouldn’t witness what he was about to do.
“There might have been threats, but no one put their hands on him for 10 years,” Johnson said. “How immediate was that threat?”
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