Murder Plea Deal in Carter County

11-21-06 - A man accused of beating his wife to death more than a year ago has pleaded guilty to the crime. Mark Johnston was supposed to head to trial Monday in the death of Phyllis Johnston, his wife of three years. Instead, he confessed to the crime and entered a guilty plea on Tuesday.

When Judge Card asked him what happened on the night of June 17th, 2005, he said he was high on drugs and struck Phyllis, causing her death.

It was Johnston himself who called 911. When deputies arrived to the couple's home north of Lone Grove, they found the woman dead on the floor, and Johnston drenched in blood.

A medical examiner later determined the couple fought on and off throughout the night. Phyllis was struck not just once, but 45 times with a cane.

Because the family did not think they could handle the rigors of a trial, the D.A. struck a deal with Johnston, in exchange for a lesser sentence.

Assistant District Attorney Johnny Loard said Tuesday, "This will give them the closure that was their hope. If they went ahead they could start the healing process, put case behind them. I think certainly getting this case resolved today will help them do that."

The state was seeking the death penalty. Now, Johnston will spend the rest of his life in a maximum security prison.

Johnston has 10 days to appeal his decision, but he told the judge he does not wish to do that.