EVERETT — It took jurors less than five hours to agree that the stabbing of Jae An, a mini-mart clerk, was a planned aggravated murder.
Michealob Johnson, 27, of Everett, sat between his two defense attorneys as he heard his guilty verdict read Wednesday in Snohomish County Superior Court. The defendant was convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder.
Johnson faces only one possible sentence: life in prison without parole. A sentencing date has not been scheduled.
A jury of four men and eight women sat through nearly two weeks of witness testimony and evidence before Judge Bruce Weiss asked them to begin deliberation Tuesday.
Whether Johnson killed An and tried to kill a bystander — acts captured on video — was not the central question in the trial. The jury was tasked with deciding whether those actions were premeditated.
On April 22, 2019, Johnson hatched a plan to rob the mini-mart at 6901 Broadway in Everett to pay his rent, according to court papers. He lived nearby and had shopped at the market a few times, he said in a police interview.
The defendant donned a blue poncho and latex gloves before he climbed out his bedroom window and walked to the store armed with three knives. He arrived around 10 p.m., charging papers say.
In closing arguments Tuesday, deputy prosecutor Matt Hunter asserted the defendant left his home that night with a plan to kill An, 58, who owned the store.
“If this was all about a robbery and only about a robbery,” Hunter told the courtroom, “and the plan was only to threaten or scare Mr. An and demand money, what do you need a backup knife for? … He planned on using the knife, and that’s why he brought a backup, and a backup to the backup.”
Defense attorney Tiffany Mecca argued Johnson experienced a mental health episode when he walked into the market, because the defendant suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Johnson’s actions that night “were impulsive,” Mecca told the jury. “They were un-premeditated, and he is not guilty of aggravated premeditated murder because nobody was supposed to die — Mr. An was not supposed to die.”
Clips from security footage on the night of the attack were shown to the jury Tuesday during the prosecutor’s closing argument.
Jurors saw Johnson walk into the store, walk to the back and grab a water bottle. They heard Johnson greet An. Then they saw the defendant — cloaked in his poncho, hiding a knife — approach the counter and smile at An.
Four seconds later, the video showed the defendant lunge over the counter and attack An, stabbing his throat.
The video shows a woman walk into the mini-mart soon after the attack. Johnson met her at the entrance and tried to slash her throat, too. She caught the blade. The knife broke at the hilt and she escaped.
Most murders so clearly caught on video never make it to trial, the prosecutor said in an interview. He sympathized with the jury for having to sit through the graphic footage.
In the defense’s closing argument, Mecca played a video of a detective interviewing Johnson after the attack. The attorney argued the defendant’s apparent state of confusion pointed to a lack of a plan.
Mecca emphasized the defendant’s words: “There’s no chance he survived that, is there? What’s the chance that he survived that?”
“Those are the words of Michealob Johnson,” Mecca told the jury, “as he sat in a small interrogation room for hours in the middle of the night, desperately trying to make sense of what had just happened in the Broadway grocery.”
The jury did not buy that story.
At a vigil shortly after the killing, friends and longtime customers remembered An as “nothing but kindness.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen