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After sentencing, reasons for Roy man’s fatal shooting still murky

By Mark Shenefelt - | Sep 20, 2022

BEN DORGER, Standard-Examiner file photo

The 2nd District Court is seen on Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, in downtown Ogden.

OGDEN — Judge Jennifer Valencia gave Daniel Lee Johnson one more chance to explain why his neighbor ended up dead, shot in the head with a .45 caliber pistol and his body dumped in Ogden.

“I did not mean for any of this to happen the way it happened,” Johnson, 49, of Roy, said during his sentencing Sept. 12, according to an audio recording of the proceedings. “I wasn’t thinking correctly, judge.”

“Any other explanation as to why?” she asked. “No,” he said.

Valencia said she respected his right not to say more, noting he may appeal his conviction and sentence. But that did not help her to better parse the events as she considered what sentences to impose.

Police reports and trial testimony said that disputed gambling winnings and methamphetamine deals may have led to the events of April 10, 2021, when Steven Robert Bailey, 38, went to his neighbor’s home. Prosecutors said Johnson shot Bailey in the face, packed his body into Bailey’s car and drove to inner-city Ogden, where he left the car in a church parking lot. Bailey’s decomposing body was found three days later, jammed face down on the floor of the car’s back seat, and Johnson was soon arrested.

Bailey is survived by a 9-year-old daughter, whose letter to the court said, “My dad was so kind. He did everything he could to help everyone in the whole city.”

Johnson’s two children were in his home when the shooting occurred. The court received three character letters in praise of Johnson, including one from his young daughter. “He’s my hero. He’s a kind and caring person,” her letter said.

Defense attorney Randall Marshall told Valencia he believed Johnson “never intended to kill anyone.” During the trial, the defense contended that the gun went off as the two men faced off, the screen door partially open.

“We’re all still left today with questions about why. Why did this have to happen, why the coverup, why the extensive efforts you went to cover up if it was as you described, a tragic accident?” Valencia told Johnson.

The judge questioned why Johnson thought Bailey was there to threaten him, when it was Johnson who sent angry text messages to Bailey beforehand.

“An argument over less than a hundred dollars in gambling money?” she asked. “Taking a man’s life for less than a hundred dollars, or even a month’s rent, or methamphetamine, or whatever was driving this senseless act. I just don’t get it, and I can’t imagine the jury got it either.”

A 2nd District Court jury on July 28 found Johnson guilty on four charges.

Valencia sentenced Johnson to 15 years to life in prison for first-degree felony murder, plus a one-year weapons enhancement. She sentenced him to serve consecutively a one- to 15-year sentence for second-degree felony obstruction of justice and zero to five years for abuse or desecration of a human body, a third-degree felony. The fourth charge, zero to five years for use of a firearm by a restricted person was ordered to run concurrently with the other charges.

Before the sentences were imposed, Bailey’s mother, Johanna Bailey-Graham, told the court that her son had asked her for a check several days before the murder to help Johnson pay his rent. She said she instead would pay the two if they would cut down a tree in her yard.

“I will always wonder if my son would be alive if I had given you a check so you could pay your overdue rent,” she said, addressing Johnson.

She said she was mortified to learn during the trial that instead of taking Bailey to a hospital, “you stuffed my son’s 6-foot-4 body into his car like a pretzel.”

Prosecutor Dean Saunders of the Weber County Attorney’s Office said consecutive sentences were justified because of Johnson’s efforts to get rid of Bailey’s body and clean up the crime scene.

“I have the impression that he’s still somehow blaming the victim for what happened and trying to justify it based on drug use and other things that were going on,” Saunders said. “But to do this in front of your own children I think is absolutely an aggravating factor. And to make them walk past Steven’s body as they’re going to the neighbor’s house I think is just inexcusable.”

The sentences mean Johnson is expected to serve at least 18 years in prison. The rest will be up to the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole. Valencia noted a presentence investigation also recommended that Johnson take an anger management course at the prison.

Marshall, Johnson’s attorney, on Thursday filed a notice of appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, challenging the jury verdicts and Valencia’s sentencing decisions.

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