Jurors deliberating life or death decision for convicted killer

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A death penalty decision is coming soon for a man convicted of murdering a Kerman couple twelve years ago.

Prosecutors gave closing arguments in the penalty phase Monday and then defense attorneys argued Tuesday that Leroy Johnson does not belong on Death Row.

The same jury that unanimously agreed Johnson murdered Gary and Sandra De Bartolo during a 2009 marijuana robbery is now making a life or death decision.

Johnson's defense attorneys spent weeks telling jurors how Johnson ended up in his seat in court.

They say he suffered emotional and physical abuse as a child, including a parent figure who would throw him against a wall.

"That's not parenting," said defense attorney David Mugridge, who's working Johnson's case with help from defense attorney Mark King. "That's abuse. That's what he suffered. Abuse. Call it whatever you like. But it's abuse, plain and simple. And what effect did that have on him?"

One doctor diagnosed Johnson with a brain disorder resulting in poor impulse control.

His defense team also traced Johnson's ancestry to slaves in Arkansas during the Civil War and argued that's still affecting Johnson today.

"Inter-generational trauma is real," Mugridge said. "Trauma affects the brain. It gets transferred from one person down to another."

Jurors can weigh just about anything in their decision to sentence Johnson to either death or life in prison without parole.

Prosecutors argued the circumstances of the crime were brutal.

Johnson slit the victims' throats, surprising everyone involved in the robbery plan.

And he already had a violent criminal history.

Mugridge argued Johnson has been a well-behaved inmate at the Fresno County jail and choked up as he asked the jury to spare his client's life.

"He is, despite everything else, a human being who is deserving of love and mercy and compassion," Mugridge said.

The jury deliberated about the punishment for a few hours Tuesday.

They spent parts of four days in August deliberating Johnson's guilt.
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