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Alis Ben JOHNS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 3
Date of murders: 1996 - 1997
Date of arrest: April 7, 1997 (wounded by police)
Date of birth: August 21, 1961
Victims profile: Thomas Stewart / Leonard Voyles / Wilma Bragg
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Pulaski County, Missouri, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on February 22, 1999

State of Missouri, Respondent, v. Alis B. Johns

Supreme Court Case Number: SC81479

Case Facts:

Alis Johns began spending time with Thomas Stewart in the spring of 1996. Both men traveled in the same circles and spent considerable time drinking alcohol together.

On the night of October 1, 1996, Johns accepted a ride from Stewart's girlfriend, Deborah Tedder. Stewart, who had been fighting with Tedder earlier in the day, followed in his truck and eventually confronted Johns and Tedder on rural Highway KK in Pulaski County. All three individuals were intoxicated.

The confrontation became violent, and two of Tedder's car windows were shattered. At some point, Johns exited the automobile with a .22 caliber pistol. Johns shot Stewart seven times, killing him.

At 10:00 p.m., Robert and Christina Deardeuff passed by the scene while returning home from a family gathering. They saw Stewart's gray Chevrolet truck stopped in the northbound lane with a small white car in close proximity. Robert also noticed a man lying face down between the automobile and the truck.

As they approached the second vehicle, Robert slowed down to offer his assistance. But Johns admonished them several times, "Everything's all right -- just go on." After the Deardeuffs left the scene, Johns and Tedder fled in Tedder's car.

Approximately one hour later, Kristine Brockes came upon Stewart's truck while returning from her job at Ft. Leonard Wood. She found Stewart's body lying face down behind the truck and called the police.

Paramedics and law enforcement officers arrived shortly thereafter. Though police were unable to find the murder weapon, they did recover seven .22 caliber shell casings, which were resting in close proximity to one another approximately fifteen feet from Stewart's body.

In addition to the shell casings, police found a pile of glass and two spots of blood where Tedder's car had been parked. The next morning, police found an eighth shell casing that had come to rest within a few feet from where the victim's body had been.

The police apprehended Tedder the next morning. Tedder indicated that Johns might have been involved in Stewart's death.

While questioning Tedder, the officers noticed two types of damage to Tedder's car: two shattered windows and a puncture to the left rear quarter that looked like a bullet hole. They also found what appeared to be a splatter of blood on the fender. Local law enforcement began searching for Johns.

Johns had been living on a small farm that was owned by Pearl Rose. When police arrived at the farm, however, Johns was already on the run. The officers searched the premises and recovered several .22 caliber shell casings, which were sent to the Missouri State Highway Patrol Crime Lab and compared to shells found at the scene of Stewart's death.

The lab could not confirm that the shells were used in the same gun. But, the lab did identify certain class characteristics of the casings that were consistent with the shells found at the murder scene.

Johns evaded capture for the next six months. During this time, Johns was implicated in two murders and several robberies.

On February 7, 1997, Ron Wilson returned to his home to find Johns standing on the front porch with a shotgun that he had just stolen from inside. After firing once into the ceiling and once at Wilson, Johns fled with Wilson's car, two guns, a hunting knife, and a watch.

On February 26, 1997, Johns forcibly entered the home of Bud and Melinda Veverka and held the couple at gunpoint while he warmed himself by the stove. This robbery proved largely unsuccessful, as Johns was only able to steal two dollars, a wallet, and some juice. Though no one was injured in these robberies, Johns' next victims were less fortunate.

On February 28, 1997, police found Leonard Voyles lying dead in his Camden County home. He died of a single .22 caliber gunshot wound to the head. An inventory of the home revealed that Voyles' Ford Ranger truck and his .22 caliber rifle were missing.

The subsequent police investigation uncovered a shoe print on the property that identically matched Johns' right boot. In addition, law enforcement officers recovered Johns' fingerprints from Voyles' stolen truck, which was found on March 8, 1997.

Three miles away, police also found the dead body of Wilma Bragg on March 9, 1997. The investigation revealed that Bragg's assailant shot her two times in the back of the head while she lay face down on her bed with her hands tied behind her back.

DNA testing of a cigarette butt implicated Johns in the murder and impression analysis confirmed that the rifle stolen from Voyles' home was subsequently used to kill Bragg. Johns left with Bragg's 1991 Toyota, which was later recovered with the rifle still inside.

During the following weeks, Johns and his girlfriend, Beverly Guehrer, burglarized four additional homes. At each home, Johns left fingerprints or took property that was later found in his possession.

On April 7, 1997, the crime spree came to an end when officers of the Missouri Water Patrol encountered Johns in a cabin while searching Cole Camp Creek in Benton County.

As the officers approached the cabin, Johns threw open the door and emerged with Guehrer held in front of him as a human shield. With one arm around Guehrer's neck and the other aiming a rifle at her head, Johns said, "I've got a hostage. I'll shoot her."

As Johns made a sudden movement to escape, Officer Eric Gottman shot him in the abdomen and placed him under arrest.


Supreme Court of Missouri

Case Style: State ex rel. Alis Ben Johns, Relator v. The Honorable Greg Kays, Respondent.

Case Number: SC86936

Handdown Date: 01/10/2006

Appeal From: Original Proceeding in Prohibition

Opinion Summary:

Alis Ben Johns filed a postconviction motion for relief from his first-degree murder conviction and death sentence in Pulaski County. The motion court determined that Johns is not eligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and section 565.030, RSMo 2000, because he is mentally retarded. The state did not appeal that decision, which now is final. Jones now seeks to prohibit the state, which is prosecuting him for first-degree murder in Camden County, from seeking the death penalty in that case.


Court en banc holds: Because collateral estoppel applies here, the state is bound by the Pulaski County judgment finding that Johns is mentally retarded and, therefore, is prohibited from seeking the death penalty in the Camden County case. A writ of prohibition is appropriate. Regardless of whether the prosecutor might waive the death penalty or the jury might not impose it, the Camden County trial court lacks the authority to act to treat the case as one in which the death penalty is sought.

Opinion Author: PER CURIAM



Alis Ben Johns was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in Pulaski County. This Court affirmed that judgment. State v. Johns, 34 S.W.3d 93 (Mo. banc 2000). Johns then filed a post-conviction motion. The motion court determined that Johns was mentally retarded and, therefore, not eligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304 (2002), and section 565.030, RSMo 2000. The state did not appeal the motion court's judgment, which is now final.

Johns is now charged with first degree murder in Camden County. Relying on the prior finding that he is mentally retarded, Johns seeks to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty in the Camden County case. The state is bound by the earlier judgment of mental retardation. The preliminary writ, as modified, is made absolute.

In deciding whether collateral estoppel applies, the following four factors are considered: (1) is the issue in the present case identical to the issue decided in the prior adjudication; (2) was there a judgment on the merits in the prior adjudication; (3) is the party against whom collateral estoppel asserted the same party or in privity with a party in the prior adjudication; and (4) did the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted have a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the prior suit. The doctrine applies only to those issues that were necessarily and unambiguously decided. State v. Nunley, 923 S.W.2d 911, 922 (Mo. banc 1996).

The Respondent acknowledges these factors exist in this case. Relying on State v. Lundy, he argues, nevertheless, that collateral estoppel also requires that a party seeking to take advantage of collateral estoppel must be bound by an adverse judgment in the prior adjudication. Such a reading of Lundy overlooks that that case involved different defendants and that case's acknowledgment that collateral estoppel generally does apply if the defendant is the same person in both cases. State v. Lundy, 829 S.W.2d 54, 56 (Mo. App. 1992).

In this case, the parties agree the factors stated in Nunley are present. Lundy does not add an additional requirement where the defendant is the same person in both cases.
Respondent also argues this case does not warrant the issuance of a writ because Johns is not yet subject to the death penalty because the prosecutor may waive the penalty or the jury may not impose the penalty. A writ is appropriate where a lower tribunal lacks the power to act as contemplated. State ex rel. Riverside Joint Venture v. Missouri Gaming Com'n, 969 S.W.2d 218, 221 (Mo. banc 1998). Whether the death penalty is available affects the preparation for trial and the conduct of the trial. For example, if the death penalty is not available, each party is entitled to three fewer peremptory challenges. State v. Boston, 910 S.W.2d 306, 312 (Mo. App. 1995). As the death penalty cannot be imposed in this case, the trial court lacks the authority to act to honor these additional peremptory challenges or to otherwise treat the case as one in which the death penalty is sought.

The alternative writ is made absolute, as modified, to prohibit the state from seeking the death penalty in the underlying cause.

All concur.

Separate Opinion:



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