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Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Sadist
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: February 7/August 19, 1997
Date of birth: October 24, 1954
Victims profile: Janice Nugent / Leanne Coryell
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Hillsborough County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 13, 2000

Florida Supreme Court

opinion SC00-979 opinion SC01-1914

DC#  927442
DOB:  10/24/54

Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Hillsborough County Case # 97-13379
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Diana Allen
Attorneys, Trial: Kenneth Littman & Joseph Registrato – Assistant Public Defenders
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Steven Bolotin – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals: David Hendry – CCRC-M

Date of Offense: 08/19/97

Date of Sentence: 03/13/00

Circumstances of Offense:

Leanne Coryell was a clinical orthodontist assistant and left work at 8:38 p.m. on the evening of 08/19/97.  She then went to a grocery store and left the store at 9:23 p.m. 

Her body was discovered at 10:30 p.m. floating in a pond on the property of St. Timothy’s Church. 

Forensic investigation determined that Coryell died from manual strangulation and had wounds that suggested impact from a blunt weapon.  Also, vertical scrapes on her back suggested that she was dragged to the pond. 

Two unusually shaped bruises on Coryell’s buttocks led forensic experts to conclude that she was beaten with her own belt prior to death.  Coryell’s body also showed internal and external injuries to the vagina, consistent with penetration. 

Her clothes were found on a nearby embankment and impressions were taken of shoe prints found near the clothing.  Coryell’s black Infiniti was in the church’s parking lot with the keys in the ignition and the engine still warm.  Police were able to life a fingerprint, later matched to Ray Johnston, from the exterior of the car.

ATM surveillance photos showed a person withdrawing $500 from Coryell’s bank account and these photos were given to the news media, which aired them.  A friend of Ray Johnston saw the photos and called police. 

Based on telephone calls identifying Johnston, police obtained a search warrant for his apartment and found a pair of wet tennis shoes and shorts.  The imprints from the tennis shoes matched three partial impressions from the crime scene.

Johnston saw his photo on television and volunteered to give a statement to police.  In the statement, he told police that he was a friend of Coryell and that they had gone out to dinner a few times. 

According to Johnston, he withdrew the money from Coryell’s account to repay a loan she had obtained from him.  Johnston justified the wet shoes found by police by saying that he had jumped in a hot tub, shoes and all, after a run. 

Johnston also called a pen pal and asked her to provide a false alibi for him, by telling his attorneys that she was working out with Johnston on the night of the murder.

Additional Information:

Johnston was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of Janice Nugent (Case # 99-11338).

During the penalty phase in the Coryell murder trial, the State introduced testimony from three victims of prior violent felonies committed by Johnston.  Each testified that Johnston grabbed them, placed a hunting knife to their throats, and forced them to undress, bound, or beat them with a belt. 

Trial Summary:

09/10/97          Indicted as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder
Count II:          Kidnapping
Count III:         Robbery
Count IV:          Sexual Battery
Count V:           Burglary of a Conveyance

06/17/99          Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment

06/17/99          Jury recommended death by a vote of 12-0

03/13/00          Sentenced as follows:

Count I:           First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II:          Kidnapping – Life Imprisonment
Count III:         Robbery – 15 years
Count IV:          Sexual Battery – Life Imprisonment
Count V:           Burglary of a Conveyance – Life Imprisonment

Case Information:

Johnston filed a Direct Appeal with the Florida Supreme Court on 05/03/00, citing the following errors: juror misconduct; failing to ascertain the effect of pretrial publicity; failing to instruct the jury and failing to address the mitigating factors of extreme mental or emotional disturbance.  On 12/05/02, the FSC affirmed the convictions and sentences.

Johnston filed a 3.850 Motion with the Circuit Court on 03/16/04 and amended the Motion on 06/11/04 and 12/08/05.  The Motion is pending.



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