met a woman during the 1990 Christmas holidays. The two became
romantically involved and dated until the early part of 1993. In 1992,
the woman moved to her current residence in Hardeman County, Tennessee.
The home is located on a 175-acre wooded lot.
At approximately 9:15
p.m. on November 16, 1999, the woman returned home from an exercise
class and discovered a man inside her house. When she "started back
toward her car," the man ran out the back door, calling her name. The
woman recognized Young’s voice.
Young told her that he
was not going to hurt her and wanted to speak with her. As they walked
back towards the house, the woman observed that Young was carrying a
sawed-off shotgun "beside his leg."
For the next forty-five
minutes, Young and the woman discussed their families. Young also told
the woman that he had entered her house through the unlocked kitchen
door; however, she insisted that the door had been locked. Thereafter,
Young stood to leave, thanked the woman for everything that she "had
done for him," and asked her not to call "the law."
After Young left, the
woman discovered that her car keys were missing. She then observed the
tail lights of her red Mercedes, which was being backed out of the
garage, and notified the sheriff’s department.
discovered that Young had entered her home by breaking a bedroom window.
That night, the woman went to stay with her step-daughter and did not
return home until December 11, 1999.
The woman’s vehicle was
recovered in Ashland, Mississippi, twenty-three miles from her home. A
local family owned approximately 500 acres of land in Benton County,
Mississippi, just south of Ashland, approximately thirty miles outside
of Collierville, Tennessee.
A storage building on
the property housed trucks, tractors, and several boats. One of the
vehicles inside the building, a 1989 Ford Bronco, belonged to one of the
family members. Other than the man and his father, only the caretaker
had access to the storage building. The keys were kept in the vehicles
inside the storage building.
The 500 acre piece of
property was fenced, and the road leading to the property was blocked by
an iron gate which was locked with a chain and padlock. The storage
building was approximately one-half mile from the gate and was not
visible from the road.
The man verified that
on November 18, 1999, the Bronco was locked inside the storage building,
and the gate to the property was locked. He explained that on the Sunday
preceding November 18, he and his son went to the Benton County property
to practice target shooting. He got about halfway home and realized that
he had left the guns in the Bronco. The three guns left inside the
Bronco were a nine-millimeter pistol, a .22 Weatherby long rifle, and a
.410 chrome shotgun.
Because the Bronco was
locked, he decided to wait until the following week to retrieve the guns.
Within the next day or so the caretaker contacted the man's father and
asked whether he had taken the Bronco. The father responded that he had
not, and, upon learning that the Bronco was missing, his son reported
the vehicle as stolen. He subsequently discovered that a window in the
storage building had been broken and the gate pulled off its hinges. The
Bronco was later discovered in midtown Memphis; however, the three guns
In 1999, Young’s niece
lived at in midtown Memphis. She had not seen Young for approximately
six years when he arrived at her house in November 1999. Young was
driving a Ford Bronco. Young asked his niece if she had a car, and she
replied that she did not. He also inquired whether her father still
lived in Texas, indicating that he might visit him. Young visited with
his niece for approximately forty-five minutes before leaving at 5:00
Around 7:00 p.m. that
evening, Mississippi law enforcement officers arrived at the niece's
residence and asked that she contact them if she again saw Young. Young
returned two days later, but his niece refused to allow him inside her
house. She then contacted the police as instructed.
On November 21, 1999,
the stolen 1989 Ford Bronco was discovered by Memphis Police on the same
block as the niece's residence.
In August 1999, the
twenty-four-year-old victim, Hillary Johnson, a native of Chicago,
received a teaching fellowship in the Philosophy Department at the
University of Memphis. Upon arriving in Memphis, Hillary purchased a
white Hyundai for $1,350.
On November 19, 1999,
Hillary informed her mother that she planned to drive home to Chicago
for the Thanksgiving holiday. Two days later, Hillary's mother attempted
to telephone her daughter to no avail. A fellow graduate student had
planned to meet Hillary that morning and discuss their grading methods
but Hillary never contacted her.
Later that day,
Hillary’s boyfriend telephoned Hillary's mother to inform her that he
had been unable to contact Hillary. She told the young man to let her
know if he still had not heard from Hillary later in the day.
At 10:30 p.m. that
evening, he telephoned to inform Hillary's mother that he had been
unable to locate Hillary. Concerned about Hillary’s whereabouts,
Hillary's mother contacted the police. She also contacted Hillary’s
landlords and asked if they would allow the police to enter the
apartment. In addition to Hillary’s family and the police, Hillary’s
friends began looking for her.
On November 22, 1999,
Memphis Police Officer Kyatonie Jones received a missing person report
from Hillary's mother. She gave the officer Hillary's address and
Officer Jones sent another officer to the apartment to investigate. As a
result of the officer’s investigation, Officer Jones issued a missing-person’s
broadcast on Hillary.
In November 1999, Rick
Marlar, a lieutenant with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, was assigned
to the Criminal Investigative Bureau. Lieutenant Marlar, as well as
other Mississippi Highway Patrol officers, were involved in the search
On November 29, the
officers learned that Hillary’s vehicle had been located in Tippah
County, Mississippi. Lieutenant Marlar proceeded to the location, which
was off in a rural county road area - "very rural area - wooded area -
pine trees, oak trees . . . - there was also a house that might have
been a hunting cabin at one time or an old house place."
No evidence of blood
was discovered in Hillary’s car. A search of the "cabin" revealed opened
cans of food in the kitchen, a ladies jacket in the living room, and
what appeared to be blood on some bed sheets. These stains, however,
turned out to be deer blood and paint.
During the search of
the cabin and surrounding area, Lieutenant Marlar learned of Jessie
Cochran, who lived in the adjoining town just over the state-line in
Tennessee. Young's ex-girlfriend’s residence was approximately fifteen
miles from the location of Hillary’s vehicle if traveling by road, but
only two miles if "cutting through the paths through the woods."
received permission from his superiors and the Hardeman County,
Tennessee Sheriff’s Department to enter the state of Tennessee. A
Hardeman County sheriff’s deputy accompanied Lieutenant Marlar to the
woman’s residence. A partially filled bottle of Diet Coke and a plastic
shopping bag were discovered in the woods between the "cabin" and the
The officers approached
the woman’s residence on foot, leaving their vehicles parked on the main
road. As Lieutenant Marlar reached the front porch, he looked through a
window and observed a "gentleman, later identified as Young, sitting
there watching TV, and it was like a deep freeze directly in front of
him, and the TV was kind of to his left. And on the deep freeze was a
When Young looked up,
Lieutenant Marlar pointed his weapon at him and ordered him to freeze.
Young moved toward his gun, but Lieutenant Marlar cocked his weapon and
told Young he would shoot. Eventually, Young raised his hands and placed
them behind his head. Lieutenant Marlar and the other officers then
entered the residence.
However, Young refused
to comply with their instructions and was forced to the floor.
Lieutenant Marlar discovered a .22 caliber pistol and a filet knife on
Young was arrested and
advised of his constitutional rights. Upon being questioned by police,
Young admitted that he had entered the woman’s residence through a
window and had taken her Mercedes. He stated that he had evaded police
and hid in the woods for two days.
Young then came upon
the storage building in the woods where he discovered the Ford Bronco.
After taking the Bronco, Young traveled to Texas, stopping to see his
sister and niece in Memphis. He subsequently returned to Memphis and
abandoned the Bronco near his niece’s residence.
Young stated that after
his niece informed him that the "law" was looking for him, he "took off
running." Shortly thereafter, he encountered a girl in a white Honda at
a stop sign. Young "jumped in the car, brought her on 64 highway, put
her out between the last subdivision and the store."
Young claimed that,
although he had two guns in his boots, he did not use the weapons to
gain entrance to the vehicle. When Young jumped into the car, the girl
asked him not to hurt her. Young replied, "I ain’t going to hurt you
lady, all I want to do is get away." Young described the girl as "kind
of big girl, brown headed," with short hair.
Young stated that prior
to "putting her out" he took some of her credit cards. He then drove
through Alabama to Florida, back to Alabama, arriving at the ex-girlfriend’s
residence four days later.
While being detained,
Young signed a waiver of rights form. He was informed by Mississippi law
enforcement officers of charges pending against him in Mississippi. He
was advised that he had a right to refuse to return to Mississippi, and
that the officers could then extradite him.
Young was further
advised that he could sign a waiver of extradition and the officers
could transport him immediately to Mississippi. Young signed the waiver
of extradition and was taken into custody by Sheriff F.D. Buddy East of
Lafayette County, Mississippi.
At the Lafayette County
Jail, Young was placed alone in a cell. He had access to a television
and a pay telephone. On November 30, 1999, Memphis Police Sergeant
Gerald Blum and his partner, Sergeant C.W. Cox, traveled to Oxford,
Mississippi, to question Young regarding his involvement in Hillary’s
Young advised Sergeant
Blum that he approached Hillary’s car in midtown Memphis. Armed with two
pistols, he entered the car and forced Hillary to drive around the city
and then along Highway 64. Eventually, he released the victim and drove
away. When Sergeant Blum asked Young about what he should tell the
victim’s family, Young responded, "Tell them I’m not the one that hurt
her. . . . Well, if she’s hurt."
On December 3, 1999,
Special Agents C.M. Sturgis and Joseph N. Rinehart from the Federal
Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Memphis arrived at the Lafayette County
Jail to interview Young. The FBI became involved in the investigation
upon discovering that the offenses had crossed state lines and that
Hillary’s credit card had been used in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida
after she was reported missing.
The agents were met by
Young’s attorney and Sheriff East and taken to Young’s cell. Young was
the only inmate confined to the area, and during the interview he and
the agents sat at a picnic table in the common area outside his cell.
Prior to questioning,
Young was verbally advised of his rights and indicated that he was
willing to speak with the agents. Thereafter, the agents watched
television and discussed general topics with Young. Young was free to
move about the common area and spent much of the time watching a
football game on the television. Young was also provided coffee and food.
After Young ate dinner,
Agent Sturgis took some photographs of Hillary from an envelope and laid
them on the picnic table, remarking that "she was such a pretty child,
and it’s just a shame that we can’t find her." Young ignored the
photographs and returned to his cell.
Shortly thereafter, he
returned to the table, tapped Agent Sturgis on the chest, and said, "Basically,
I’m fixin’ to give you something." He asked for a pen and on the back of
the envelope he drew a little area - looked like an S curve. And then a
round area. And he started describing a field that was ten to fifteen
acres of four-inch, winter-wheat crop that had been planted; that there
was a brush pile directly in - as you pulled in on the cut-in - a little
gravel road off the . . . paved road – that there would be a cropping of
trees to your left, that there would be a large agricultural fuel tank
past the trees that was silver-colored but rusting; and that, "Next to
that, under two pieces of tin, you will find what you’re looking for."
This information was
relayed to other officers, but the officers were unable to locate the
area described by Young. Later that evening, after an exhaustive attempt
by Young to explain where Hillary’s body was located, Sheriff East
suggested that they place Young in a patrol car and allow him to direct
them to the location of the body.
With Young directing
him, Sheriff East drove from Oxford to Olive Branch to - up No. 7, up
into Tennessee, crossed 72, and on up . . . in Tennessee. . . . We went
straight up 7, crossed 72 highway, and kept going. We turned up there to
the left like we was going to Somerville. . . . . We was in Marshall
County. We left Lafayette and went into Marshall, and then we went to
Fayette County, Tennessee, I think."
Sheriff East stated he
"had no earthly idea where he was." It began to rain and was very dark.
Sheriff East explained that he "kept driving around and missing a road
that was hard to find."
instructed Sheriff East to drive "real slow." After taking "another
little turn, Young instructed Sheriff East to drive off the blacktop
into a field. Young then stated, "Right out there to the left under a
piece of tin."
Approximately two and a
half hours after leaving the Lafayette County Jail, the officers
discovered Hillary’s body beside the piece of tin as described by Young.
Darren Goods, a Memphis
Police Officer assigned to the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, was assigned
to the investigation into the disappearance of Hillary. Officer Goods
and his partner, Chad Golden, were alerted that Hillary’s vehicle had
been located in Mississippi. The officers went to Mississippi to escort
the vehicle to Tennessee.
On December 4, 1999,
Sergeant Blum returned to the Lafayette County Jail to interview Young.
During this interview, Young stated that he had taken a Bronco and
driven to Texas. Upon returning to Memphis, his niece advised him that
the police were looking for him. Young left the Bronco parked on the
street and began walking. As he crossed the street, a girl drove up and
asked him a question.
Young stated, "I jumped
in the car with her, . . . told her I needed a way to get out of town
and . . . took her and her car, out of town. I dumped her off out there
in Shelby County and I hid her body under some tin."
Young admitted that he
had two weapons on his person, but stated that they were concealed in
his boots. He advised the girl that he was not going to hurt her, and
she did not fight or resist. The girl told Young that she was from
Chicago and "asked where he was from."
Young admitted that he
was responsible for Hillary’s death, but claimed that he was unable to
recall how her death occurred. He stated that, at some point, Hillary
pulled a knife from behind the seat and he had to disarm her. During the
altercation, Hillary "got cut."
Young stated that he
dragged Hillary twenty yards, during which time Hillary was moving.
Young claimed that as he placed Hillary under the piece of tin, he "had
to move her and her pants slid down to her knees . . . ." Young drove
away in Hillary’s car.
At 2:00 a.m. on
December 4, 1999, Hillary's mother received a telephone call from the
Midwest Bureau of the FBI. Hillary's mother learned that her daughter’s
body had been discovered.
Two days later,
Hillary's mother attended a memorial service for her daughter at the
University of Memphis. Dr. O.C. Smith, the Shelby County Medical
Examiner, performed an autopsy on Hillary’s body.
Dr. Smith initially
responded to the location where the body was discovered. Dr. Smith
described the scene: She was lying on her back. She was wearing a brown
sweater, had green cargo-type trousers that were present down about her
ankles, and there had been some muddy soiling to her skin, and there had
been some recent animal activity as well.
body was taken to the forensic center for further examination. Dr. Smith
described the examination as follows: The examination of Ms. Johnson’s
body was significant for the findings of bruises that were about her
right orbit – bruises on the right side of her neck; three bruises –
three round bruises along the line of the left jaw; bruises on her left
chin, and on the back of the right thigh.
There were also
indications of a stab wound in the clothing – upper body clothing - the
brown sweater at the left back just below the neckline, and that was
adjacent to a stab wound found in the same position on her back, which
was in the left upper back about 55 inches above the heel and 3.4 inches
to the left of the centerline of the body. X-rays indicated that there
was a retained knife blade present in her left chest cavity.
At autopsy, the
surgical incisions revealed the presence of that knife blade going
through the skin and the subcutaneous tissues. It went between the third
and fourth ribs on the left side. It went through the left upper lobe of
the lung. It went into and out of the aorta, which is the largest artery
in the human body.
The maximum measured
depth of penetration was 5.77 inches into her body. The wound itself was
responsible for the production of a condition known as a hemathorax in
which blood collects in the chest cavity on the left side of the body.
That accumulation of blood compressed the left lung.
It also pushed organs
of the chest over to her right side. This is a condition which can cause
interference with the heartbeat by interfering with the flow of blood to
and from the heart as well as the damage to the lung itself as well as
the compression of the lung. The right lung was affected by a condition
known as pulmonary edema. When the person goes into shock, when a heart
begins to fail, the air sack in the lung can fill up with fluid. And so
she had a finding of pulmonary edema on the right lung as well.
examination of the genital area showed that there were two blue fibers
recovered from the immediate genital region. Dr. Smith opined that the
bruising to Hillary’s person occurred less that two hours prior to her
He further concluded
that Hillary lived only a matter of minutes after receiving the knife
wound. Dr. Smith concluded that the death of Hillary Johnson was the
direct result of the knife stab wound to the back.
Based upon the
foregoing evidence, the jury convicted Young of first degree
premeditated murder, theft of property over $1,000, and especially
During the penalty
phase, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Ronald Sundstrom, a
professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis. Dr. Sundstrom
testified that Hillary was his teaching assistant and a graduate student
in the philosophy department. He explained that as his teaching
assistant, Hillary was in charge of one-third of his students.
responsibilities included grading papers, teaching discussion sessions
with the undergraduate students, and counseling students. Dr. Sundstrom
related that Hillary’s murder had a "tremendous" impact on the
undergraduate students she "mentored," her associate graduate students,
and the faculty. Many students were unable to finish the semester, and
the entire philosophy department "ground to a halt." One student "dropped
testified that the entire family continues to suffer as a result of her
daughter’s murder. She said that Hillary’s brother had difficulty in
school and Hillary’s father had been unable to continue in his endeavors
to start a new business.
Moreover, at the time
of Hillary’s disappearance, Hillary's mother was completing an
undergraduate degree in philosophy and found it difficult to finish.
Although she was in graduate school at the time of trial, she had been
unable to complete certain courses as a result of being unable to focus.
Prior to Hillary’s disappearance, Hillary had fought with her best
friend, and her friend was distraught because she can never make amends
According to Hillary's
mother, the friend had sought therapy and admitted herself to a
hospital, fearing she would take her own life. Hillary's mother further
testified that two of Hillary’s former boyfriends found it difficult "to
cope with her death," and Hillary’s aunts, uncles, and grandmothers "all
struggled to understand how to get up each day and go on without Hillary."
The State also presented the testimony of Joe Warren, a criminal court
clerk, regarding Young’s prior felony convictions.
The clerk’s files
reflected that on June 24, 1974, Young pled guilty to three counts of
robbery with a deadly weapon. On June 11, 1974, a jury convicted Young
of rape, and Young pled guilty to robbery with a deadly weapon. The
Circuit Court Clerk of Lafayette County, Mississippi presented clerk’s
files reflecting that on July 19, 2001, a jury convicted Young of one
count of kidnapping and on October 20, 2001, although indicted for
capital murder, Young pled guilty to one count of manslaughter.
A resident of Oxford,
Mississippi testified that on November 15, 1999, he was preparing for
work when he heard his wife scream. He ran outside and observed Young
attempting to force his wife into a car. The man ran toward Young until
Young pointed a shotgun at him and ordered him to stop. As the man’s
coworker turned to run, Young again "drawed the shotgun up and said he
was gonna kill that F-ing punk because he didn’t like him anyway because
they had problems."
Young said that he
wanted the man’s wife "to take him off." The man told Young, "No, you
take me. You ain’t taking my wife." The woman handed the car keys to her
husband. Both men got into a 1997 Lumina, the man in the driver’s seat
and Young in the passenger seat. With the shotgun aimed at the man’s
head, Young ordered him to drive to Pea Ridge Road.
Apparently, Young knew
the man’s mother-in-law, because he told the man to tell her that he "blew
her house up, which he did – he blew it up in Water Valley. And he said,
‘Tell her I’m coming back, and I’m gonna take her down to Turner Road,
and I’m gonna blow her head off.’"
Eventually, the car ran
out of gas. Young abandoned the vehicle and walked into the woods. Buddy
East, the Sheriff of Lafayette County, Mississippi, testified that as a
result of the kidnapping of this man, he learned that Young had
threatened to harma man named William Bramlett.
immediately ordered deputies to locate Mr. Bramlett. Upon locating Mr.
Bramlett, the deputies advised him of Young’s threats and continued to
search for Young to no avail. The following morning, William Bramlett
was reported missing by his sister.
On November 17, 1999,
William was found dead in his trailer. He had been shot in the back of
the head with a .22 caliber pistol. His pickup truck was later
discovered in Hardeman County, Tennessee, three miles from Jessie
Cochran’s residence. The defense presented no testimony.
At 9:05 p.m., following
submission of the instructions, the jury retired to consider the verdict.
Deliberations continued until midnight and resumed at 10:00 a.m. the
At 11:10 a.m., the jury
returned its verdict, finding that the State had proven the aggravating
circumstances, that the defendant was previously convicted of one or
more violent felonies other than the present charge; that the murder was
committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with or preventing a
lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant or another; and that the
murder was committed during the perpetration of a felony.
The jury further found
that the aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating
circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. In accordance with their
verdicts, the jury sentenced Young to death for the premeditated murder
of Hillary Johnson.
Leonard J. Young