Death penalty sought in brutal slaying of Kannapolis woman

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 17, 2013

UPDATE: Rowan County Sheriff’s officials say Marlene Johnson tried to harm herself while at the county detention center following a hearing just before noon.

In a video, authorities said, Johnson is seen standing on the top of a two-tiered bunk and flinging herself backward, landing on the floor below. Johnson hit her neck and head.

Detention Center officials immediately responded to help Johnson. She was taken to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and later transferred to another undisclosed hospital.

The extent of her injuries is being evaluated, said Capt. John Sifford. The video, he said, is still under review and will not be released at this time.

Rowan County District Attorney Brandy Cook will seek the death penalty for a woman charged in the brutal killing of Shirley Goodnight Pierce in her Kannapolis home in July.

Marlene Postell Johnson was in Rowan County Superior Court this morning.

Johnson is charged with first-degree murder and felony first-degree burglary. She’s being held in the county jail without bond.

Pierce’s fiance discovered the 62-year-old’s body in her home the morning of July 23. She had multiple stab wounds and had died in an attack so violent, Cook said during a July hearing, that the knife blade was broken off in her neck.

There were also signs that Pierce had been beaten, search warrants said.

Johnson, 61, was arrested and charged in Pierce’s death 12 hours after her body was discovered.

An arrest warrant said Johnson broke into the Evandale Road home between 10 p.m. on July 22 and 6 a.m. on July 23 intending to kill her.

Investigators found pieces of Pierce’s recent mail inside Johnson’s car and home during a search, according to search warrants. During the July hearing, the district attorney said Johnson also had surveillance photos of Pierce and aerial photos of her home and neighborhood.

Court records said Johnson believed Pierce was having an affair with her estranged husband, Ervin Johnson. Cook said during the July hearing there was no evidence Pierce had an affair with Johnson’s husband, who is the chief financial officer at Tuscarora Yarns, where Pierce also worked.

According to search warrants, Pierce had filed multiple complaints and gotten restraining orders against Johnson over the past several years, saying that Johnson had attacked her at a fundraiser and a restaurant, and had harassed her repeatedly.

The day of her arrest Johnson approached a Huntersville Police officer asking if law enforcement was looking for her in a homicide. She told the officer she had an alibi. Court records say that friend Timothy Connor initially told authorities Johnson was at his house during the time of the murder, but he later recanted and said Johnson asked him to lie.

Johnson was taken to the hospital after the hearing, but it is unclear why and what her condition is at this time.

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