Rodney Wallace sentenced to life in prison, pleads guilty to stabbing ex-wife Toney Ann Johnson to death
A seemingly remorseful Rodney Wallace apologized in court Monday for killing ex-wife Toney Ann Johnson on the morning of June 11, but court statements show a different man — one who, while stabbing his 34-year-old victim, asked if she was dead yet.
Wallace, 47, pleaded guilty Monday afternoon during a short hearing in Rowan County Superior Court. He will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
If he had gone to trial and been found guilty, Wallace could have faced the death penalty.
Johnson and Wallace had a tumultuous and violent relationship for a number of years. They married in July 2009 and separated in July 2012. Johnson was granted a divorce in January. The two had a 4-year-old son together.
During their marriage, Wallace was charged following a number of domestic related incidents. That included an incident in January when Johnson woke up one morning to find her windshield wipers were missing. She received a text message from Wallace saying to come to his apartment, which was located one street behind her parents’ Spencer home where she was staying.
She said in court documents she went to the apartment to let him know she’d moved on since their divorce. Wallace became violent and shoved Johnson into furniture, causing bruises on her chest, leg and arms. He cut her clothes off with a razor blade and refused to let her leave.
In another incident, he shoved Johnson into a rose bush causing scratches on her body.
Johnson told multiple co-workers she feared for her life and was scared Wallace would kill her one day. She asked one co-worker to help get her affairs in order if he killed her.
One co-worker said Johnson would become lonely and return to Wallace when the couple were separated. He showed up at Johnson’s job one day after he discovered she’d began dating a co-worker.
During a September 2011 court hearing, Wallace was ordered to not have contact with Johnson or her family. The courts dismissed a misdemeanor stalking charge, and Wallace was given supervised probation. He was only allowed to contact Johnson for custody visits at the Visitation Station. He also had to take up visitation issues through Johnson’s father.
A brutal death
Rowan District Attorney Brandy Cook said in court Monday that Wallace stabbed Johnson with a pocketknife.
A witness heard Johnson screaming and saw Wallace strike his ex-wife. The neighbor said Wallace was shouting, “Are you dead yet, (expletive)?” Wallace at some point told Johnson to “just die.”
The witness, a neighbor, told Wallace she would call police. Wallace told the woman, “Go ahead, I don’t care,” Cook read from statements during the hearing. The neighbor said after Wallace finished he calmly walked down the street.
Wallace stabbed Johnson 28 times, including in her head, arm, chest, shoulders, wrist and abdomen, according to statements reading during the hearing.
According to a statement, Wallace wanted to make sure Johnson was dead so he slit her throat. He said Johnson was making sounds during the ordeal and begged him to stop.
Wallace had seen Johnson that morning, but did not elaborate in interviews with law enforcement as to why he was at the Spencer home or what led him to kill his ex-wife.
After stabbing Johnson to death, Wallace went to his apartment, where he washed his hands and changed clothes.
Wallace told girlfriend Melanie Tanksley “I did it. Toney is gone,” Cook said.
Wallace told Tanksley he stabbed Johnson in every vital organ and he thought he broke the knife off in her head. His attorney Vincent Rabil later said Wallace’s assumption about the knife was wrong.
Cook added that Tanksley did not immediately believe Wallace. He asked her to drive him to see his daughter who lived on the coast, and she agreed.
Once they got there, Tanksley was found screaming in the car she and Wallace had been riding in. She’d told him she stopped to use the bathroom, but once out called police and screamed that she had a murderer in her car. She’d stopped in a park that happened to be across the street from a Wrightsville Beach police station.
Domestic violence homicides
Johnson’s death was one of the first domestic violence related deaths of the year in Rowan County.
“This case is a reminder that domestic violence continues to affect our community,” Cook said following the hearing. She said according to the N.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence, there have been 59 domestic violence-related homicides in the state this year.
“Children exposed to domestic violence are at an increased risk for becoming a victim or an offender of domestic violence later on in life,” Cook said.
Wallace’s attorney told the court his client was remorseful. Wallace, speaking very briefly and at times inaudibly, said he was remorseful. He said he didn’t want to take Johnson’s family through a lengthy trial and so he accepted the plea agreement.
“I’m very remorseful. It’s a burden I will carry the rest of my life,” he said, becoming emotional.
Wallace was born and raised in Los Angeles. His attorney said Wallace had a federal record after having spent 14 years in prison for cocaine trafficking. Wallace and five other men were charged after authorities discovered they were responsible for an organized crime scheme where they mailed packages of powder cocaine from Los Angeles to Kinston on a weekly basis.
Wallace was released in 2008 and met Johnson in a Wilmington halfway house where she worked.
Prior to serving time in prison, Wallace was a jet mechanic in the U.S. Air Force where he spent three years and was honorably discharged.
His attorney said Wallace went for “easy money” which meant selling drugs. He’d never been violent at that time, Rabil said, but was in prison with violent offenders.
Johnson’s family said they opened their home to Wallace.
“They never wanted this to happen to their daughter, grandson and Rodney Wallace,” Cook said. She said at this point just wants peace.
Johnson had a degree in psychology and a masters degree from Princeton Theological Seminary. It was theology that drew she and Wallace together, Rabil said.
“She believed everyone had some good in them,” Cook said.
She was an artist, musician and a poet.
One of Johnson’s dreams was to open her own facility where she could help people with drugs and other issues.
Cook said the sad part of this ordeal is the former couple’s son blames himself for his mother’s death. The child feels as if he could’ve done something to prevent his mother’s from dying.
She added that “as a community, we have a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves.” She encouraged anyone who was a victim of domestic violence or knows someone who is to contact the Family Crisis Council of Rowan County.
For more information about the Family Crisis Council or for help call the 24-hour crisis hotline at 704-636-4718.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.