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Marlene Johnson murder trial recap: Trial resumes Friday

SALISBURY — The winter weather interrupted the murder trial of Marlene Postell Johnson, but testimony is scheduled to resume at 10:30 this morning.

Johnson, 65, faces life in prison if convicted in the 2013 stabbing death of Shirley Goodnight Pierce, who was 62.

Pierce’s body was found at her Evandale Road home in Kannapolis on July 23, 2013, by her fiance.

The trial began Jan. 8 with jury selection. The first witness took the stand Jan. 9.

Here are highlights of testimony so far:

• Pierce, who was an administrative executive assistant to Tuscarora Yarns Chief Executive Officer Martin Foil, was found beaten and stabbed to death. She had a number of bruises and small cuts on her hands, chest, arms and face. The fatal wound was so violent that the tip of the kitchen knife used broke off in her neck. A medical examiner determined the fatal wound would have been “painful.” A forensic pathologist said Pierce would have suffered between three to five minutes before she lost consciousness.

• Chuck Reeves told the court that the last time he talked to Pierce, who was his fiancee, was two days before he found her dead. Pierce had spent the weekend at Reeves’ Columbus, North Carolina, home where they had a party for his sister. He said he spoke with her Monday after she left work and was headed home sometime after 8 p.m. Reeves said she often worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. or later.

The couple, who had known each other for 12 years, began dating three or four years before Pierce’s death and became engaged on April 4, 2013, Reeves said. They alternated spending weekends at each other’s homes.

Reeves said he used a hidden key to get into the house because he did not have his own copy. He said the garage door was open, but the interior door was locked. He said the house was ransacked, including the contents of Pierce’s purse, which were spilled on the floor.

Reeves said he heard the water running in her bathroom, called out to her and entered the room when he didn’t hear a reply. He believed she was dead and touched her, finding that her body was stiff and cold to the touch. He left the room and called 911.

• Rowan County investigators said Johnson believed Pierce was having an affair with her estranged husband, Ervin Johnson, who was the chief financial officer and president of Tuscarora Yarns. Testimony by investigators and Tim Connor, who described himself as Johnson’s boyfriend, said Johnson followed Pierce to her job at Mount Pleasant-based Tuscarora Yarns.

Investigators testified that Johnson had surveillance pictures of Pierce at her Mooresville home. Investigators searched the home at 136 Lilac Mist Loop and found mail belonging to Pierce. The detectives also found aerial photographs of Pierce’s home, the title to Pierce’s Cadillac and bills that belonged to Pierce, one dated a year before her 2013 death.

• Johnson showed up on Feb. 11, 2011, at Parkway House Restaurant in Concord, where Pierce and a number of employees from Tuscarora Yarns were having lunch. Former waitress Amy Christy testified that she pulled Johnson off Pierce after an attack at the restaurant. Christy said in court that Johnson tried to pay her to put a camera inside a party room at the restaurant because the group dined there at least once a week. Christy refused, but she said Johnson showed up at the restaurant and threatened to kill Pierce because she thought she was sleeping with her husband. Pierce was injured and taken away in an ambulance.

Johnson was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery in Cabarrus County. She was sentenced to probation and community service. The case was appealed and no action has ever been taken in Cabarrus County. Court records show Johnson previously assaulted Pierce in January 2008.

• Rowan County authorities granted Pierce a restraining order on June 13, 2011, which was extended beyond a year after Johnson contacted Pierce on Jan. 10, 2012, via work email asking if she would be friends on Facebook. The final restraining order expired July 13, 2013, just weeks before Pierce was killed.

Johnson’s husband, Ervin Johnson, also had a restraining order against Marlene Johnson. Court records show that on July 16, 2010, she cut the tires on his company car. Testimony revealed that Marlene Johnson received cuts on her hands after she broke into her husband’s Charlotte apartment and broke a window and replaced it with Plexiglass.

Rowan County investigators say they never found any evidence to suggest Pierce was having an affair with Ervin Johnson. He could possibly testify in this trial.

• FBI Special Agent Michael Sutton, whose expertise is in cellphone analysis, testified to the general locations that both Pierce and Marlene Johnson’s cellphones were used on July 22 and July 23, 2013.

Sutton noted that Johnson used her cellphone at or near her home the morning of July 22. Sometime before 9 a.m., it was detected by a cell tower in Charlotte and then back at her home between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Johnson’s boyfriend, Tim Connor, confirmed in his testimony that Johnson drove him to a doctor’s appointment in Charlotte for a prostate cancer biopsy.

Sutton said that just before 6:30 p.m. July 22, Johnson’s cellphone was detected by a tower in the Kannapolis area, then at Bethpage Grocery in Kannapolis, then an area near Tuscarora Yarns and then at Marvin’s Fresh Farmhouse Restaurant in Mount Pleasant.

Pierce’s cellphone was detected by a cell tower on July 22 at Tuscarora Yarns, a Walgreens on South Cannon Boulevard in Kannapolis about 8:21 p.m. and at a 7-Eleven store near her house, where she bought a lottery ticket. It’s believed she went home afterward, but Sutton said her phone wasn’t detected after that.

On July 23, Johnson’s cellphone was detected at her home between 8:59 a.m. and about 3 p.m. at her boyfriend’s home in Huntersville. She went to Salisbury just before 6 p.m. until just before 10 p.m., according to investigators. That is about the time she went to the office of her lawyer James Davis.

• Rowan Detective Chad Moose took pictures of Johnson’s injuries after she left her attorney’s office. He noted that Johnson had a number of injuries on her hands, arms and legs. Some of the injuries to her hands, he told the court, appeared fresher than others.

Contact reporter Shavonne Walker at 704-797-4253.

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