U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Western District of Tennessee
For Immediate Release
October 22, 2009
Lawrence J. Laurenzi, United States Attorney
Contact: Leigh Anne Jordan
(901) 544-4230 (fax)
Tipton County Man Sentenced to Life in Prison After Conviction in Murder for Hire Case
Memphis, TN — On October 22, 2009, Billy Harold Johnson, 50, of Burlison, Tennessee, was sentenced by United States District Judge S. Thomas Anderson to three concurrent terms of Life in prison following his conviction by a federal jury in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee on three counts of violating the murder for hire statute and eight counts of perjury, announced Lawrence J. Laurenzi, United States Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.
The sentence follows a ten year joint investigation by the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”), the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Section, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”), and the United States Attorney’s Office.
Billy Johnson was indicted in 2007 for hiring a hit man, Danny Winberry, to murder Johnson’s mother, Martha Johnson. According to the indictment and testimony at trial, in July 1999, Billy Johnson offered Winberry $50,000 to murder Martha Johnson. On July 22, 1999, Winberry (using a key provided by the defendant) went to Martha Johnson’s home and waited inside until Ms. Johnson returned home at about 5:30 p.m. Winberry then bludgeoned Ms. Johnson to death with an antique iron. Later that evening, Winberry set fire to Ms. Johnson’s home, in an effort to destroy the crime scene.
The Tipton County Sheriff’s Office requested both the TBI and the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Section for assistance with the investigation of this crime. The ATF joined the investigation in 2000. In 2004, a federal grand jury investigation began, resulting in the indictments of Winberry in 2004 and Johnson in 2007. Winberry pleaded guilty in February 2007 and was sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2009 by United States District Judge Bernice B. Donald.
The case was investigated by Captain John Fletcher and Lieutenant Ronnie Coleman of the Tipton County Sheriff’s Office, TBI Special Agent Roger Turner, Supervisor Jessica Shannon and Special Agent Ron Powers with the Tennessee Bomb and Arson Section, ATF Special Agents Mark Teufert, Gray Lane, Brent Beavers and Paul Kwiatkowski, and Jonathan Esworthy, a financial analyst with the ATF. Assistant United States Attorneys Arun G. Rao and Steve Parker handled the case for the government.