On the night of July 10th he was found severely beaten on the floor of his room, covered in his own blood. He never regained consciousness and died less than two weeks later.
Former Hearne Detective Steve Stokely headed up the case and developed several suspects. According to Stokely, Billy Blackburn, the brother-in-law of Robertson County District Attorney was the first.
Paschall cleared Blackburn, and Blackburn handed over the name of another man, Ralph Martinez. Both Martinez and his girlfriend, Patricia Nelson, were covered in bruises the day they showed up at the Robertson County Courthouse.
Meantime, Martinez and Nelson were each given a polygraph. Martinez failed. One day before Nelson took hers, Paschall phoned main detective Steve Stokley. It was then Stokely says he learned Paschall had already conducted interviews with the suspects. The former Hearne detective recorded the conversation. He says he handed over a copy to the FBI.
Around that time, Stokely claims his former chief showed him a piece of paper with three names on it. The details are laid out in a federal lawsuit. Stokely says the former chief suggested the men work for Paschall and that he’d be putting himself in jeopardy by pursuing the investigation.
Before the case was ripped from Stokely's hands, he tracked down two guitars that were stolen from Hank Johnson's motel room the night of the attack. Stokely traced them back to Trae Thompson. Thompson plead no contest to the theft charges and spent six days in jail for the crime. The police report does not indicate Thompson was ever developed as a possible suspect in the murder investigation.
Hanks mother, Sandi Johnson, said the guitars were never sent to the crime lab to be processed for possible evidence.
According to Paschall, the evidence would never hold up in court because Stokely purchased them off the streets with his own money.
Just before fall settled in, Stokely says all of his reports in the case file vanished. He was demoted and eventually left the department. Paschall's office officially took over the investigation.
Without any new leads, the case was shelved. But Johnson never stopped pressing investigators to dig deeper.
“If I have to beg and plead, I will.”
She hounded police for nearly two years before they finally agreed to bring in medical examiners and exhume her son’s body. In March of 2010, scrapings of possible DNA evidence from Hank Johnson’s fingernails were sent to the Texas Crime Lab.
Employees at the crime lab declined to speak with News 3 about Hank’s case. According to his mother, back in May, the evidence was entered into CODIS, a computer software program that operates local and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders.
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