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Criminal to testify for prosecution in Niagara County murder trial

A veteran petty criminal is to testify today that murder suspect Robert E. Johnson tried to hire him to slash his wife's face last fall.

Johnson's trial on charges of murdering his wife, Ahkenya Johnson, 32, in their Niagara Falls apartment Jan. 17 enters its second week today.

Defense attorneys for Johnson, 26, insist he wasn't even home when Ahkenya was stabbed a total of 49 times with three different knives. Prosecutors are trying to paint a picture of a jealous man who was convinced -- correctly -- that his wife was having an affair, as Johnson himself also was.

Friday, attorneys argued over whether the prosecution should be allowed to call Kenneth D. Longmire to the stand, with Judge Matthew J. Murphy III finally giving the green light.

Defense attorney Michael W. McNelis said the advance word on Longmire's testimony was that he will say Johnson contacted him in October and asked him "to cut up his wife's face while making it look like a robbery."

McNelis said that testimony would be irrelevant, but Assistant District Attorney Lisa M. Baehre disagreed, saying it would help prove Johnson's intentions regarding his wife of four years.

"His intention is to harm her. By January, it just gets worse," Baehre said. "She's leaving him. It's over."

Baehre said that if Ahkenya were "cut up," Johnson thought it would have shown her how much she needed her husband.

The prosecutor said Murphy had refused to allow testimony about some other incidents that she said Johnson set up to try to create sympathy for him from Ahkenya. These included "a staged burglary" and "the refrigerator falling on him."

McNelis has argued that the burglary, in which Robert Johnson was slashed, shows that someone else had an interest in entering the Jordan Gardens apartment and doing harm with a knife.

Some crime scene DNA samples show a third party's DNA mixed with that of the Johnsons. McNelis asserts Robert Johnson was at a barber shop getting a haircut when his wife was killed.

Baehre said she briefed Longmire not to testify about Robert Johnson's marijuana use. Murphy said, "Skillful questioning will avoid that."

The prosecution was going to bring Longmire to the stand Friday afternoon, but McNelis won a delay by complaining that the prosecution hadn't given him information about Longmire's own criminal case and whether he got a break for his testimony against Johnson.

Longmire, 44, pleaded guilty June 15 to a misdemeanor for breaking into the former Smokin' Joe's Family Fun Center in Niagara Falls in 2006 -- a crime to which he was connected by a DNA sample. His sentencing has been postponed twice. He was originally indicted on a felony burglary count.

Longmire's recent arrests have included charges in 2008 for shoplifting 12 packages of meat from a supermarket and stealing the car of a woman who gave him a ride home from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. In 2006, he was arrested for shoplifting four leather jackets from a store in the Boulevard Mall, and in 2005, he was arrested on a drug dealing charge.

This won't be the first time Longmire has testified in a homicide case. In 2002, he appeared as a jailhouse informant against a man accused of killing his baby son. The defendant in that case, Michael D. Haffizulla, eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree manslaughter.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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