New York, NY – Steve Johnson, 45, was sentenced Friday to 240 years in prison, stemming from a June 2002 arrest in his role in an unusual case of kidnapping. He faced additional charges of hate crimes, assault, and attempted murder.
This was Johnson’s third trial for the same crimes, and second back to back sentencing for 240 years. Johnson’s first trial was deadlocked. His second trial in 2007 resulted in a conviction but was overturned on a technicality appeal.
Nearly a decade ago the “deranged barber” as he’s been described, took an entire New York City bar full of patrons’ hostage.
Johnson assailed the Bar Veloce, located on Second Avenue near the East Village. He was armed with three pistols, a 30-inch samurai sword, a squeeze container of kerosene, and a six-inch barbecue lighter.
During his 40 minute occupation of the bar Johnson front-cuffed patrons with plastic ties, shot and wounded three people, and doused several other customers with kerosene. Johnson was eventually tackled by two women in the bar, then shot and wounded by the police.
Although three were shot, none of the patrons died as a result of their injuries. Nor were any of them set ablaze.
Authorities suggested Johnson’s attacks were racially motivated as he only assaulted white patrons. Johnson is black. Witnesses claimed Johnson spouted on about the evils of white people and the oppression of blacks.
Others suspect Johnson was motivated with the idea of dying in a fusillade of police bullets known as suicide by cop. At the time of his arrest Johnson was an unemployed barber with AIDS, and had a catheter strapped to his leg. Johnson had a preexisting record of weapons and drug arrests going back two decades.
Johnson’s defense had been one based on insanity. Although criminal, Johnson’s actions on June 16, 2002 were not driven by mental illness.
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