Jean Ausborn, the mother of murder victim Phillip Johnson, hugs prosecutor Paige Clarkson after the jury found Victor David Smith guilty on Tuesday. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

Jean Ausborn, the mother of murder victim Phillip Johnson, hugs prosecutor Paige Clarkson after the jury found Victor David Smith guilty on Tuesday. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

SALEM – Shortly after the verdict was read, Jean Ausborn bowed her head.

“Thank you Jesus. Thank you Jesus,” she sobbed quietly as the tears flowed.

For more than 10 years, Ausborn had been waiting for this day. It finally came at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday when Marion County Circuit Court Judge Tom Hart read the verdict delivered by the jury.

Victor David Smith was found guilty of murdering Phillip Lynn Johnson – Ausborn’s son – with a firearm outside Johnson’s Keizer apartment on the night of July 1, 2004. The charge carries a life sentence, with a minimum of 25 years served.

Afterwards, Ausborn had many she wanted to thank.

“I want to give honor to God,” she said. “I want to thank Him for this day.”

Ausborn was also thankful for prosecutor Paige Clarkson and others with the Marion County District Attorneys office, as well as everyone from the Keizer Police Department that worked on the case over the years, in addition to other police agencies.

“I want to thank them for not giving up,” Ausborn said. “It’s so overwhelming.”

Amidst the family’s jubilation on Tuesday, the pain was there as well – just as it has been every day since that fateful night in 2004.

“It’s bittersweet,” Ausborn said. “I lost my child, but we got justice for him. It took a long time.”

Could Ausborn have ever predicted that justice would take so long?

“No,” she said. “I never thought it would take that long. But this was worth waiting for.”

The verdict announced on Tuesday concluded the second trial in the case. The first trial took place in June, with a hung jury resulting in a mistrial.

However, that mistrial did not deter Ausborn’s hopes. If anything, just the opposite happened.

“After we went through that first trial and we heard everything, I felt it was worth waiting for,” she said. “I just had this gut feeling there would be justice the second time. I felt the evidence was there, we just had to get the right jury.”

For Ausborn, Tuesday was proof positive she had her faith in the right place all along.

“God is good,” Ausborn said. “He has given us justice. My faith and beliefs kept me going. He is true in His word. I just believed it.”

Lt. John Troncoso with the KPD helped work the case from the start and felt relief for the Johnson family.

“This was a long time coming,” Troncoso said. “I’m thankful for the patience Phillip Johnson’s family had. They called every year. I talked with them on some of those calls. I’m glad to be able to see some resolution for them.”

Troncoso noted the case had been hard on everyone who helped investigate it. He said this was the most investigated case in KPD history, with more interviews than any other case. That included two trips to Arizona, a trip to Idaho and various parts of Oregon.

“This was our oldest unsolved case,” Troncoso said. “It’s a relief to us. This brings all of that to a close. It was a sizable investigation.”

Troncoso said two key witnesses – Sara Fandrei and Steven Chrisco – changing their stories in April 2009 and admitting they drove Smith to the site of the murder helped detectives put the pieces together.

“Clearly that was the pivotal point,” he said. “Then we knew (Smith) was no danger to the public, as long as we could get him before he got out of jail. There were just a lot of things that needed to be collaborated.”

Troncoso said there were three case officers – Jennifer Roberts, Rodney Bamford and Dmitry White – in charge of the investigation over the years.

“They all did so much work on it,” Troncoso said. “They all put so much into it. It wouldn’t have happened without their work. But we can only take it so far. The DA’s office carries it in. They did an excellent job with it. I thank God the jury saw it for what it is.”

Troncoso’s thoughts were also with Johnson’s family.

“This doesn’t bring Phillip Johnson back, but the family needed it – and they deserved it,” he said.