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Death Row Diaries: Bagdad, AZ murderer uses potato to silence gunshots

Death Row Diaries: Bagdad, AZ murderer uses potato to silence gunshots
Posted at 9:28 AM, May 27, 2017

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories, including this one where a man used a potato as a silencer in the murder of his lover's husband.

MICHAEL R. WHITE

Date of birth: October 10, 1951

Sentenced: August 8, 1988

 

Murder in Bagdad, Arizona:

It was 11 p.m. on December 12, 1987, when residents of Bagdad, Arizona heard gunshots. Neighbors of David and Susan Johnson saw a man, later identified as Michael White, run from a home, jump into a green car and speed away. David had been shot outside the home and tried to enter the house to escape, but Susan had locked him out. A few minutes later, David Johnson, bleeding from gunshot wounds to the chin and back, walked to a neighbor’s home and collapsed.  

Police found pieces of dried potato where Johnson was shot

Johnson told neighbors he was shot by a man in a mask. Susan told police and others that it was her ex-husband, not White, that shot Johnson. Police at the scene determined Johnson was shot with a .357 magnum revolver. Police also found pieces of dried potato where Johnson was shot.

An officer driving to the scene spotted the green vehicle leaving Bagdad and stopped the vehicle and detained White; however, based on the information provided by Susan Johnson, White was released. 

The lover's plot:

Later, police determined that Johnson's ex-husband was not involved in the murder. As they dug into Susan Johnson's background, they found out she was sexually involved with Michael White. They met in Prescott, Arizona in January of 1987, where they both worked at a nursing home.

They continued to be lovers even though Susan had married David Johnson

After a short stint working in Michigan, the couple returned to Prescott and they continued to be lovers even though Susan had married David Johnson. They then began planning to kill David Johnson after Susan obtained one life insurance policy for David and altered another plan offered by his employer.

Two days before the murder, the insurance alterations were complete. White was intending to use his portion of the money to pay off child support debts he owed, telling his ex-wife he would soon be receiving enough money to repay her and go to medical school.

Potato starch was found on the gun barrel

Police recovered the revolver used in the murder at a Phoenix pawn shop. Potato starch was found on the gun barrel. White was located and arrested in Phoenix on December 19. Inside the green car, police found bullets, a ski mask and a bag of potatoes. 

Both White and Susan Johnson were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy. White claimed it was Susan that killed her husband. He told a story that he fell asleep in the home and after having sex with Susan, he awoke to find her holding the gun. White said he shouted at her, "don't do it," and pushed her arms causing the gun to go off and hit Johnson. White said he tried to get Susan to call for help, but instead, she shot her husband two more times. He said he grabbed the gun and fled. 

Convictions:

In the end, the jury wasn't convinced by White's story, as they convicted both of them of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. Susan was given a life sentence and remains in the Perryville Prison in Goodyear.  White remains on death row at the Eyman prison in Florence.