Commerce City man gets 48 years for 'unfathomable' fatal beating of wife

Posted at 9:55 AM, Jul 27, 2018

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — A man accused of beating his wife to death — inflicting an amount of trauma that a judge called “unfathomable” — was sentenced to 48 years in prison Thursday.

Derek Michael Johnston, 38, of Commerce City was charged with second-degree murder in his wife’s death from 2017.

On Sept. 6, Johnston called Commerce City police and said his wife, 38, had fallen backward down the stairs the night before. He had helped her into bed, he claimed, and woke up at 6:30 a.m. to find that she was unconscious, according to the Adams & Broomfield Counties District Attorney’s Office. He did not call police for four hours. When police arrived at the home along the 14800 block of E. 119th Avenue, they found the woman in her bed, with ice packs around body, beaten from head to toe.

Their 19-month-old son was also in the home.

The woman was transported to University of Colorado Hospital, where she remained unresponsive with no brain function for four weeks until life support was removed Oct. 6.

When Johnston was arrested, he was charged with first-degree murder. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder with a sentencing that could range from 35 to 48 years, according to the district attorney’s office.

There was a history of domestic violence in the home — police had responded there four times in July and August 2017 after the woman's coworkers spotted signs of abuse and requested welfare checks.

Adams County District Judge Don Quick imposed the 48-year sentence. He said in his 31 years in the criminal justice system, he had never seen bruising like he had seen on the woman’s body. The brutality of the beating and number of blows needed to inflict that amount of trauma was “unfathomable,” he said.

Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Prince argued for the maximum sentence, noting that the beating caused her death. While Johnston had said that he had lost the love of his life, Prince said he had taken it.