Court denies appeal for convicted burglar

Shane Johnson

A Clifton man sentenced to 117 years in prison on a slew of felony convictions in 2008 lost another plea to reverse one of those convictions with the Colorado Court of Appeals on Thursday.

Days before Shane Edward Johnson was to be sentenced to 105 years in prison after a 2006 crime spree, he escaped from the Mesa County Jail using hacksaws smuggled in by his wife, slid down the outside wall using bed sheets and fled to Mexico. He was arrested in Mexico in 2009 and turned over to the FBI in 2010.

For that escape, the only in the jail’s history, he was given another 12 years.

In his latest appeal that focused solely on that felony escape conviction, Johnson tried to argue that his court-appointed attorney didn’t properly defend him, even though he ordered that attorney to mount a no-defense case.

In a precedent-setting ruling, a three-judge panel of the court said a defendant who forgoes a defense effectively gives up the right to later claim ineffective counsel.

“Like accepting a guilty plea or forgoing counsel’s assistance, the decision to forgo a defense or to sit quietly while the prosecution makes its case is personal and, absent competency issues, is one a defendant can elect to make,” Judge Terry Fox wrote in the ruling, which was joined by Judges Rebecca Freyre and Lino Lipinsky.

“While Johnson’s counsel did not subject the prosecution’s case to the ‘crucible of meaningful adversarial testing,’ ... that inaction was based on Johnson’s decision to forgo challenging the prosecution’s case,” Fox added. “So, even if unwise, the decision was Johnson’s to make.”

As a result, defendants can’t later claim their attorneys failed to represent them when they did exactly what they were told, the court ruled.

Johnson, 53, initially was convicted on seven counts of second-degree burglary, five counts of aggravated motor vehicle theft, four counts of theft, vehicular eluding, and a slew of other felonies committed over a month and a half period. This is the fourth lost appeal.

Currently, Johnson is serving his prison sentence in the Colorado Territorial Correctional Facility in Canon City. His first parole hearing is in December 2048.