Eyewitness takes stand in murder retrial

Tiffany Johnson was the only person present when her friend Brandon Cook was shot and killed in October 2015

Tiffany Johnson was shaken but undeterred as, for the second time in eight months, she took the witness stand and described the most terrifying night of her life.

 

It was the night her friend, Brandon Cook, was shot and killed in front of her.

“He’s looking at me, and the next thing I know, he falls straight back to the ground, just like a log,” she said.

Johnson, formerly Tiffany Albertson, is the sole eyewitness to the October 2015 shooting death of Cook.

On trial for Cook’s murder is Christopher Strawn, a sometimes-handyman who was working for Albertson when Cook was killed. In February, a previous attempt to convict Strawn ended in a mistrial when a witness brought up the subject of domestic violence, something specifically prohibited by Judge Philip Pallenberg.

This second trial started last week, but much of the week was taken up by jury selection. Opening arguments took place Thursday afternoon, and Friday’s session was abbreviated as well. On Monday, jurors heard testimony from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., and that schedule is expected to continue through this week and possibly into next week.

The day began with Strawn’s cross-examination of one Juneau Police Department officer, and a second officer also gave testimony under questions from both prosecution and defense before Johnson took the stand.

Johnson told jurors that she hired Strawn to help her renovate a trailer at the Kodzoff Acres Mobile Home Park. On the night of Oct. 20, 2015, she and her friend Brandon Cook were working in the trailer with Strawn, who was acting strangely, Johnson said.

He left the trailer several times, and he was jittery and talking rapidly, she said. He had earlier asked whether she or Cook believed in God, a question that caught her off guard.

“I had an uneasy feeling about how Chris was when he came back the second time,” she said.

Johnson and Cook had their backs to the trailer’s living room. Cook was cleaning a paint sprayer in the sink. Johnson was working in a corner. A radio was playing loudly, and water was running.

She didn’t hear Strawn return to the trailer a third time.

“And all I hear is ‘F*** it, there is no God. I’m sorry I have to do this.’ And I heard a big bang,” Johnson said.

Johnson jumped up, thinking the noise was a firecracker, and then she saw Cook fall over.

“I looked right at him, and he fell back, and I couldn’t process what was going on,” she said.

“I remember turning to Chris and screaming, ‘What did you do!?’”

She recalled freezing in shock, not knowing what to do. “Chris looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry, I don’t have to kill you, too.’”

He then left the trailer.

Johnson, terrified, grabbed her phone, dialled 911, and hurried to the farthest corner of the trailer.

“I was afraid he was going to come back and kill me,” she said.

Strawn is expected to cross-examine Johnson’s testimony starting at 8:30 a.m. today.


• Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 523-2258.


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