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Man charged with murder says woman died in fall

Posted: February 27, 2014 - 12:07am

ANCHORAGE — A Quinhagak man charged in the death of a village woman told investigators she fell from the steps of his porch, hit her head and died.

But state prosecutors say an autopsy indicated Lisa Johnson, 25, died of strangulation, not from a blow to the head. They have charged Harold Smith, 26, with first-degree murder and evidence tampering in the case, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

Johnson was a substitute teacher and the mother of a 6-year-old girl. She was last seen by family members Jan. 31. Her mother, Annie Johnson, told investigators that Lisa Johnson answered a call and left the house.

She was reported missing Feb. 2. Police in Quinhagak, a village of nearly 700 about 71 miles southwest of Bethel, launched a search and found Johnson’s body off a trail near a village runway.

Tracks from a snowmobile that appeared to be pulling a sled were found 30 feet from the body, investigators said. The tracks circled and returned to the trail.

Phone records indicated Smith called Annie Johnson’s home the night she disappeared. Smith told investigators he had tried to call Lisa Johnson’s brother.

An autopsy Feb. 5 indicated hemorrhaging on Lisa Johnson’s throat and tongue, according to charging documents, and the coroner in a preliminary conclusion said the cause of death was asphyxiation caused by strangulation.

Smith on Friday called troopers and said Johnson visited his home Jan. 31 and wanted to buy marijuana. He said he had none to sell, and when she became angry, he pushed her out of the home.

On Monday, Smith in an interview with investigators said Johnson appeared to be drunk when she came to his home, became angry when he refused to sell marijuana and bit him on the chest. He said he opened his door and shoved her out, but she fell off the stairs and hit her head on a board. When he checked on her, he told investigators, she was not breathing.

“Harold then described that he panicked and hid her body near his house until that afternoon, when he put her in his father’s sled and drove to the location where the body was later found,” the charges said.

Smith told investigators he burned Johnson’s clothes, his own clothes and the sled at the village dump.

Smith is jailed at Yukon Kuskokwim Correctional Center in Bethel with bail set at $500,000. Court records indicate he is being represented by the public defender’s office.

He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing March 7.

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