The parents of a 5-year-old who accidentally killed himself Tuesday with a gunshot to the head were in federal court Wednesday, composed though signs of tension broke through.
The father, Anthony L. Johnnson, has a record for drug trafficking and wasn't supposed to have a gun, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Sayers-Fay. After his son's death, he was arrested and charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. The criminal complaint was quietly filed Tuesday and made public Wednesday.
The main issue before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin McCoy was whether to allow Johnnson out on house arrest for now. That would allow him to help with funeral preparations and attend the service, which is planned for Saturday, said defense attorney Gary Colbath.
His fiancee, Jualisa House, took the witness stand for questioning on whether she could keep him under watch as his third-party custodian, and turn him in if he violated the terms.
"We're putting you in the middle of a very difficult situation," McCoy told House.
[Previous coverage: 5-year-old killed by self-inflicted gunshot in East Anchorage, police say]
One side of the courtroom was packed with friends and family of the couple. House held someone's young child for part of it.
Around 12:20 a.m. Tuesday, House was preparing food and Anthony Johnnson was elsewhere in the home when she heard a shot, according to Anchorage police.
Their son, Christan Johnson, found a loaded handgun in the master bedroom nightstand, then shot and killed himself with it, according to Anchorage police. The new charge describes the gun as a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol.
Police found Christan dead in the master bedroom from a gunshot to the head, the sworn statement filed in federal court says. A pistol was beside him.
Police got a warrant and searched the house. They seized items that included the pistol, 22 .40-caliber rounds recovered from the kitchen counter, 17 .40-caliber rounds found in a bag in a kitchen cabinet, an automatic rifle-style magazine with more rounds in a cabinet, and 43 9mm rounds recovered from a night stand, according to the sworn statement by Jason Crump with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The mother, father and child all lived in the East Anchorage apartment on Rocky Mountain Court, the federal court filing says.
Sayers-Fay, the prosecutor, said she wasn't against allowing Johnnson out on house arrest and tracked by an electronic ankle monitor until after the funeral even though normally the government would fight it.
Yet there are concerns, she said. Johnnson, who appeared in court in a light orange jailhouse uniform, a month ago had tried to buy a gun in Mississippi, she said. There were other guns in the vehicle that he said he was holding for someone else — a person he could only vaguely identify, the prosecutor said. There's concern for his mental state, though a jail watch on him has been removed, she said.
As the hearing went on, Johnnson fidgeted, perhaps from cold. He wrapped his arms in the jail shirt.
Mainly, Sayers-Fay said, she didn't want House — in the midst of trauma and the longtime romantic partner of Johnnson — as the third party. The two have been together 10 years, House said in court.
Did House know that her fiance, as a convicted drug trafficker, wasn't supposed to have a gun? Sayers-Fay asked.
"We needed it because it was protecting me and my son," House answered. She said she didn't know Johnnson couldn't legally buy a gun, but it was for her. Anyway, he was done with probation, she said.
As the questioning went on, House said she was now well aware that he couldn't buy a gun and she wouldn't want one in the house anymore. After what happened, she said, she doesn't want a gun for protection or anything else.
Why should he, the judge, trust her? McCoy asked.
She said she knew Johnnson very well and she hoped what happened is eye-opening for him.
He didn't always listen to her but that should change, she said.
"After all this, he's going to listen to everything," House said.
House works for a local bank. Her supervisor said she could take all the time she needs, she told the judge.
McCoy ultimately agreed to allow Johnnson out on house arrest with a GPS-connected ankle monitor. He has to stay under House's watch around the clock and can only leave the house for pre-approved reasons, the judge said.
Another hearing was set for Monday to address whether Johnnson can remain out of jail.
During Wednesday's hearing, McCoy also went over the charge — a federal offense that occurs when a felon has a gun or ammunition "which has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce."
What? Johnnson asked.
There are no gun manufacturers in Alaska, so they are all shipped here, McCoy explained.
The drug case began in 2011 when House was pregnant, she said.
A sworn statement filed in court said federal agents were targeting a man nicknamed Popeye in a Ford Explorer and Johnnson was in the front seat. After being ordered out, he tossed a baggie under the Ford, the statement said. It contained about half an ounce of crack, an amount that indicated drug trafficking, the statement said.
He was sentenced in 2012 to serve nine months, which could be in a halfway house, and three years of probation. Most of his time was in Mississippi, where House said she is from. She wants to bury their child there.
A vigil was planned for Wednesday night outside the family's apartment.
Anchorage police also are investigating the child's death.
Correction: The names of Christan Johnson and Anthony Johnnson were misspelled in earlier versions of this story, based on information from authorities.