- Suspect: Jacob Johnson, 20
- Suspect: Liam Johnson, 18
- Victim: Donald Kalma, 35
- Charges: Second-degree murder
- Status: Guilty pleas to second-degree murder, other charges; sentenced
- Jacob Johnson sentence: 28 years
- Liam Johnson sentence: 15 years (15-20 years under plea agreement)
- Date of incident: April 21, 2017
- Agency: Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office
- Location: 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo, Bernalillo
- Relationship to victim: Nephews
- Jacob Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-2017-00271
- Liam Johnson Magistrate case number: M-45-FR-201700270
- Jacob Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700170
- Liam Johnson District case number: D-1329-CR-201700171
Sandoval County Sheriff’s detectives alleged brothers Liam, 18, and Jacob Johnson, 20, plotted to kill their uncle because he was getting between them in. They also planned his death in hopes that it would be a bonding experience.
On April 21, 2017, they allegedly lured him outside his room at the family’s two-house compound and hit him in the back of the head repeatedly with a three-pound sledge hammer.
They then allegedly loaded his body into the back of his own truck and dumped him into an arroyo in Rio Rancho, where his body was discovered, under a pile of his own trash, by a jogger.
On March 8, 2019, Jacob Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and five other charges. The plea agreement provided for a total sentence of 42 years.
On March 26, 2018, Liam Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder. According to his plea agreement, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison.
District Court Judge Cindy Mercer sentenced both men on May 10. She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum sentence he faced. She sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.
Brother Liam and Jacob Johnson had a problem. Their uncle from California, Donald Kalma, was coming between them, Jacob Johnson allegedly said during an interview with Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office detectives on April 21, 2017, Detective Frank Tomlinson wrote in a statement of probable cause for the arrest of both brothers.
On the evening of April 20, 2017, the brothers allegedly discussed the disruption Kalma was causing to their relationship and what do about it.
“After a long discussion, it was decided that Jacob and the defendant would kill Mr. Kalma by possibly stabbing or beating him to death,” Tomlinson wrote. “In the early morning of April 21, 2017 the defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob arrived at the residence of Mr. Kalma and as Jacob waited outside the entry to Mr. Kalma ‘s apartment, the defendant entered the residence with the intent of stabbing Mr. Kalma.”
When Liam Johnson entered Kalma’s room, a loft in the garage of the family complex that consisted of two houses, he woke up and mistook him for another member of the family, although who exactly is not listed.
“The defendant (Liam Johnson) aborted the knife attack and lured Mr. Kalma outside the residence,” Tomlinson wrote. “The defendant left, followed by Mr. Kalma. As Mr. Kalma exited the door, Jacob described striking him in the back of the head with such force it ‘dropped him like a sack of potatos (sic).'”
Jacob Johnson allegedly said he used a three-pound sledge hammer to hit Kalma in the back of the head. As Kalma lay on the ground, gurgling, Jacob Johnson allegedly said he struck his uncle two to three more times in the head.
“The defendant (Liam Johnson) and Jacob moved the body of Mr. Kalma to the east side of the residence where Mr. Kalma began to ‘gurgle’ once more,” Tomlinson wrote. “At this time the defendant (Liam Johnson) retrieved the sledgehammer and struck him two or three additional times in the head.”
Jacob Johnson allegedly said he loaded up Kalma’s body into the back of Kalma’s 1972 Ford F100 truck, along with pallets and a garbage bag filled with soda cans that Kalma collected. Once they reached a ravine area, they allegedly tossed his body down, along with the pallets and bag of trash.
“The 3lb sledgehammer was ‘tossed’ away from the body as both parties drove away from the scene,” Tomlinson wrote. “Jacob described the events as ‘justified’ due to Mr. Kalma’s constant disruptions and his ‘coming between brothers.’ Jacob and the defendant (Liam Johnson) stated he believed killing Mr. Karma was going to be a ‘bonding’ activity.”
On the afternoon of April 21, 2017, after the Johnson brothers allegedly dumped their uncle’s body in the ravine, a jogger found it and called 911 at 12:29 p.m. in Rio Rancho.
Officers found Kalma’s body had a wood pallet covering it, a few “squirt” soda cans and sheet metal screws, a gold Allen wrench and a nail.
“It appeared that these items possibly could have fallen out of a vehicle used to transport the body to the location,” Tomlinson wrote. “A few feet further down the road at an intersection was located a small handheld sledge hammer that appeared to have suspected blood on it.”
The pathologist found a large wound to the back of his head and other contusions on his head.
Detectives then headed to the family property Kalma had been living at in Bernalillo, in the 900 block of North Camino Del Pueblo.
“Investigating officers obtained consent to look around the property,” Tomlinson wrote. “The property contained two family dwellings and a detached garage with a loft where Mr. Kalma lived.”
On the property they found Kalma’s blue truck and saw the bed had recently been washed out, but there still appeared to be blood in the puddles of water in the back.
“A sheet metal screw matching the ones found at the crime scene was observed in the back of the truck,” Tomlinson wrote. “Wood or bark were also seen in and around the truck and one yellow ‘Squirt’ soft drink can was inside the bed of the truck as well.”
In addition, officers found a wooden fence that allegedly matched the wooden fencing found near Kalma’s body, as well as plastic trash bags with red draw strings which matched the ones found with his body, he wrot.
“Investigating officers also located suspected blood on a property building,” Tomlinson wrote.
Tomlinson had Jacob Johnson come to the Sheriff’s Office with him, read him his Miranda rights and the Jacob Johnson allegedly told Tomlinson about the killing, he wrote.
Below is the statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson’s arrest.
Statement of probable cause for Jacob Johnson's arrest dated 4-24-2017
Indictment, plea and sentence
Both men were indicted on charges of:
- First-degree murder
- Conspiracy to commit first-degree murder
- Aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon
- Thee counts of tampering with evidence
Liam Johnson was the first brother to sign a plea agreement, on March 7, 2018, although the document was not filed with the clerks office until March 29, 2018. District Court Judge Cindy Mercer signed the agreement on March 26, 2018.
He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
According to the plea, he faced a sentence of 15 to 20 years in prison followed by 5 years of supervised probation. The plea agreement was conditioned on his cooperation in the prosecution of his brother.
A year later, Jacob Johnson signed a plea agreement, on March 4, 2019, along with prosecutor Jessica Martinez and his defense attorney, Marie Legrand Miller. The judge’s signature District Court Judge Cindy Mercer’s does not have a date. The plea agreement is time stamped by the clerks office on March 8, 2019 at 1:51 p.m.
A criminal information for Jacob Johnson was filed on March 4, 2019, charging him with three counts of tampering with evidence. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and six counts of tampering with evidence. The aggravated burglary with a deadly weapon charge was dropped.
According to the terms of the plea, Jacob Johnson was to serve a 42-year sentence, with the various six counts of tampering with evidence running consecutive to one another.
Jacob and Liam Johnson were both sentenced on May 10, 2019, by District Court Judge Cindy Mercer.
According to an amended judgement, sentence and commitment, Mercer sentenced Jacob Johnson to 28 years in prison. It is not clear what changed between the plea agreement and the amended judgement and sentence, filed on Sept. 19, 2019.
She sentenced Liam Johnson to 15 years in prison, the minimum allowed under his plea deal.