The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney:
Defendant Tavion Jamel James Johnson, now age 23, formerly of the Willits area, finally admitted allegations this past Friday that in March 2020 he killed his wife, the late Elenah Louise Elston, age 49 years at the time of her death
With his jury trial scheduled to get underway in two weeks, defendant Johnson made a special court appearance Friday afternoon to change his not guilty plea to guilty of a form of homicide known as voluntary manslaughter, a felony.
California law defines voluntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being by a perpetrator who has the intent to kill during a sudden quarrel, in the heat of passion, or based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend oneself.
He also entered a guilty plea to a distinctly separate crime from the voluntary manslaughter commonly referred to as felony inflicting traumatic injuries on a domestic partner after having suffered a prior conviction for domestic violence.
Defendant Johnson was previously prosecuted by the DA in 2019 and convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery against the same victim.
He was ordered at that time to have no contact with Ms. Elston during Johnson’s three year term of probation. He was also ordered to complete the 52-week domestic violence/anger management counseling program, two orders intended to safeguard the victim that this defendant obviously disregarded.
Though no separate consequence will flow from the defendant having significantly violated terms of his misdemeanor probation, this prior misdemeanor conviction was used by the DA to enhance the sentencing triad of the second felony that the defendant admitted on Friday.
The defendant also admitted Friday that the traumatic injuries he inflicted on Ms. Elston constituted “great bodily injury,” as that phrase is defined by California law and alleged by the District Attorney.
Finally, the defendant agreed and stipulated that he shall receive an 11 year state prison sentence for the death, the maximum sentence allowed by California law for a killer convicted of voluntary manslaughter.
Then, in addition, to the 11 years, the defendant agreed and stipulated that four more years shall be added to the sentencing package for the separate felony count and GBI sentencing enhancement.
The defendant was also required to waive any and all appeal and writ rights, as well as waive all of his pre-sentence custody credits that an in-custody defendant is normally awarded, the waiver in this case covering all the time the defendant has served in-custody from his March 2020 arrest to the sentencing hearing (625 days).
After the guilty pleas and waivers were accepted and entered into the court record, the defendant’s case was referred to the Adult Probation Department for their preparation of a prison packet to accompany the defendant to CDCR.
The stipulated 15-year sentence outlined above will be formally imposed at a sentencing hearing to be held on September 28th at 9 o’clock in the morning in Department A of the Ukiah Courthouse.
Any person interested in this case or this defendant is welcome to attend that hearing. Come prepared – masks are required to be worn by all who enter the courthouse.
Because these convictions are collectively defined as violent by California law, any work or good time credits the defendant may attempt to earn once he arrives at state prison towards an early release date cannot exceed 15% of the stipulated 15 years, meaning current law will require that he serve a full 12 years, 9 months before being released to state parole supervision.
The two crimes admitted are also Strikes for future purposes under California’s voter-modified Three Strikes law.
Should this defendant commit another violent or serious felony in the future either in prison or outside thereof, the current version of the Three Strikes law would require, when convicted, that he be sentenced to 25 years to life.
As background, in March 2020, Mendocino County Sheriff’s deputies responded to the Emergency Room at Howard Memorial Hospital for a reported “accidental” fall victim whose injuries appeared suspicious in nature to the hospital’s medical staff.
Upon arrival, the deputies were shown a woman who was being treated for major head injuries which had left her unconscious and unable to communicate.
The deputies recognized the female from numerous prior calls for service, which included calls where she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her younger husband.
Agreeing with medical staff that the head injuries appeared more consistent with violent causation than an accidental fall, the deputies responded to the victim’s residence to speak with her husband.
The deputies located and spoke with defendant Johnson at the victim’s Brooktrails residence. After speaking with the defendant and viewing what they came to believe was a crime scene, the investigators placed Johnson under arrest.
As the investigation continued, Sheriff’s investigators determined there had been a violent encounter between Johnson and the victim and that he had personally inflicted severe head injuries on the victim.
It was also later determined that the defendant delayed seeking medical aid for his obviously injured wife for many hours; instead speaking to his mother twice by telephone, cleaning up the victim and the blood evidence, and staging pictures to support his ruse that the wife had accidentally fallen down an outside staircase to cause her injuries.
Because this was far from an easy case to investigate and prosecute, the District Attorney wants to give special recognition and thanks to Dr. Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist, for his forensic work at identifying the cause or causes of the victim’s demise.
Ultimately, it was Dr. Omalu’s opinion that the victim suffered and died from Primary and Secondary Traumatic Brain Injury [TBI], that the TBI suffered by the victim was not consistent with a self-inflicted fall down a staircase, and that the many hours delay allowed by the defendant before seeking medical care and treatment for the victim increased the probability and likelihood of Ms. Elston’s death from her TBI.
As an aside, some may recall Dr. Omalu’s name and reputation. He is a physician, forensic pathologist, and neuropathologist who was the first to discover and publish findings on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in National Football League players.
Dr. Omalu’s efforts to study and publicize CTE in the face of opposition from the NFL were chronicled in a GQ magazine article in 2009. The GQ article was later expanded into a 2015 book titled, Concussion, and that book was then adapted into a movie by the same name.
Special thanks are also extended to the vigilant and hard-working medical staff at Howard Memorial Hospital, who saw through the accidental fall ruse almost immediately and timely called for Sheriff’s Office assistance.
The law enforcement agencies that developed the evidence underlying the defendant’s Friday convictions were the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s own investigators.
The attorney who pieced this case together for trial and will see it through the sentencing hearing is Assistant District Attorney Dale P. Trigg.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder accepted the defendant’s guilty pleas and waivers on Friday afternoon. He will preside over the late September sentencing hearing and at that time impose the agreed-upon state prison sentence.