BRATTLEBORO -- There was no question that Kelly Johnson was going to jail following her guilty pleas to three cocaine-related counts.
What was in doubt, however, was the length of the Brattleboro woman’s prison term and when she would begin serving it. Prosecutors asked for six to 10 years, while the defense wanted six months to eight years with a delay in Johnson’s reporting to jail.
Judge David Suntag struck a compromise, imposing a prison term of 18 months to 10 years and ordering a tearful Johnson to begin serving time immediately.
"You don’t have options anymore," Suntag told Johnson Thursday in Windham Superior Court Criminal Division.
Johnson, 31, had entered guilty pleas in October to two counts of aiding in commission of a felony and one count of selling cocaine. Those charges were related to a 2012 investigation by drug task forces in Vermont and New Hampshire.
As part of the plea agreement, a heroin-related case filed last year was dismissed.
During her sentencing hearing Thursday, Windham County Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Brown played a July 2012 recording in which Johnson laughs about a traffic stop from which she had escaped without arrest.
Another person tells Johnson, "nothing like living on the edge ... nothing like trying to push the envelope." As it turns out, that voice belonged to a confidential informant working with Vermont State Police.
Johnson was arrested later that year following another traffic stop. In a recording of a police interview played Thursday in the courtroom, Johnson denies ever using drugs but says she had sold them. "That wasn’t my stuff. I did it for somebody else," she said.
It was the latest in a history of her run-ins with the law. Gary Stevens, a probation officer based in Brattleboro, testified that Johnson’s history of state supervision dated back to 2002.
Stevens mentioned Johnson’s prior convictions for simple assault and selling heroin. And he noted Johnson’s continued criminal behavior and her choice of associates including Julio Davila, a Springfield, Mass., man who was convicted in January of selling heroin in the Brattleboro area. Based on Johnson’s history, Stevens said he could not recommend a probationary sentence in the newest case.
That was part of the basis for Brown’s argument for a six-year minimum prison sentence. He said the crimes for which Johnson was being sentenced had occurred while she was on furlough, the state’s "strictest form of supervision."
Brown said Johnson also has been convicted of possessing heroin in Massachusetts.
In an effort to establish his client’s relatively recent stretch of stability, defense attorney Chris Montgomery called Johnson’s supervisor at a Canal Street Dunkin’ Donuts to the stand. The woman said Johnson is a good employee and might have been promoted but for the charges she faced. Montgomery also told the court that "Miss Johnson has been on conditions of release for over a year now without any violations." An emotional Johnson said she wanted to stay out of prison and be a mother. "I know I’ve made mistakes, but I’m trying to change and do right by my kids," she said.
But Suntag remembered giving Johnson a zero- to six-month sentence for aiding in commission of a felony in 2012. At the time, he noted, Johnson made many of the same arguments -- and then was selling cocaine within months.
In imposing the 18-month minimum, Suntag said he was not aware of comparable cases that resolved with a six-year minimum prison term as the prosecution had requested.