Couple found guilty in Jefferson kidnapping case

Johnson & Small

A selective home-invasion and kidnapping prosecution involving a Jefferson County senior citizen who – like others – was lashed to a chair, promised death if he resisted and then robbed, accomplished its primary goal for federal prosecutors – taking a predatory convicted murderer from West Virginia off the streets, probably for the rest of his life.

Josh Small, 52, and his girlfriend, 36-year-old Joni Amber Johnson, allegedly perpetrated an identical Jefferson County crime, and three more restraint-related, home-invasion robberies close to their home in Princeton, near the West Virginia-Virginia state line, according to court documents.

Federal prosecutors pursued the Jefferson County case because the victim, a 73-year-old woman, positively identified Small as the man who robbed her and instructed Johnson “to shoot to kill,” if he caused a problem, according to court documents.

As with many other federal crimes that range from drug sales to wire fraud and bank robbery, one conviction is plenty, and on Tuesday prosecutors notched a victory when a jury found Small and Johnson guilty of a single count of kidnapping following a three day trial. Both could face life imprisonment when they’re sentenced, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

Small had a tried-and-true method of picking easy marks. Small worked with a family member who did residential paving jobs in East Tennessee and elsewhere. When he identified an elderly paving customer who owned nice things, Small and Johnson, another convicted felon, returned for the valuables, some of which they pawned in West Virginia, according to court documents.

Small was accused of murder in 1994 for allegedly bludgeoning a man to death with a pipe wrench, but he was acquitted. While in custody prior to the trial, Small somehow acquired a handcuff and shackles key, and escaped from a cage-less corrections transport van after kicking out a window, according to published reports.

West Virginia prosecutors later indicted Small in connection with a 1990 homicide and got a conviction for second-degree murder. Small perceived himself as a victim in his latest prosecution, according to a letter he wrote to the U.S. attorney’s office in which he claims he was “unlawfully kidnapped, seized (and) beat.”

“The defendant maintains his innocences (sic), and prays the court upholds his rights that the constitution gives him by birthright as an American and dismisses all charges with prejudice, especially the prosecution’s mystery conspiracy brought against him,” the letter states.

In February, he complained in another letter that his former attorney was lazy, inattentive and “deprived (him) of (his) life, as well as my due process, and because of this life, liberty and property is being taken away from (him),” the letter states.

Small is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 4. Johnson’s sentencing date is Nov. 25.