Conviction, 72-year sentence thrown out in federal court

MOUNT PLEASANT, Mich. (AP) — An appeals court has thrown out a domestic assault conviction and extraordinary 72-year prison sentence that followed a stormy trial in federal court in Bay City.

If prosecutors take Michael Lee Johnson to another trial, it will require a different judge, the appeals court said in an unusual step.

“Given the serious errors at trial and sentencing, such reassignment would serve to preserve the appearance of justice,” the court said in a 2-1 opinion Monday.

The federal court found procedural errors with how Johnson was allowed to represent himself; the denial of defense witnesses; and the reasonableness of the long sentence.

Johnson was accused of assaulting his girlfriend at their apartment in Mount Pleasant in 2018. The location and the woman’s status as member of a Native American tribe triggered federal jurisdiction over the case.

The 2019 trial was rough. Johnson insisted on acting as his own lawyer for part of it and cross-examined the woman. During his own testimony, he yelled at U.S. District Judge Thomas Ludington and was removed from court.

Johnson, 42, was convicted of assault, witness tampering and other crimes. After getting a severe sentence, he told everyone in the courtroom they would “burn in hell.”