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Montana man sentenced to 41 months for 1996 murder of Kirkland mom
A Montana man was sentenced to 41 months in the murder of a Kirkland mother at King County Superior Court this afternoon.
Clifford Everell Reed, 60, was given the three-year, five-month sentence after he entered the Alford guilty plea in March to first-degree manslaughter of Sandi Rae Johnson. The 1996 murder was one of the last cold cases to be reopened in Seattle before funding was cut.
Because of 1996 law, the sentencing range for manslaughter was much lower than what prosecutors would have liked to recommend, which was between 31-41 months.
Reed was charged in December 2012 with second-degree murder for killing 28-year-old Sandi Rae Johnson, a former Kirkland resident, on April 26, 1996. He was extradited from Montana two months later and was booked into King County Jail on $5 million bail.
Before Reed was sentenced, Johnson’s close friends addressed Judge Mary Yu to ask for the harshest sentence allowed.
Johnson’s neighbor and longtime family caregiver Deanie Morley described the day Johnson went missing in April 1996.
“It was the fifth birthday party of Sandi’s first born, Sean,” Morley said. “It was a day she had prepared for, running errands, shopping. Guests were all invited, the cake ordered, his favorite ice cream cake. This was the day our world fell apart. We waited for her to come home to no avail. We attempted to collect our scattered thoughts. Which Baskin Robins store had she ordered the cake from? Where are the birthday gifts she had purchased for Sean? But most of all, where was Sandi?”
The day before she went missing, Johnson worked a double shift to take the next day off to prepare for her son’s fifth birthday, which included two parties.
Reed and Johnson worked at Bowen Scarff Ford in Kent together when the mother of two disappeared.
She planned for her then 2-year-old daughter and son to stay with a babysitter overnight. Charging documents state that she left a voicemail with the babysitter the morning of her disappearance, stating that she would pick them up later in the day so she could do some shopping. Johnson also made plans to have lunch with a friend in Bellevue but never showed up.
“The day passed slowly,” Morley recounted. “Friends had gathered. Who was putting us through this misery on the day she would have loved celebrating? The adults were taking turns crying in the bathroom knowing that she would never leave her precious children unwillingly. Confusion ran rapid.”
After Johnson failed to pick up her kids and missed her son’s first birthday party, her estranged husband reported her missing.
“Sean could hear her voice on the recorder and just knew she had to be nearby,” she said. “Katie’s eyes were on the entry door. We waited for eight long years before her body was found.”
Charging documents state Reed left Washington shortly after Johnson was reported missing. Investigators had learned of Reed’s infatuation with Johnson through several friends. They also learned she owed him money.
Washington State Department of Transportation workers later discovered her body on Aug. 25, 2004 in Pierce County. Her skeletal remains were identified via dental records and an autopsy revealed her death was a homicide.
But Reed denied having any romantic relationship with Johnson to police and suggested Johnson could have committed suicide during the investigation.
“Sandi was a very good friend to me,” Reed addressed the judge during the hearing. “She was one of the nicest people I’ve ever known and I certainly did not kill Sandi. None of this nightmare should have ever happened. She should have lived a long life, experienced all that life has to offer and watch her kids grow up, marry, have children and enjoy being a grandmother.”
Reed originally pleaded not guilty last year.
He insisted that he took the Alford guilty plea not to admit guilt, but because he can’t handle the strains of prison time and the risk of being tried under the harsher charge was too great.
“I was taken 500 miles away from everyone and everything I had known and loved,” he said. “I was so mad and humiliated that I was determined to fight this and prove my innocence. After going over the discovery at a rate at one to two hours a day a year, time has worn me down. My life has been threatened, I’ve been assaulted. I’ve been robbed three times in jail.”
Stating also that his attorney has significant health issues, he took the state’s plea bargain so that “prosecutors will calk up a win and Sandi’s family will have some closure, which they certainly do need and deserve.”
“And to get to all of this, only one man has to be sacrificed,” he said. “That sounds like a pretty good deal but it’s a terrible thing to be that man sacrificed.”
However, Johnson’s friends and mother don’t buy it.
“The verdict’s not enough for me,” said Johnson’s mother Janet Moe in tears. “I wish she was here. The light of my life.”
Moe remembers going to the Bowen Scarff Ford herself and telling Reed to stop stalking her.
“No, you don’t need to see Sandi, just stay away from her now,” she told him. “Leave her alone, don’t be following her, don’t be stalking her. Leave her alone. Her husband’s asked you, I’ve told you. Now, I’m gonna tell you one time, get out of here now.”
Seana Barker, Johnson’s best friend also feels mourns the loss of her dear friend and doesn’t feel Reed’s sentence serves justice.
“For many years we wondered, not knowing what happened to her,” Barker said. “What her fate was, and we all asked why Sandi? We searched for her, we pleaded with the public through the news media to help us find her. We appeared on television shows with psychics. Talked to many people trying to get the news out about her and to try to figure what had happened to her, all the while try to live our life as normally as we can when your best friend disappears and your security is shaken and you no longer feel safe. We tied yellow ribbons on the trees and we planted yellow flowers in hopes that some day, somehow she would return to us.”
Having already spent 494 days in jail, Reed will serve the remaining two years of his sentence.