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Ex-A&M player who killed White Rock runner was insane, defense says

Thomas Johnson, 25, pleads not guilty by reason of insanity for the random machete attack on a running trail in October 2015.

DALLAS — The former Texas A&M football player who used a machete to brutally kill a runner on White Rock Trail in October 2015 was legally insane at the time of the attack, his defense attorney said Monday. 

The murder trial for Thomas Lindsey Johnson, 25, started this week, more than three years after the man brutally hacked to death 53-year-old David Leonard Stevens. 

“This is really not that much of a who-dunnit,” said defense attorney Paul Johnson during opening statements. 

Thomas Johnson pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, alleging he was mentally ill at the time he killed Stevens. Johnson has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, his attorney said. 

To be found legally insane, the jury must believe that Johnson is mentally ill and did not know the difference between right and wrong at the time of the brutal attack on Stevens.

Stevens was an avid outdoorsman on his usual morning run on Oct. 12, 2015, along the White Rock Trail, when he was struck so many times with a machete that the back of his head was unrecognizable. He had to be identified by his fingerprints. 

The attack was so violent and incomprehensible that his wife, Patti, died by suicide two weeks later. 

Johnson demanded to use a Dallas parks employee's cell phone to call 911. The jury heard the recorded call Monday morning. 

"I see a dead body," Johnson tells the 911 operator. "I need you to do something about the dead body, man. He's dead." 

“How do you know,” the 911 operator asks him.

“There was a sword in his head. Do you understand me?" Johnson says in the recorded call.

The employee who let Johnson use his phone testified he initially thought the splattered blood covering Johnson's jeans and shirt was "mud." 

Witnesses testified they saw a man "with the most evil eyes" clutching a machete to his stomach. One witness at first thought the weapon was just a shiny belt buckle. 

Minutes later, Johnson demanded to use a phone to call 911, they said. 

Brandon Davenport was biking on the trail that morning and described seeing the attack. 

Davenport saw “one-handed swings as if trying to cut chopped wood, all the way over your head and back down, just massive strokes. Massive, over the head swinging to the back of the head, back of the neck.”

Stevens had more than 20 stab wounds and too many slash wounds to count. His skull was fractured, and Stevens had defensive wounds on his right hand and both wrists. He also had a slash wound across the upper left side of his chest, according to court testimony. 

“There as too much blood, blood on the ground, too much blood on him, more blood than I thought a human body could hold," testified Jason Hagen.

Prosecutors expect to question 15 witnesses during the trial, including the paramedics and police officers who responded to the scene. 

Johnson's defense attorney plans to argue the confession is inadmissible because Johnson was not competent enough at the time to have waived his rights and given a statement to police. 

Johnson was found incompetent to stand trial in April 2016. His competency was restored in June 2018. 

Friends and family have said Johnson was increasingly unstable in the years before the machete attack. In 2012, he disappeared from Texas A&M University after the football team played a game. 

His mother went public with pleas to help find him.

A few days later, he was found rambling on the streets of Dallas, talking incoherently about his "religious beliefs." Police thought he might be on drugs and determined he was a danger to himself and others. He was taken to a mental hospital for evaluation.

Johnson later dropped out of college, ending what had been a promising college football career. In April 2014, Johnson's aunt reported that he had broken into her house and stolen her vehicle. He received four years of deferred probation in January 2015. 

Johnson's father, Robert, previously told News 8 that in the months before the killing, his behavior grew increasingly erratic.

Thomas Johnson was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2014 but refused to take the medications. His father says he repeatedly tried to get through to his son, even once showing up at the home of his son's mother with a case worker and police in an effort to try to get him help.

But he says his son simply wasn't ready to believe he had an illness. He felt powerless to get his son the help he needed.

RELATED: Jurors will hear insanity defense in jogger machete attack trial

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