Today's Paper State News Hutchinson 2024 LEARNS Guide Newsletters Opinion Sports Obits Games Archive Notices Core Values

Man sentenced to prison in murder-for-hire case

by Steven Mross | January 30, 2023 at 4:26 a.m.
Calvin Tyrone Davis - Submitted photo

HOT SPRINGS -- A Hot Springs man was sentenced to 30 years in prison early last week for a 2020 murder-for-hire case after pleading guilty and agreeing to testify against the victim's estranged wife, who was arrested recently and accused of hiring him to kill her husband, who was shot 19 times.

Calvin Tyrone Davis, 46, who has remained in custody on zero bond since his arrest the day of the shooting on June 8, 2020, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for the death of Larry Johnson, 61, who was shot while working in his shop at 360 Westinghouse Drive. Parts of the shooting were recorded during a desperate 911 call from the victim.

The victim's wife, Martha Johnson, 55, who lists a Waldron address, was arrested there recently and brought back to Hot Springs on a charge of first-degree murder, punishable by up to life in prison, and a felony firearm enhancement that could add up to 15 years to her sentence if convicted. She remained in custody Thursday in lieu of a $1 million bond.

Garland County Prosecuting Attorney Michelle Lawrence and Chief Deputy Prosecutor Kara Petro said Wednesday that Davis had agreed to testify against Martha Johnson and in exchange was offered the 30-year sentence, which was done with the approval of Larry Johnson's family.

Davis "didn't want to testify against his co-defendant at first," Petro said. "But I told him we needed his testimony if he wanted that kind of deal. He was looking at 55 years with no deal, 40 for the murder and 15 for the firearm enhancement, to run consecutive, or he could agree to testify and it would be 30 years."

When questioned initially, both Davis and Martha Johnson denied even knowing each other. However, Petro said phone records revealed that Davis had been at her former home in the 1400 block of Spring Street in Hot Springs at least 17 times prior to the murder, and he was believed to be staying there.

According to the probable cause affidavit for Martha Johnson, obtained on Jan. 25 at 9:37 a.m., the Garland County sheriff's office received a 911 call from Larry Johnson on June 8, 2020, saying he had been "shot to hell." While on the phone with him, dispatchers could hear "a series of what they believe was gunfire."

Larry Johnson stated the person who shot him was a Black male who "is up there with my wife." Lawrence said Larry Johnson remained on the line with the operator during the incident and "you hear him die on the call." She noted there was a lull of about five to six minutes and then more shots are fired and they believe Davis reloaded the gun during that time.

"He never would admit to reloading, but there were 23 shell casings found at the scene and the victim was shot 19 times," Petro said. According to Petro, investigators were later able to only load 17 bullets in the rifle and one in the chamber for a maximum total of 18. She also noted all 23 shell casings were matched to the rifle recovered.

When deputies responded to the scene, they found Davis on the property and a .22-caliber rifle under a nearby vehicle that was later determined to be the murder weapon, Petro said. Davis is also seen on game cameras on the property carrying the rifle.

Davis "admitted to shooting him," Petro said. "He made up various different stories, none of which made any sense, but in all of them, he admitted to shooting him. Basically, he tried to minimize it and claim self-defense, but none of his explanations made any sense."

According to the affidavit, Davis was in possession of a cellphone when he was arrested and investigators later accessed the GPS location on the phone which indicated it was at Martha Johnson's Spring Street residence "at least 17 times in the two weeks preceding the shooting."

One message from May 6, 2020, retrieved from the phone stated, "It's Martha. Call me please" and there was a contact "Martha Johnson" located on the phone.

On June 15, Martha Johnson was interviewed by investigators and confirmed she was married to Larry Johnson, but said they were in divorce proceedings and lived separately. She said she had driven to the victim's shop around 9:15 a.m. the day of the shooting to see him, but he was not there and she "promptly left."

She said a short time later she and her juvenile son returned to the property, but were stopped by deputies who told them "it was a crime scene." She reportedly stated she did not know Calvin Davis.

In reviewing game cameras on the property, investigators saw a tan minivan entering the property at 9:24 a.m. and leaving a short time later. On June 17, investigators seized Martha Johnson's tan Chrysler Voyager minivan and processed it for evidence.

It was found that the driver's side rear seat was unfastened from its mount and lying in the floorboard. This corroborated a later statement from a family member of Martha Johnson whom authorities say she confided in, stating she removed the seat to allow Davis to lie down to avoid being seen by the game cameras in the driveway.

On March 16, 2022, the family member was interviewed and stated that several months after the shooting, Martha Johnson told her she hired Davis to kill her husband in exchange for "taking care" of his mother. This was in the form of $10,000 she planned to withdraw "from the court registry" and "wash at Oaklawn Casino," authorities said.

Martha Johnson told the family member she dropped Davis off at the victim's property and left, authorities said. The family member noted Davis had been staying at Martha Johnson's residence and she had seen him there prior to the shooting.

She stated the weapon used was "a long gun of sorts" and Davis had cleaned the firearm and the bullets with alcohol before the shooting.

Petro said when she finally got Davis' confession early last week, he told her Martha Johnson had agreed to give him her house on Spring Street and her minivan in exchange for him killing the victim.

"We suspected all along," Petro said about Martha Johnson's role in her husband's death. "They were going through a divorce and there was a lot of litigation about money and assets. Her minivan was seen on the surveillance footage and we think she dropped him off."

She said there was also a phone call Davis made after his arrest to his mother where he asked her if she had "talked to Martha yet?"

"That's kind of a distinct name. Then we got into all the cellphone records and connected them together," Petro said.

Petro said Martha Johnson "hasn't admitted to anything. She had since relocated to Waldron."

Lawrence said Davis had no prior criminal history before the shooting, noting, "He escalated from no history whatsoever to shooting someone 19 times."

  photo  Martha Johnson - Submitted photo

Print Headline: Man sentenced to prison in murder-for-hire case


Sponsor Content