Exwick knife attacker says sorry in prison letter
A MAN currently serving 22 years for attempted murder has apologised for stabbing his victim 38 times and confessed his guilt in a letter penned from his prison cell.
David Johnson was sentenced earlier this month for trying to kill Danny Ross who only survived the frenzied attack at his flat in Sidwell Street, Exeter, because he was overweight.
The 33-year-old from Exwick was convicted by jury after a trial heard he had strangled Mr Ross with a belt until he was unconscious before repeatedly stabbing him with a kitchen knife.
The court heard that the victim, 44, would have bled to death had a third man, who was present in the flat at the start of the incident but fled before the stabbing began, not called the ambulance when he heard Johnson boast outside about what he had done.
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Mr Ross needed 70 stitches and was told he only survived because paramedics were able to treat him just before his blood pressure fell to a critical level.
But Johnson, who had previously tried to claim that Mr Ross had stabbed himself as part of a compensation claim, has now written to the Express & Echo and expressed his "horror" at his actions. He also attempted to explain what drove him to what the judge described as a "frenzied attack."
In careful handwriting on blue-lined paper, stamped from Exeter Prison, he said he "allowed all the years of watching heroin ruin my family consume me with devastating results."
He added: "I am horrified by what I did and wish I could turn back time. I am not a violent natured man. I would like to take this opportunity to say sorry to Mr Ross and to his family and sorry to my mum who has worked her whole life to keep the family together and has stuck by me and has sorry to all the other people affected by my actions."
He said he wrote the letter to give "my side of the story" and he said it was "not by any means a way of justifying or excusing what I did."
"My actions on that night were inexcusable and what I did to Mr Ross was nothing short of a terrible violent attack," he continued. "Firstly I must stress that my intentions were never to try and kill Mr Ross. What happened was never planned or pre-meditated."
His mitigation at sentencing focused on the impact his father's descent into heroin addiction had on the whole family.
In his letter Johnson said that since he was about 15 he had watched his father deteriorate from "a great, hard-working dad into a full blown heroin addict."
"This contributed to me having problems with cocaine and alcohol," he said. "So in 2009 I went to rehab to sort myself out, which I managed to do, and even became a drug and alcohol support worker. When I came back to Exeter to see my family I was a new man.
"My confidence was back and life was looking good. However this was short lived when I realised my dad had sunken deeper into addiction and the pain of watching him very slowly die in front of me was tearing me up inside. I couldn't understand why I could go to work and help people get away from heroin addiction, yet I couldn't help my own dad. So, I started drinking again. At this point I must stress that I have never taken or tried heroin.
"On the evening of the offence I was at my mum's and remembered my mate wanted a copy of a film that Mr Ross had so I rang him and told him to come around, pick me up and I would get it for him.
"I remember my dad moaning about £20 Mr Ross owed him so I said I would mention it to him and offered my dad £20 from my wallet, which he declined.
"At Mr Ross' I mentioned the money and Mr Ross become irate.
"I went to the toilet and heard Mr Ross and my mate laughing and the rest is history.
"I allowed all the years of watching heroin ruin my family consume me with devastating results."
Johnson also denied being drunk on the night in question or that he said to a friend outside "he's f***ing dead – get over it."
Mr Ross, who said he is struggling to cope with what happened, said he was "dubious" about how genuine the apology was. He said: "Twenty-two years is a long sentence and I feel this could be something to help his prison record and be released sooner.
"He must have meant to kill me – you don't stab someone that many times unless you mean to do it.
"Fair play to him in a sense for writing a letter, he didn't have to do that, but I just cannot imagine anything from him being genuine.
"I am just glad it happened to me as if it had been someone else, who was not carrying as much weight, they would have been killed.
"I barely leave the flat these days and don't do anything. I am scared to go outside and have no life any more.
"This letter certainly doesn't help to make me feel any better about things."
When Johnson was originally sentenced Judge Graham Cottle said it was by "pure chance" that Mr Ross did not bleed to death in minutes.
He described the victim as a "highly intelligent" man whose life was devastated by a catastrophic brain injury in 1991 which left him with "physical consequences" and "mental disadvantages".
Turning to Johnson, he added: "Danny Ross was in every sense a vulnerable victim – one on whom you preyed.
"You went to his home on the day of this offence.
"You were seriously under the influence of alcohol. I am quite satisfied that you went round to his home in order to attack him. You were concerned that he had somehow double-crossed your father over a very small sum of money – £20. Mr Ross was a good friend of your father's and he valued your father as a good friend.
"You began to attack him by strangling him with a belt and he was very probably strangled to the point of unconsciousness. The fact that he was probably unconscious when you began to stab him may explain why he took no defensive action. You stabbed him repeatedly, a total of 38 stab wounds. It was a frenzied attack.
"It was by pure chance that none of the wounds you inflicted upon him penetrated a vital organ – he would have bled to death within minutes."
Investigating officer in the case DC Andy Hingston added: "There can be no doubt that David Johnson intended to kill Danny Ross that August night in 2011."