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Leonard J. YOUNG





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: November 16/19, 1999
Date of arrest: November 30, 1999
Date of birth: January 22, 1945
Victims profile: William Bramlett / Hillary Johnson, 24
Method of murder: Shooting (.22 caliber pistol) / Stabbing with knife
Location: Mississippi/Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in Tennessee on November 8, 2002

The Supreme Court of Tennessee




Leonard Young met a woman during the 1990 Christmas holidays. The two became romantically involved and dated until the early part of 1993. In 1992, the woman moved to her current residence in Hardeman County, Tennessee. The home is located on a 175-acre wooded lot.

At approximately 9:15 p.m. on November 16, 1999, the woman returned home from an exercise class and discovered a man inside her house. When she "started back toward her car," the man ran out the back door, calling her name. The woman recognized Young’s voice.

Young told her that he was not going to hurt her and wanted to speak with her. As they walked back towards the house, the woman observed that Young was carrying a sawed-off shotgun "beside his leg."

For the next forty-five minutes, Young and the woman discussed their families. Young also told the woman that he had entered her house through the unlocked kitchen door; however, she insisted that the door had been locked. Thereafter, Young stood to leave, thanked the woman for everything that she "had done for him," and asked her not to call "the law."

After Young left, the woman discovered that her car keys were missing. She then observed the tail lights of her red Mercedes, which was being backed out of the garage, and notified the sheriff’s department.

She subsequently discovered that Young had entered her home by breaking a bedroom window. That night, the woman went to stay with her step-daughter and did not return home until December 11, 1999.

The woman’s vehicle was recovered in Ashland, Mississippi, twenty-three miles from her home. A local family owned approximately 500 acres of land in Benton County, Mississippi, just south of Ashland, approximately thirty miles outside of Collierville, Tennessee.

A storage building on the property housed trucks, tractors, and several boats. One of the vehicles inside the building, a 1989 Ford Bronco, belonged to one of the family members. Other than the man and his father, only the caretaker had access to the storage building. The keys were kept in the vehicles inside the storage building.

The 500 acre piece of property was fenced, and the road leading to the property was blocked by an iron gate which was locked with a chain and padlock. The storage building was approximately one-half mile from the gate and was not visible from the road.

The man verified that on November 18, 1999, the Bronco was locked inside the storage building, and the gate to the property was locked. He explained that on the Sunday preceding November 18, he and his son went to the Benton County property to practice target shooting. He got about halfway home and realized that he had left the guns in the Bronco. The three guns left inside the Bronco were a nine-millimeter pistol, a .22 Weatherby long rifle, and a .410 chrome shotgun.

Because the Bronco was locked, he decided to wait until the following week to retrieve the guns. Within the next day or so the caretaker contacted the man's father and asked whether he had taken the Bronco. The father responded that he had not, and, upon learning that the Bronco was missing, his son reported the vehicle as stolen. He subsequently discovered that a window in the storage building had been broken and the gate pulled off its hinges. The Bronco was later discovered in midtown Memphis; however, the three guns were missing.

In 1999, Young’s niece lived at in midtown Memphis. She had not seen Young for approximately six years when he arrived at her house in November 1999. Young was driving a Ford Bronco. Young asked his niece if she had a car, and she replied that she did not. He also inquired whether her father still lived in Texas, indicating that he might visit him. Young visited with his niece for approximately forty-five minutes before leaving at 5:00 p.m.

Around 7:00 p.m. that evening, Mississippi law enforcement officers arrived at the niece's residence and asked that she contact them if she again saw Young. Young returned two days later, but his niece refused to allow him inside her house. She then contacted the police as instructed.

On November 21, 1999, the stolen 1989 Ford Bronco was discovered by Memphis Police on the same block as the niece's residence.

In August 1999, the twenty-four-year-old victim, Hillary Johnson, a native of Chicago, received a teaching fellowship in the Philosophy Department at the University of Memphis. Upon arriving in Memphis, Hillary purchased a white Hyundai for $1,350.

On November 19, 1999, Hillary informed her mother that she planned to drive home to Chicago for the Thanksgiving holiday. Two days later, Hillary's mother attempted to telephone her daughter to no avail. A fellow graduate student had planned to meet Hillary that morning and discuss their grading methods but Hillary never contacted her.

Later that day, Hillary’s boyfriend telephoned Hillary's mother to inform her that he had been unable to contact Hillary. She told the young man to let her know if he still had not heard from Hillary later in the day.

At 10:30 p.m. that evening, he telephoned to inform Hillary's mother that he had been unable to locate Hillary. Concerned about Hillary’s whereabouts, Hillary's mother contacted the police. She also contacted Hillary’s landlords and asked if they would allow the police to enter the apartment. In addition to Hillary’s family and the police, Hillary’s friends began looking for her.

On November 22, 1999, Memphis Police Officer Kyatonie Jones received a missing person report from Hillary's mother. She gave the officer Hillary's address and Officer Jones sent another officer to the apartment to investigate. As a result of the officer’s investigation, Officer Jones issued a missing-person’s broadcast on Hillary.

In November 1999, Rick Marlar, a lieutenant with the Mississippi Highway Patrol, was assigned to the Criminal Investigative Bureau. Lieutenant Marlar, as well as other Mississippi Highway Patrol officers, were involved in the search for Hillary.

On November 29, the officers learned that Hillary’s vehicle had been located in Tippah County, Mississippi. Lieutenant Marlar proceeded to the location, which was off in a rural county road area - "very rural area - wooded area - pine trees, oak trees . . . - there was also a house that might have been a hunting cabin at one time or an old house place."

No evidence of blood was discovered in Hillary’s car. A search of the "cabin" revealed opened cans of food in the kitchen, a ladies jacket in the living room, and what appeared to be blood on some bed sheets. These stains, however, turned out to be deer blood and paint.

During the search of the cabin and surrounding area, Lieutenant Marlar learned of Jessie Cochran, who lived in the adjoining town just over the state-line in Tennessee. Young's ex-girlfriend’s residence was approximately fifteen miles from the location of Hillary’s vehicle if traveling by road, but only two miles if "cutting through the paths through the woods."

Lieutenant Marlar received permission from his superiors and the Hardeman County, Tennessee Sheriff’s Department to enter the state of Tennessee. A Hardeman County sheriff’s deputy accompanied Lieutenant Marlar to the woman’s residence. A partially filled bottle of Diet Coke and a plastic shopping bag were discovered in the woods between the "cabin" and the woman’s residence.

The officers approached the woman’s residence on foot, leaving their vehicles parked on the main road. As Lieutenant Marlar reached the front porch, he looked through a window and observed a "gentleman, later identified as Young, sitting there watching TV, and it was like a deep freeze directly in front of him, and the TV was kind of to his left. And on the deep freeze was a nine-millimeter pistol."

When Young looked up, Lieutenant Marlar pointed his weapon at him and ordered him to freeze. Young moved toward his gun, but Lieutenant Marlar cocked his weapon and told Young he would shoot. Eventually, Young raised his hands and placed them behind his head. Lieutenant Marlar and the other officers then entered the residence.

However, Young refused to comply with their instructions and was forced to the floor. Lieutenant Marlar discovered a .22 caliber pistol and a filet knife on Young’s person.

Young was arrested and advised of his constitutional rights. Upon being questioned by police, Young admitted that he had entered the woman’s residence through a window and had taken her Mercedes. He stated that he had evaded police and hid in the woods for two days.

Young then came upon the storage building in the woods where he discovered the Ford Bronco. After taking the Bronco, Young traveled to Texas, stopping to see his sister and niece in Memphis. He subsequently returned to Memphis and abandoned the Bronco near his niece’s residence.

Young stated that after his niece informed him that the "law" was looking for him, he "took off running." Shortly thereafter, he encountered a girl in a white Honda at a stop sign. Young "jumped in the car, brought her on 64 highway, put her out between the last subdivision and the store."

Young claimed that, although he had two guns in his boots, he did not use the weapons to gain entrance to the vehicle. When Young jumped into the car, the girl asked him not to hurt her. Young replied, "I ain’t going to hurt you lady, all I want to do is get away." Young described the girl as "kind of big girl, brown headed," with short hair.

Young stated that prior to "putting her out" he took some of her credit cards. He then drove through Alabama to Florida, back to Alabama, arriving at the ex-girlfriend’s residence four days later.

While being detained, Young signed a waiver of rights form. He was informed by Mississippi law enforcement officers of charges pending against him in Mississippi. He was advised that he had a right to refuse to return to Mississippi, and that the officers could then extradite him.

Young was further advised that he could sign a waiver of extradition and the officers could transport him immediately to Mississippi. Young signed the waiver of extradition and was taken into custody by Sheriff F.D. Buddy East of Lafayette County, Mississippi.

At the Lafayette County Jail, Young was placed alone in a cell. He had access to a television and a pay telephone. On November 30, 1999, Memphis Police Sergeant Gerald Blum and his partner, Sergeant C.W. Cox, traveled to Oxford, Mississippi, to question Young regarding his involvement in Hillary’s disappearance.

Young advised Sergeant Blum that he approached Hillary’s car in midtown Memphis. Armed with two pistols, he entered the car and forced Hillary to drive around the city and then along Highway 64. Eventually, he released the victim and drove away. When Sergeant Blum asked Young about what he should tell the victim’s family, Young responded, "Tell them I’m not the one that hurt her. . . . Well, if she’s hurt."

On December 3, 1999, Special Agents C.M. Sturgis and Joseph N. Rinehart from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Memphis arrived at the Lafayette County Jail to interview Young. The FBI became involved in the investigation upon discovering that the offenses had crossed state lines and that Hillary’s credit card had been used in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida after she was reported missing.

The agents were met by Young’s attorney and Sheriff East and taken to Young’s cell. Young was the only inmate confined to the area, and during the interview he and the agents sat at a picnic table in the common area outside his cell.

Prior to questioning, Young was verbally advised of his rights and indicated that he was willing to speak with the agents. Thereafter, the agents watched television and discussed general topics with Young. Young was free to move about the common area and spent much of the time watching a football game on the television. Young was also provided coffee and food.

After Young ate dinner, Agent Sturgis took some photographs of Hillary from an envelope and laid them on the picnic table, remarking that "she was such a pretty child, and it’s just a shame that we can’t find her." Young ignored the photographs and returned to his cell.

Shortly thereafter, he returned to the table, tapped Agent Sturgis on the chest, and said, "Basically, I’m fixin’ to give you something." He asked for a pen and on the back of the envelope he drew a little area - looked like an S curve. And then a round area. And he started describing a field that was ten to fifteen acres of four-inch, winter-wheat crop that had been planted; that there was a brush pile directly in - as you pulled in on the cut-in - a little gravel road off the . . . paved road – that there would be a cropping of trees to your left, that there would be a large agricultural fuel tank past the trees that was silver-colored but rusting; and that, "Next to that, under two pieces of tin, you will find what you’re looking for."

This information was relayed to other officers, but the officers were unable to locate the area described by Young. Later that evening, after an exhaustive attempt by Young to explain where Hillary’s body was located, Sheriff East suggested that they place Young in a patrol car and allow him to direct them to the location of the body.

With Young directing him, Sheriff East drove from Oxford to Olive Branch to - up No. 7, up into Tennessee, crossed 72, and on up . . . in Tennessee. . . . We went straight up 7, crossed 72 highway, and kept going. We turned up there to the left like we was going to Somerville. . . . . We was in Marshall County. We left Lafayette and went into Marshall, and then we went to Fayette County, Tennessee, I think."

Sheriff East stated he "had no earthly idea where he was." It began to rain and was very dark. Sheriff East explained that he "kept driving around and missing a road that was hard to find."

Finally, Young instructed Sheriff East to drive "real slow." After taking "another little turn, Young instructed Sheriff East to drive off the blacktop into a field. Young then stated, "Right out there to the left under a piece of tin."

Approximately two and a half hours after leaving the Lafayette County Jail, the officers discovered Hillary’s body beside the piece of tin as described by Young.

Darren Goods, a Memphis Police Officer assigned to the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, was assigned to the investigation into the disappearance of Hillary. Officer Goods and his partner, Chad Golden, were alerted that Hillary’s vehicle had been located in Mississippi. The officers went to Mississippi to escort the vehicle to Tennessee.

On December 4, 1999, Sergeant Blum returned to the Lafayette County Jail to interview Young. During this interview, Young stated that he had taken a Bronco and driven to Texas. Upon returning to Memphis, his niece advised him that the police were looking for him. Young left the Bronco parked on the street and began walking. As he crossed the street, a girl drove up and asked him a question.

Young stated, "I jumped in the car with her, . . . told her I needed a way to get out of town and . . . took her and her car, out of town. I dumped her off out there in Shelby County and I hid her body under some tin."

Young admitted that he had two weapons on his person, but stated that they were concealed in his boots. He advised the girl that he was not going to hurt her, and she did not fight or resist. The girl told Young that she was from Chicago and "asked where he was from."

Young admitted that he was responsible for Hillary’s death, but claimed that he was unable to recall how her death occurred. He stated that, at some point, Hillary pulled a knife from behind the seat and he had to disarm her. During the altercation, Hillary "got cut."

Young stated that he dragged Hillary twenty yards, during which time Hillary was moving. Young claimed that as he placed Hillary under the piece of tin, he "had to move her and her pants slid down to her knees . . . ." Young drove away in Hillary’s car.

At 2:00 a.m. on December 4, 1999, Hillary's mother received a telephone call from the Midwest Bureau of the FBI. Hillary's mother learned that her daughter’s body had been discovered.

Two days later, Hillary's mother attended a memorial service for her daughter at the University of Memphis. Dr. O.C. Smith, the Shelby County Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on Hillary’s body.

Dr. Smith initially responded to the location where the body was discovered. Dr. Smith described the scene: She was lying on her back. She was wearing a brown sweater, had green cargo-type trousers that were present down about her ankles, and there had been some muddy soiling to her skin, and there had been some recent animal activity as well.

Thereafter, Hillary’s body was taken to the forensic center for further examination. Dr. Smith described the examination as follows: The examination of Ms. Johnson’s body was significant for the findings of bruises that were about her right orbit – bruises on the right side of her neck; three bruises – three round bruises along the line of the left jaw; bruises on her left chin, and on the back of the right thigh.

There were also indications of a stab wound in the clothing – upper body clothing - the brown sweater at the left back just below the neckline, and that was adjacent to a stab wound found in the same position on her back, which was in the left upper back about 55 inches above the heel and 3.4 inches to the left of the centerline of the body. X-rays indicated that there was a retained knife blade present in her left chest cavity.

At autopsy, the surgical incisions revealed the presence of that knife blade going through the skin and the subcutaneous tissues. It went between the third and fourth ribs on the left side. It went through the left upper lobe of the lung. It went into and out of the aorta, which is the largest artery in the human body.

The maximum measured depth of penetration was 5.77 inches into her body. The wound itself was responsible for the production of a condition known as a hemathorax in which blood collects in the chest cavity on the left side of the body. That accumulation of blood compressed the left lung.

It also pushed organs of the chest over to her right side. This is a condition which can cause interference with the heartbeat by interfering with the flow of blood to and from the heart as well as the damage to the lung itself as well as the compression of the lung. The right lung was affected by a condition known as pulmonary edema. When the person goes into shock, when a heart begins to fail, the air sack in the lung can fill up with fluid. And so she had a finding of pulmonary edema on the right lung as well.

And additionally, examination of the genital area showed that there were two blue fibers recovered from the immediate genital region. Dr. Smith opined that the bruising to Hillary’s person occurred less that two hours prior to her death.

He further concluded that Hillary lived only a matter of minutes after receiving the knife wound. Dr. Smith concluded that the death of Hillary Johnson was the direct result of the knife stab wound to the back.

Based upon the foregoing evidence, the jury convicted Young of first degree premeditated murder, theft of property over $1,000, and especially aggravated kidnapping.

During the penalty phase, the State presented the testimony of Dr. Ronald Sundstrom, a professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis. Dr. Sundstrom testified that Hillary was his teaching assistant and a graduate student in the philosophy department. He explained that as his teaching assistant, Hillary was in charge of one-third of his students.

The victim’s responsibilities included grading papers, teaching discussion sessions with the undergraduate students, and counseling students. Dr. Sundstrom related that Hillary’s murder had a "tremendous" impact on the undergraduate students she "mentored," her associate graduate students, and the faculty. Many students were unable to finish the semester, and the entire philosophy department "ground to a halt." One student "dropped out."

Hillary’s mother testified that the entire family continues to suffer as a result of her daughter’s murder. She said that Hillary’s brother had difficulty in school and Hillary’s father had been unable to continue in his endeavors to start a new business.

Moreover, at the time of Hillary’s disappearance, Hillary's mother was completing an undergraduate degree in philosophy and found it difficult to finish. Although she was in graduate school at the time of trial, she had been unable to complete certain courses as a result of being unable to focus. Prior to Hillary’s disappearance, Hillary had fought with her best friend, and her friend was distraught because she can never make amends with Hillary.

According to Hillary's mother, the friend had sought therapy and admitted herself to a hospital, fearing she would take her own life. Hillary's mother further testified that two of Hillary’s former boyfriends found it difficult "to cope with her death," and Hillary’s aunts, uncles, and grandmothers "all struggled to understand how to get up each day and go on without Hillary." The State also presented the testimony of Joe Warren, a criminal court clerk, regarding Young’s prior felony convictions.

The clerk’s files reflected that on June 24, 1974, Young pled guilty to three counts of robbery with a deadly weapon. On June 11, 1974, a jury convicted Young of rape, and Young pled guilty to robbery with a deadly weapon. The Circuit Court Clerk of Lafayette County, Mississippi presented clerk’s files reflecting that on July 19, 2001, a jury convicted Young of one count of kidnapping and on October 20, 2001, although indicted for capital murder, Young pled guilty to one count of manslaughter.

A resident of Oxford, Mississippi testified that on November 15, 1999, he was preparing for work when he heard his wife scream. He ran outside and observed Young attempting to force his wife into a car. The man ran toward Young until Young pointed a shotgun at him and ordered him to stop. As the man’s coworker turned to run, Young again "drawed the shotgun up and said he was gonna kill that F-ing punk because he didn’t like him anyway because they had problems."

Young said that he wanted the man’s wife "to take him off." The man told Young, "No, you take me. You ain’t taking my wife." The woman handed the car keys to her husband. Both men got into a 1997 Lumina, the man in the driver’s seat and Young in the passenger seat. With the shotgun aimed at the man’s head, Young ordered him to drive to Pea Ridge Road.

Apparently, Young knew the man’s mother-in-law, because he told the man to tell her that he "blew her house up, which he did – he blew it up in Water Valley. And he said, ‘Tell her I’m coming back, and I’m gonna take her down to Turner Road, and I’m gonna blow her head off.’"

Eventually, the car ran out of gas. Young abandoned the vehicle and walked into the woods. Buddy East, the Sheriff of Lafayette County, Mississippi, testified that as a result of the kidnapping of this man, he learned that Young had threatened to harma man named William Bramlett.

Sheriff East immediately ordered deputies to locate Mr. Bramlett. Upon locating Mr. Bramlett, the deputies advised him of Young’s threats and continued to search for Young to no avail. The following morning, William Bramlett was reported missing by his sister.

On November 17, 1999, William was found dead in his trailer. He had been shot in the back of the head with a .22 caliber pistol. His pickup truck was later discovered in Hardeman County, Tennessee, three miles from Jessie Cochran’s residence. The defense presented no testimony.

At 9:05 p.m., following submission of the instructions, the jury retired to consider the verdict. Deliberations continued until midnight and resumed at 10:00 a.m. the following morning.

At 11:10 a.m., the jury returned its verdict, finding that the State had proven the aggravating circumstances, that the defendant was previously convicted of one or more violent felonies other than the present charge; that the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding, interfering with or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution of the defendant or another; and that the murder was committed during the perpetration of a felony.

The jury further found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. In accordance with their verdicts, the jury sentenced Young to death for the premeditated murder of Hillary Johnson.


Leonard J. Young



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