Thursday, November 20, 2008

Gwatney file released -- mystery remains

Posted By on Thu, Nov 20, 2008 at 10:29 AM

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State Police and Little Rock police released investigative files in the Aug. 13 slaying of car dealer Bill Gwatney and the police chase and shooting of the man who killed him, Timothy Dale Johnson of Searcy.

Bottom line: Nobody has a clue why Johnson killed Gwatney.

UPDATE: A statement from his sister, Janice Peacock of Sheridan, provides the fullest story yet of the killer, a man with emotional and money problems, but nothing extraordinary  by way of political leanings. He was a likely Obama supporter, she said. He was an outdoorsman. Liked to cook and target shoot.

The LRPD released a file of more than 900 pages..

The State Police release of more than 300 pages came with video of the stop and shooting of Johnson, as well as statements from officers.

UPDATE: A video of the end of the chase is here. And go below, to see a speeded-up version of the full chase from Little Rock to Sheridan.

A letter from the Grant County prosecutor says officers were justified in shooting Johnson when he got out of his wrecked pickup with a drawn gun. There was, however, some discrepancy in officers' accounts. Some said he had a gun pulled. The official summary said he had a hadgun in his waistband but appeared to be reaching in his truck for a rifle.  Scene below. Johnson was struck six times by police fire.

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The Little Rock files reveal little about the motivation of Johnson in calling on the state Democratic Party headquarters and asking to see Gwatney, then shooting the popular state Democratic Party chair three times. Gwatney just happened to be visiting the office when Johnson stopped by. Johnson was a night clerk in a retail store who lived alone in his late parents' house in Searcy. Apart from a fascination with weaponry and rifle target shooting, little has emerged about Johnson.

As previously indicated, the file says Johnson had taken a prescription anti-depressant.

Said the police report after a reference to studies in which "suicide or homicide was a violent reaction to the drug":

"According to medical records and autopsy report Mr. Johnson was prescribed Effexor and was found to have it in his system upon his death. There is a strong possibility with the research done that Effexor could have played a part in the irrational and violent behavior."

That's a stab in the dark, though and the question lingers, why Gwatney as a source of rage, whatever the trigger?

The investigation came up empty. Car keys on a Gwatney dealership ring at Johnson's house were just keys to an old car. A co-worker at the Conway Target said she once talked to Johnson about buying a car from Gwatney. Nothing was found at Johnson's home related to Bill Gwatney. A sticky note with the name Gwatney and a phone number found at the home was to a long disconnected number for a Gwatney towing service.

An inspection of Johnson's personal computer by FBI experts turned up nothing. He visited only a handful of routine websites, including eBay and wunderground, with weather information.

No solid hint of politics turned up at any turn, though a member of the Gwatney family speculated at one point to police that White County politics might have motivated Johnson.

Johnson's relatives could offer no insight. A sister said he normally voted Democratic.

Shortly before he met Gwatney, Johnson told a Democratic Party worker that he was from White County and wanted to talk to Gwatney about White County, but nothing he said subsequently -- or anything said by those interviewed by police -- gave a clue to any specific issue that might have been on Johnson's mind.

MORE on the jump.

Websites visited by Johnson: yahoo,, google, wikipedia, todaysthv, (sportswear sales), (a French bed and breakfast), atf, (a mail account), (a bidding accounty), wunderground.

Email address:

Said the FBI: "Based on this examination amd review, it has been determined that no data exists which is relevant to this examination."


A sister of the killer said Johnson had a normal childhood, was smart and made good grades and had a typical political outlook. She said he developed anxiety attacks after his mother had died and his father became ill. She thought he was somewhat depressed and suicidal. He had financial problems and had asked for money from his sister to get guns out of pawn that he'd hocked to pay for college class tuition.

The report recounts his last day at work at Target, where he walked off after talking to a supervisor about graffiti he'd written on a wall.

Brenda Morgan, a Target worker, said she received a call from Johnson about 10:15 a.. or 10:30 a.m. the day of the shooting and said, "Brenda, I really need ....." But she cut him off and told him that he'd have to call back later. The shooting was at 11:49 a.m. Morgan also reported that Johnson had said he was unhappy about a piece of legislation that had passed several months before, but she couldn't recall details. Before the shooting, Johnson visited a beauty salon where he got hair cuts to inquire about the wellbeing of a pregnant stylist.

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