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Witnesses in murder trial appear on drug charges

Casey Jo Christiansen and Michael Earl Hawkins

Two of the state’s witnesses in the homicide trial of Tiawain Johnson were back in Douglas County Circuit Court on Friday, a week after a jury acquitted Johnson.

This time, Michael Earl Hawkins and Casey Jo Christiansen sat at the defendant’s table instead of on the witness stand.

Hawkins, 28, of Chicago pleaded guilty to three felony drug charges — two counts of delivering heroin and one count of delivering cocaine. Seven additional drug charges were dismissed, but read in for sentencing. A joint recommendation was made for four years in prison and three years extended supervision with credit for the more than two years Hawkins has already spent behind bars.

Judge Kelly Thimm instead ordered a pre-sentencing investigation.

“I may accept the joint recommendation, I may accept the recommendation of the PSI or I may do something different,” the judge told Hawkins, stressing that he is not bound by anyone’s recommendation. Sentencing was set for July 24.

The maximum penalty on each heroin delivery charge is 12½ years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines; the maximum penalty for the cocaine charge is 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000.

Christiansen, 25, of Superior appeared earlier Friday. Her attorney Chris Gramstrup said he did receive an offer from District Attorney Dan Blank on Thursday, but he had some problems with the agreement that he wanted to talk with Blank about. The status conference was rescheduled for this week. Christiansen faces felony charges of possession with intent to deliver cocaine and heroin, both as a party to a crime, and maintaining a drug trafficking place. If convicted, she could be sentenced up to 40 years in prison for the cocaine charge, 25 years for the heroin charge and 3½ years for maintaining a drug trafficking place. Christiansen remains free on $2,000 cash bail.

Hawkins and his brother, Jerard Hampton, testified during the homicide trial that they heard Johnson confess to the fatal shooting of Toriano Dawen Cooper. Cooper was shot Jan. 15, 2012, while working on a car outside a Superior residence. Christiansen, Hampton’s girlfriend, corroborated most of Hampton’s story.

Johnson’s defense lawyer, Aaron Nelson, suggested to the jury that the witnesses all had reasons to lie about Johnson being the killer. Most significant, he argued, testimony leading to the successful prosecution of Johnson could improve their legal situations in the form of plea deals or other considerations.

A jury of eight women and four men found Johnson not guilty of first degree intentional homicide after 2½ hours of deliberation.

Hampton, 33, faces seven felony drug charges and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon. His next court appearance is set for Wednesday.