WMBF Investigates: 2 families desperate for answers in 2 unsolved murders

WMBF Investigates: 2 families desperate for answers in 2 unsolved murders
Anchor Michael Maely talks to the Johnson family about the death of their father, Lacey Johnson.
Anchor Michael Maely talks to the Johnson family about the death of their father, Lacey Johnson.
Anchor Michael Maely sits down with Joan McDaniel to talk about her son, James Blen Haselden's death.
Anchor Michael Maely sits down with Joan McDaniel to talk about her son, James Blen Haselden's death.

MARION COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - A not guilty verdict despite the confession of a murder.

It's been an unthinkable reality for the family of Lacey Johnson of Mullins since that verdict was read November 2014.

They've been trying to process why a woman who told a 911 dispatcher she stabbed Johnson in 2012, is not behind bars.

WMBF News sat down with Johnson's family, and reveal startling details about another unsolved murder that could be linked to this one, and share the possible new information that could help solve it.

Brothers remember their late father
Alex and Matt Johnson cling to the memories of their father Lacey Johnson.

"He was a great guy he had a great personality…[would] do anything to help anybody," the brothers said of their father.

Those memories are all they've had, since October of 2012, the night Johnson's girlfriend Donna Long called 911 and confessed to stabbing their father in the chest.

"I did it, I did it, I swear to God, I did it," Long's voice recorded on the 911 dispatch call, the night Johnson died.

The same 911 call jurors heard last November during three days of testimony. But after less than three hours of deliberations, a not guilty verdict was read in a Marion County courtroom.

The woman accused of murdering Johnson, would walk free.

"As far as the justice system, I have zero faith, absolutely none … the whole time they was like, 'We got it, there is no way this is a slam dunk, she's guilty,'" Matt said.

Donna Long's attorney presented at trial that she was intoxicated and not thinking clearly when she made the 911 call, and says a murder weapon was never discovered.

Long testified that she must have passed out...when she woke up, she saw Johnson bleeding.

"I knew to call the ambulance and call 911 and give you the address where I did it at -- but I don't remember that I did it," Matt theorizes, questioning Long's testimony. "I can understand if you wake up...but you have enough sense to call 911 to tell them that you stabbed a man, then you call seven minutes later to ask where they are -- Because she called twice," he said.

The Johnsons say they believe authorities weren't as thorough on the investigation, because they believed they already had a confession.

"The bathroom sink was full of blood but [investigators] didn't see whose it was," Matt said. "They didn't even come back to search for the knife -- that knife may be still out in the field for all we know."

WMBF News has reached out to Marion County authorities who have yet to confirm any details on evidence gathered the night Lacey Johnson was killed.

And even before the night Lacey was killed, the Johnson's say there were signs of violence in the years they knew Donna Long, they say Long even threatened their dad just a month before he died.

"Four weeks before the stabbing, she put my daddy in a headlock and said, 'You SOB, if I don't kill you now, I'm going to kill you,' Alex recalled.

But Johnson told WMBF News something else about Donna, something he says she told him years earlier, a comment he didn't think much about, until the death of his father.

And that comment could help Dillon authorities solve another murder from more than a decade ago.

More on the new possible evidence shortly, but first the details about this case.

Death investigation of James Blen Haselden
Police originally arrested another Long.

This time, Sherrie Long, officers booked her along with Roger Barfield for the death of 28-year-old James Blen Haselden.

He, too, was stabbed in the chest.

Joan McDaniel has been searching for justice since September of 2003 when authorities found her son's lifeless body in his Dillon apartment.

"I grieve every day, just in a different way," McDaniel said.

"Nobody deserves to die the way he died to be left to rot. Nobody deserves that. No matter how bad or good you are...you don't deserve it," she cried.

A police report shows officers responded to a fight involving Haselden and Barfield three days prior to finding Haselden's body.

"[Authorities] said that Blen went down there, and I guess that he and Roger maybe had words or something and he started hitting Roger, and Roger stayed down on the ground. I guess Sherrie tried to break up the fight or whatever," McDaniel told WMBF News.

McDaniel said a witness told her at some point her son was able to run upstairs to his apartment, but authorities never spoke to him that night.

"Maybe if [authorities] had have gone in with forced entry or something they would have found him then, and they would have known then, maybe who murdered him," McDaniel questions every day.

Solicitor recalls the investigation
Fourth Circuit Deputy Solicitor Kernard Redmond says he worked with Dillon Police on this case from near the beginning, and despite those arrests for murder, he dismissed the case in 2013, with 'leave to restore,' meaning he can pursue charges if new evidence surfaces.

Redmond said new information prevented him from taking Sherrie Long and Roger Barfield to court.

"I will say this, at the time of the fight, at that point -- law enforcement -- the only thing they were aware of, was a fight, they were not aware of anything else, other than a fight," Redmond said.

Redmond said there are no statements from anyone either having seen or committed a stabbing.

He also said, because a fight occurred at the time, a judge would have to determine whether self-defense or defense of others would allow immunity for the stabbing.

"It makes me angry, I've got to the point, where I almost lost hope in the judicial system, I have no faith in it, because to me, my son was killed, those were the only two people around him at the time that he was never seen again," McDaniel cried.

Another stabbing victim in Dillon
Four years later, Dillon police arrested Sherrie Long again, this time for another stabbing.

The victim? Roger Barfield -- the same man who was previously arrested in Haselden's murder.

Police informed McDaniel about the arrest.

"I thought surely, based on what he told me, or what I'd heard, I'd finally see justice one way or another, whether it was with my son, or what she had done to this person," Joan said.

But this case hit a roadblock too.

"The victim in no uncertain terms indicated that there was not a desire to go forward, but let's just say that we would not get cooperation if the case proceeded to trial," Redmond said.

Two Dillon stabbings, one of them fatal, both of them lead police to Sherrie Long, but no one makes it to trial.

"She's a mother and I'm sure if anything ever happened to her, she'd be in the same place I'm in, she'd want to know too," said McDaniel.

Possible glimmer of hope
The latest glimmer of hope for McDaniel, may come from something Lacey Johnson's son says he heard Donna say about her sister, years before the murder of his dad.

"What she said was her sister stabbed a fella in Dillon and they couldn't find the knife, so they could not send her to court, because they didn't have proof of who stabbed him," Alex admitted.

"It just makes me sick, it actually makes me sick," McDaniel said.

Meanwhile, two families struggle for answers as two murders remain unsolved.

"It should make a lot of people scared -- to know that you can do that and get away with it," said Alex. "You really don't think that can really happen [that] it's only on TV."

WMBF News reached out to Morgan Martin, attorney for Donna Long. Martin released the following statement regarding the case:

I respect the questions and concerns of the family. I also hope everyone remembers we had a week long trial to determine the verdict, and I feel that everyone should respect that.

Meanwhile, two families struggle for answers as with two murders remain unsolved.

If you have any information regarding the death of Lacey Johnson or James Blen Haselden, please call police.

A Facebook page titled, Justice for James Blen Haselden has been created for the community.

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