The Real Reason Texas Judge ‘Vanished’ After Haunting Trial

Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Facebook
Photo Illustration by Luis G. Rendon/The Daily Beast/Facebook

Kelli Johnson, a Texas district court judge who has not been seen since the beginning of the month, is not “missing,” her brother told The Daily Beast—she is on medical leave.

The rumors about Harris County Judge Johnson began swirling this week, when local news station ABC13 reported she had been mysteriously “absent” from her post at the 178th Criminal Court since May 1. Coworkers told the outlet she was exhibiting “manic” behavior before she disappeared and was a “danger to herself and to the community.”

But Clay Johnson, the judge’s brother and a local attorney, told The Daily Beast his sister was “fine” and that her family and wife are in “daily contact with her.”

“She’s not missing, she’s on medical leave,” he said. “She’s in touch with the family, and everything is fine… and that’s about all I can say.”

Johnson is one of the longest-serving judges in the county and the first openly gay woman to be elected to her position. Her role involves overseeing high-profile murder cases, such as a recent capital murder case in which a 34-year-old man was accused of brutally killing his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son.

The boy’s surviving siblings all testified in the trial, detailing how their mother’s boyfriend, Brian Coulter, beat them and locked them in their rooms for hours on end. The youngest, now 9, described how he watched Coulter beat his brother to death with a Spider-Man figurine and a model jet.

On the final day of trial last month, Johnson deliberated for 20 minutes before finding Coulter guilty and sentencing him to life without parole. She spoke directly to Coulter at the hearing, telling him how presiding over his case had impacted her personal life.

“I’ve been practicing criminal law for 24-ish years,” she said. “I thought I'd heard everything. I thought I’d gotten pretty good at compartmentalizing things that occur up here when I go back to my own family, to my own life. But that stopped with this case.”

Johnson called the facts of this case some of the “most horrific” she’d ever seen, noting that she had been required to “painstakingly witness [and] take notes” and “go over every single one of those exhibits.”

“Those children have haunted me this last week,” she said. “They have haunted my mind and they have interrupted my safe space when I leave this building.”

Clay Johnson declined to comment on whether the case had any impact on his sister’s decision to take medical leave or when she would return to work.

Houston police responded to an incident involving Johnson near her home on May 4 that was recorded as a “disturbance/CIT,” or crisis intervention, according to ABC 13.

A court spokesperson previously told the outlet that Johnson was “out for personal matters.” A visiting judge and retired judge took over some of her cases in her stead.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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