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Authorities: Rowan murder suspect remains hospitalized after trying to hurt herself

By Adam Bell and Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
abell@charlotteobserver.com cwootson@charlotteobserver.com

A woman charged with murder in Rowan County, who injured herself Tuesday night after learning she could face the death penalty if convicted, remained hospitalized Wednesday with injuries that aren’t life-threatening, authorities said.

Marlene Johnson is accused of killing the woman she claimed was sleeping with her estranged husband.

She intentionally climbed onto the second tier of a bunk bed and jumped backward onto the floor, the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office said. Johnson is being treated for a separated shoulder and gash to the back of her head at a local hospital, the office said.

She remains under guard at the hospital.

Johnson had not shown signs that she wanted to harm herself before Tuesday, the sheriff’s office said.

Johnson, 61, is charged with murder in connection with the July stabbing of Shirley Pierce, an attack so violent that the knife blade broke off and was lodged in the victim’s throat.

Johnson had accused Pierce of having an affair with her husband, court documents say. Johnson and her husband were estranged when the killing happened, investigators said. Threats, stalking and physical assaults had gone on since at least 2007, according to court documents.

A restraining order that Pierce took out against Johnson in 2011 says she “terrorized tormented and TERRIFIED me for no known reason.”

Johnson has been in jail since shortly after the killing. During Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty against Johnson, according to the sheriff’s office. A judge also denied a request by Johnson’s attorney asking for lower bail.

After the hearing, Johnson was taken back to the Rowan County jail for lunch. After distributing the meals, a female detention officer left the unit, according to a statement from the sheriff’s office.

That’s when she climbed onto the bunk bed and jumped backward onto the floor.

Bell: 704-358-5696; Twitter: @abell
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