A man accused of firing the bullet that killed a mother headed home from Starlight Theatre in 2009 pleaded guilty Monday morning and received a 15-year prison sentence.
Calah D. Johnson, 35, of Kansas City, was gunning for someone in another car on July 17, 2009, when the bullet struck Deanna Lieber, 45, as she drove on Bruce R. Watkins Drive after attending a Starlight show with her mother and 13-year-old daughter.
Lieber, a lawyer for the Kansas Department of Education who lived near Lawrence, died from a neck wound.
Seven relatives, including her daughter who was in the vehicle, attended the hearing in Jackson County Circuit Court.
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“We are relieved that it is behind us,” said Lieber’s father, Melvin Wackerle. “The situation isn’t over for us. It is still something that we live with every day. We miss her every day.”
Johnson already was serving 20 years in federal prison for cocaine trafficking. His state sentence for second-degree murder will run concurrently.
According to court records, a red-light camera captured the shooting into Lieber’s vehicle and showed the car’s window shattering. Cameras also captured images of two other vehicles near 59th Street and Watkins Drive.
Kansas City police detectives tracked down the vehicles’ owners, one of whom eventually said she had loaned the car to Johnson the night of the shooting. Prosecutors charged Johnson in 2013.
Johnson has a lengthy record of drug convictions in Jackson County. He served eight years in state prison before being released on parole about nine months before Lieber’s death, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Under the plea agreement, Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss a count of discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle.
Before joining the education department, Lieber was in private practice in Lawrence and was a researcher for the Kansas Court of Appeals and the Kansas Supreme Court.
“There is no justice or validation of what he has taken us,” her husband, Joe Lieber, said Monday. “We are still at a much greater loss. You can’t make it right.”
Joe Lieber said his wife was a caring and thoughtful person whom relatives miss every day.
“She was put here on Earth to serve others, and she did that very well,” he said.