Bemidji activist found guilty of murder

Johnson was a founder and former president of "Project for Change" in Bemidji, a self-described social justice policy change group formed in March 2020 that promotes many Black Lives Matter talking points and narratives.

Janelle Lorraine Johnson

A Bemidji, Minn., woman has been found guilty in the shooting murder of Jesse Farris, 48, on Christmas Day 2020.

Janelle Lorraine Johnson, 38, was convicted by a jury last month on a charge of second-degree intentional murder in the death of Farris, who was her brother-in-law.

Charges in the case say Johnson called Beltrami County Dispatch just after midnight on Dec. 26, 2020, and said that she had just shot her brother-in-law at a residence on the 5000 block of Lavinia Road Northeast. Johnson indicated to the dispatcher that she was no longer at the incident address.

The Bemidji Pioneer covered developments in the trial and reported that Johnson’s defense attorney claimed Johnson confessed to something she didn’t do. Instead, Johnson’s attorney Jill Brisbois and Johnson’s own testimony directed blame at Johnson’s husband, Austin Johnson.

Janelle Johnson’s testimony alleged an abusive relationship between Jesse Farris and Janelle’s sister, Justina Farris. Janelle said she’d been drinking most of the day at a family gathering and that Justina had come to Janelle’s house following an argument with Jesse. Janelle said she made the decision to go confront Jesse with Austin. Janelle, Austin, and Jesse got into a heated argument, she said, and then Jesse pushed both of them. Janelle said that as she was walking to the truck, she heard two gunshots, implying Austin had shot Jesse.

Janelle testified that she confessed to the shooting to family members and law enforcement to protect Austin from going to prison.

The prosecution argued that although there was no physical evidence tying Janelle to the shooting, her confessions to several family members, the dispatcher, the responding deputy, and investigators are “more than enough evidence to find her guilty of this offense.”

The jury deliberated for about two days before returning the guilty verdict.

Johnson was a founder and former president of “Project for Change” in Bemidji, a self-described social justice policy change group formed in 2020 that promotes many Black Lives Matter talking points and narratives. Johnson described the group in a September 2020 interview as having an educational foundation to promote empowerment and messages of solidarity to “learn how to better treat one another,” she said.

Alpha News reached out to Project for Change for comment but they didn’t respond. Johnson’s attorney declined to comment when asked for a statement.

Project for Change released a statement two days after the murder announcing that Johnson was leaving the organization “to address her current legal issues.”

“Janelle was one of Project for Change’s first Co-Presidents. Janelle gave speeches and interviews speaking passionately about the need for policy changes in Bemidji that would create equity for Black, Indigenous and People of Color as well as other marginalized groups. Janelle helped navigate Project for Change from an idea to a budding institution which we will continue to grow. We are keeping Janelle and her family in our thoughts during this very difficult time,” the statement said.

Johnson is set to be sentenced on May 30.

The case was prosecuted by Daniel Vlieger from the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison, who had been asked to prosecute the case at the prior request of the Beltrami County attorney.

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.

 

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Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.