Plymouth couple sentenced for child neglect argue guilty plea deal an ‘injustice’

A man and woman accused of child neglect in their child’s death, and then fleeing to New Zealand, are arguing a sentence they received of one year in a corrections workhouse is an "injustice" of the legal system.

Both Timothy David Johnson and Sarah Nicole Johnson were charged in 2016 by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office for failing to provide proper medical care for their dying child, and allegedly, opting for home remedies and prayer instead.

Their case made international headlines when the Plymouth couple were eventually tracked to New Zealand, where they were located after failing to show up for a scheduled court hearing.

Court records indicate the Johnsons had adopted a boy out of foster care several years earlier, but following an autopsy, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office determined the child’s cause of death was acute pancreatitis and possible sepsis.

Prosecutors alleged the Johnsons were aware of the boy’s failing health condition, including bruises, breaks all over his skin and eventually listlessness, but failed to take him for professional medical care. The complaint states, "they [the parents] had issues going to doctors," concerned a doctor would put their son on medications, instead preferring their own research. The Johnsons also told investigators they increased their son’s vitamin intake when his condition deteriorated and treated the visible wound with Neosporin and "medical honey."

It would take prosecutors nearly two years to file the charges, but by then they had already left Minnesota and were living in New Zealand.

Attorneys for the couple have maintained they did not "flee" – explaining in court filings that they thought the case would never be prosecuted, so they left the country with their other children.

Following their eventual charging, the district court held sentencing hearings and imposed the maximum gross-misdemeanor sentence authorized by law, or 365 days’ imprisonment. The Johnsons have since petitioned the court, arguing it "abused its discretion" by imposing the maximum sentence.

Legally, the two are looking to reverse their convictions for gross misdemeanor child neglect and withdraw previous guilty pleas.

They argue that they have a right to withdraw their pleas because the district court applying a maximum sentence was "excessive" and a "manifest injustice."

"The Johnsons are challenging not the validity of the pleas, but the sentences imposed," according to court documents.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ultimately confirmed the original sentence, denying their petition.