TAWAS CITY, Mich. — A Michigan woman who allegedly told investigators that a hallucination of SpongeBob SquarePants had commanded her to fatally stab her 3-year-old daughter was sentenced to life in prison without parole on Monday.
Justine Marie Johnson, 23, of Oscoda, was sentenced in an Iosco County court after pleading guilty to first-degree felony murder and first-degree child abuse in connection with the death of her daughter, Sutton Marie Mosser, on Sept. 16, 2021, MLive.com reported.
Sutton had turned 3 two days before her death.
According to court documents, Johnson stabbed her daughter 17 times.
Johnson’s brother reported the crime after noticing Sutton’s foot sticking out of a garbage bag, according to WJRT-TV. Upon arriving to the scene, police found Mosser’s remains wrapped in bedding inside the bag, WNEM-TV reported. The child was dressed only in a pink and white disposable diaper, according to court records.
“What I saw was something I’d never imagine I would see in over 30 years as an attorney,” Iosco County Prosecutor James A. Bacarella told the court. “It was something truly insidious. It’s difficult for me to imagine, first off, how anybody could murder a child, a toddler, a 3-year-old. But for its mother to murder it, it’s just beyond what I can comprehend.”
Johnson took two competency exams before pleading guilty, according to the television station.
Michigan Child Protective Services investigator Ryan Eberline said at a hearing last year that Johnson “was getting hallucinations from the TV” that instructed her to kill her daughter.
“It was SpongeBob who was saying these things on the TV,” Eberline testified. “If she didn’t do what she did to her daughter, they would kill her. She said she was afraid for her life and she had lost her mind.”
“I don’t know (how) you can reconcile with that,” Bacarella said, according to MLive. “I don’t know how you can recover from that. I don’t know a way any person could be reformed from that. The most vulnerable of lives was entrusted to this mother and then brutally murdered by her.”
During her sentencing on Monday, Johnson told the judge that she had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression when she was 13, MLive reported. She added that by September 2021, she had been without prescription mental health medication for a year and was abusing heroin and methamphetamine.
“I spent one year and eight months in therapy helping me cope with the death of my daughter, dealing with my mental illness, and will continue (to do so) in prison,” Johnson said in court.
Johnson added before her sentencing that she was remorseful and wanted justice for her daughter, which is why she entered a guilty plea.
“First, I trust the police department has investigated the event to their best,” Johnson told the court, according to MLIve. “Second, I lost my child and as any mother would want justice, I also want justice for Sutton. If it was me who committed this murder, I expect to be punished as any other person would be. It is what’s fair for her. I apologize to my daughter, my family, her mother, and to this court for my crime.”
“Finally, I would like to ask the media to respect our family’s privacy. If you feel like it’s necessary to write about my little girl, please do so with the grace and respect she deserves. I pray that she is in God’s hands, that she has forgiven me, and that we will be reunited again.
“I love you, Sutton Marie.”