'She Died of a Broken Heart': Life Sentences in Grandmother's Murder

Rebecca Johnson and Rogel Suero get life sentences for 'offensive' and deadly Wilson home invasion.

In the last months of her life, Carrie Smith went from a vibrant, active grandmother to a depressed, frightened woman with failing health.

It was all the result of a robbery last year at her Wilson home, a crime masterminded by her own granddaughter.

The robbery led to a heart attack that would ultimately lead to Smith's death. Before she died, according to court testimony, she gave her daughter a request:

"Make sure Becky and the others pay for what they did to me."

"Becky" is Rebecca Johnson, Smith's granddaughter. And she will pay. Johnson and co-defendant Rogel Suero will spend the rest of their lives in state prison, a Northampton County judge ruled Thursday. 

Johnson and Suero were convicted in October of second-degree murder. Prosecutors argue that the robbery—planned by Johnson, carried out by Suero—essentially scared the 76-year-old Smith to death. A second-degree murder sentence carries an automatic sentence of life without parole.

According to police, Johnson set up the burglary, stealing a key and making sure her cousin, who lived with Smith, was out of the house on Jan. 15, 2012. Another man, David Bechtold, was Suero's driver, and was the prosecution's key witness during the trial.

Suero, 31, and an accomplice -- who has yet to be identified -- woke Smith up, threatened her, put a pillowcase over her head, and took cash and jewelry from her safe.

She died two months later, and the county coroner ruled her death a homicide since it resulted from the heart attack that resulted from the robbery.

Johnson sat silently through the sentencing hearing. Her family members wept, unable to testify. They had written statements that were read into the record, all of them condemning Johnson for what she had done, and for her refusal to show any remorse.

"She died of a broken heart, knowing you had orchestrated this heinous act," Johnson's aunt Denise wrote in her statement.

Michelle Phoenix, Smith's daughter and Johnson's mother, said she grieves for the loss of her mother, and the loss of and estrangement from her daughter. 

"My own daughter, who I gave birth to and who I love, is responsible for my mother's death," Phoenix said. "To have that stoic look on her face just kills me inside."

Johnson said nothing during the hearing other than a quick and almost amiable "Yes, ma'am" and "Yes, your honor" when Judge Paula Roscioli asked if she understood her sentence and her appeal rights.

"You preyed on a helpless, elderly woman," Rosciloli said. "A woman who loved you, a woman who had trusted you, a woman who had bailed you out in the past. I have never seem someone so cold."

Suero went to prison Thursday still maintaining his innocence. 

The judge said that while Suero may not have planned the robbery, he was still just as responsible for what she called an "offensive" crime.

Smith's family members declined to comment after the hearing. 

Some of them wore buttons with her photo, a way of keeping her memory alive. But in court Thursday, their statements said another memory is strong: Smith's voice on a 911 tape, calling for help.


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