Mom Who Said SpongeBob Ordered Her to Kill 3-Year-Old Daughter Sentenced After Guilty Plea

Justine Johnson, the 23-year-old who previously pleaded guilty to the murder of her 3-year-old daughter Sutton, has been sentenced to life behind bars.

The Minnesota woman received her sentencing this week, getting life without the possibility of parole for the brutal slaying of the child, who was stabbed 17 times just two days after her third birthday on September 16, 2021.

Ryan Eberline, an investigator with Child Protective Services who interviewed Johnson in jail, previously testified last year that Johnson “didn’t remember the specifics of what happened” due to hallucinations caused by heroin withdrawal and lack of sleep.

“She was getting hallucinations from the TV that had instructed her to take her daughter’s life or they would kill her,” he said at the time. “It was SpongeBob who was saying these things on the TV. 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.”

Johnson entered a guilty plea in February 2023 and, during a sentencing hearing this week, addressed the court before the judge delivered his ruling. In video from the courtroom shared by MLive, Johnson said that she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, ADHD, anxiety, and depression when she was 13. She added that at the time of her daughter’s murder, she had been off mental health meds for a year, while abusing heroin and meth.

She said that on the day of the murder, she didn’t even recall her daughter Sutton being left in her care. “I do not remember her being there or how long she was there, I also don’t remember details of her death,” Johnson continued, claiming she spent four months “in and out of hallucinations” after learning about the murder, before treatment “stabilized” her.

“I want everyone to know that I am full of remorse and wish every day that I could trade places with her,” she continued, before sharing the reasons she entered a guilty plea. After saying she believes police “investigated the event to their best,” she said, “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,” she said. “It is what’s fair for her. I apologize to my daughter, my family, her mother, and to this court for my crime.”

She ended her statement by saying, “I pray that [Sutton] is in God’s hands, that she’s forgiven me and that we will be reunited again. I love you, Sutton Marie.”

The judge seemingly took issue with Johnson not fully taking responsibility for the murder in her statement, reportedly saying, “I don’t know how she could be questioning now if she was the one who committed this crime … I don’t think it’s necessary to say much more” before issuing his ruling.

In addition to the life sentence, Johnson was also given 50 years on a child abuse charge, to be served concurrently.

Johnson and her daughter were living with her parents and brothers in Oscoda Township at the time of Sutton’s murder. It was one of Johnson’s brothers who saw a human child’s foot sticking out of a bag in the back of the house after returning home from work. The child’s body had been wrapped in a comforter inside the bag.

Investigators found bloodstains throughout the home and recovered three knives from a bedroom; the bag also contained bloodstained clothing. 13 finger and palm prints were reportedly found on the bag — all belonging to Justine.

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