Wife defends husband accused of trying to have her killed

10:07 PM CST on Tuesday, February 5, 2008
By TIARA ELLIS / The Dallas Morning News

McKINNEY – Roxane Johnson-Sterling's husband admitted to cheating on her, and he's been charged with trying to hire a man to kill her and her unborn child.

But she's still standing by him.

When Mrs. Johnson-Sterling testified Tuesday in Albert Jackson Sterling II's solicitation for capital murder trial, she declared her love for her husband and expressed doubt that Allen police fully investigated the case. Despite his affair, she said, she considers him an honest and trustworthy man and a good provider.

"There was a time there when he slipped off the ship, so to speak," said Mrs. Johnson-Sterling, who has a master's degree in human resources.

In court Tuesday, Collin County Assistant District Attorney Barnett Walker played audio recordings made from phone conversations while Mr. Sterling was in the Collin County Jail.

In many of the recorded conversations, Mrs. Johnson-Sterling was trying to learn more details about his affair with Natalia Sinatora, one of the motives prosecutors said Mr. Sterling had for trying to have his wife, who was eight months pregnant, killed in November 2006.

"I shouldn't have to be pulling this out of you," Mrs. Johnson-Sterling said in one recorded phone call.

Mr. Sterling said, "I went out with her all the time. I'm just being honest, babe." He'd previously told his wife that he had slept with Ms. Sinatora only once.

"She never yelled at me. I just felt more different with her than anyone else," he said.

After hearing that replayed in court, Mrs. Johnson-Sterling refused to call the relationship a serious one.

"I considered it more of an escape from the real world," Mrs. Johnson-Sterling testified.

Ms. Sinatora had called the Sterlings' Allen house and told Mrs. Johnson-Sterling that her husband was being unfaithful.

"I said, 'OK. Thank you,' " and then hung up the phone, Mrs. Johnson-Sterling testified.

Mrs. Johnson-Sterling told the jury that her husband's personality is friendly and outgoing and could be perceived as flirting. At the time, she said, she had some suspicions that he might be cheating on her. She testified that she found body oil in his car and saw that he had ordered flowers for Ms. Sinatora.

After Mrs. Johnson-Sterling became pregnant with the couple's second child in March 2006, she learned that she had a sexually transmitted disease. She testified that she had not been involved with anyone else. But when she confronted Mr. Sterling about it, he tried to convince her that she had been unfaithful, according to a telephone conversation recording. And Mr. Sterling said that was the reason he started his affair with Ms. Sinatora.

"I lost faith in you," Mr. Sterling told his wife in the recorded phone conversation.

Through his attorney, Russell Wilson, Mr. Sterling has denied attempting to hire Jeffrey Thompson, an ex-convict, to kill his wife. Mr. Wilson said his client was working on a car insurance scam with Mr. Thompson when the man chose to burglarize his house. And when Mr. Thompson was caught, he made up the murder-for-hire scheme, Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Thompson testified last week that Mr. Sterling did not believe Mrs. Johnson-Sterling's unborn child belonged to him.

In a recorded conversation, Mr. Sterling told her, "I don't know where the hell he got that from. No, babe. He put like two and two together."

"I told him you weren't supposed to be there. He was just supposed to get the car. That's it," he said.

But those words did not match the recorded message Mr. Sterling left on Mr. Thompson's voice-mail. "Just wait on her," he told Mr. Thompson.

Mrs. Johnson-Sterling, who has hired her own attorney, stopped talking to police one week after she found Mr. Thompson in her house. She said she told police that her $7,000 engagement ring was missing and they didn't look into it. In court, she said Mr. Thompson was being treated more like a victim than she was.

Mr. Wilson asked Mrs. Sterling-Johnson who would be the best person to decide what's right for her household – her or the state of Texas.

Mrs. Johnson-Sterling said, "I would hope it would be my choice."

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