Nearly five years after 27-year-old Hank Johnson died from being brutally beaten in a Hearne hotel room, a Robertson County grand jury has indicted a man investigators believe was involved in his murder.
Trae Deandra Thompson, 27, will be formally charged with Johnson’s murder in July when he is released from a Huntsville prison where he’s serving a four-year sentence for assault against a public servant.
Details of his alleged role in Johnson’s death were not immediately available, and a copy of the direct indictment is expected to be released Wednesday.
Sandi Johnson, Hank Johnson’s mother, said her family had been “crying with happiness” since getting the news of the indictment Tuesday afternoon.
“It brings some kind of breath into my being that someone cares about my son and his death,” Sandi Johnson said. “When there’s nothing, then it’s so dark and empty.”
Her son was staying at the Executive Inn in Hearne July 10, 2008, when at least one person entered his room and assaulted him until he was unconscious, according to investigators.
Hank Johnson died 11 days later at St. Joseph hospital in Bryan after being removed from life support.
Sandi Johnson said she’s spent the past five years grieving for her son while fighting for justice in his case.
“I was in bed for almost a year,” she said. “Even then, I was taking notes and writing down names.”
Coty Siegert, who replaced longtime Robertson County District Attorney John Paschall in January, said the grand jury presentation on the case Tuesday took about three hours and included evidence gathered by the Texas Rangers, investigators in his office and Brazos County District Attorney’s Office investigators.
Siegert said authorities are questioning a Hearne man they also believe was involved in the case but has not been charged or indicted at this point.
The investigation started in the hands of Robertson County investigators but was turned over to the Brazos County District Attorney’s Office — which also had jurisdiction in the case because Hank Johnson died in Bryan — in November 2010 at the request of Sandi Johnson.
Former Brazos County District Attorney Bill Turner sent Sandi Johnson a letter last May informing her that after presenting the investigation to a grand jury on four occasions without a result, the case was being closed pending additional evidence.
Siegert said he could not comment on specific evidence other than to say what he presented was a “collaboration” from different investigations.
Sandi Johnson — who lives in Pasadena and has custody of Hank Johnson’s son and daughter, now ages 15 and 9 — has stayed active in the case since his death. In 2010, Hank Johnson’s body was exhumed for DNA testing after her repeated requests.
In February 2012, a civil jury awarded Hank Johnson’s family $8.6 million and returned a verdict concluding enough evidence existed to find Thompson was involved in his death.
But the criminal indictment is the first step toward being able to move on in some way, Sandi Johnson said.
“The closure will never happen because we won’t have Hank,” she said. “To have someone held responsible for his murder, that is the most important thing to me right now.”
She said she last saw her son three days before he was severely beaten when he came over to grab some things to take to Hearne, where he was working at the Oak Grove Power Plant.
Sandi Johnson said she’s spent nearly three decades as a puppeteer putting on performances for kids via live shows and videos.
She’s got a cache of photos and films of her son participating in the acts — images that still bring comfort and laughter to Hank Johnson’s family.
“He still makes me laugh,” she said. “I realize that five years is a long time, but to me it just seems like yesterday. I still think about our conversations, his laugh, his laughing at me. His presence. It’s still here.”
Siegert said Thompson will be picked up by authorities upon his prison release scheduled for July 24 and taken to Robertson County, where he will be booked on a murder charge.