Ex-Target employee pleads guilty to stabbing senior citizen to death in Wheaton home

Kwasi Sadler, left, and Linda Johnston, right, Thursday, May 11, 2017 (Photo of Sadler from Montgomery County Police. Photo of Johnston courtesy of Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office)

MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Md. (ABC7) — A plot to steal a churchgoing woman’s hybrid vehicle resulted in a savage slaying that shook a stable middle class Wheaton neighborhood.

On Thursday, Kwasi Sadler, 23, of Northeast D.C., pleaded guilty in Montgomery County Circuit Court to a combo platter of eight crimes, including first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and home invasion.

On August 3, Linda Johnston’s loved ones became worried. The 72-year-old retired woman, who never married or had children, hadn’t returned repeated phone calls for a number of days. Her gold Toyota Prius was also missing from the driveway. A next-door neighbor walked to Johnston’s front door and almost immediately detected a foul smell. He called Montgomery County Police.

“I opened the door, the front door, and I yelled for her, but it just didn’t look right,” a 911 call recorded the male neighbor say. “There’s a bad odor.”

Patrol officers entered the two-story red brick house, quickly finding Johnston’s body wrapped in a sheet on a crooked mattress in an upstairs bedroom. There was blood spatter on the walls and definite signs of a struggle. An autopsy would later determine Johnston had 43 stab and cutting wounds to her face, scalp, neck, chest, stomach, groin, hand, shoulder, arm and thighs. The medical examiner determined she ultimately bled to death.

“This was a brutal-brutal attack,” Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said during a press conference following Thursday’s plea. “This is really the ultimate crime against a senior in our community.”

Prosecutors secured Thursday’s plea agreement due in large part to the insurmountable evidence they had compiled against Sadler.

*Residents reported seeing a young man matching Sadler’s physical description on Johnston’s property on August 1, around 6:30 a.m.

*Later on August 1, surveillance cameras at Adventist HealthCare Germantown Emergency Center captured Sadler getting into what appeared to be a gold Prius. It’s believed Sadler was seeking medical treatment after injuring his arm and hand during the break-in.

*On August 2, license plate readers affixed to law enforcement vehicles captured Johnston’s Prius being driven throughout the District. The driver appeared to be wearing a red T-shirt, which is the color of clothing Sadler was required to wear to his overnight stocker job at the Rockville Target store.

*On August 4, Sadler used his cell phone to call BB&T bank to request a new PIN number for Johnston’s account. Detectives also determined $125.48 had been charged to Johnston’s BB&T credit card at a number of stores throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties. At least one of those transactions occurred at the Rockville Target store. Investigators say Sadler can clearly be seen on surveillance video purchasing snacks. In another video, a bandage appears to be covering part of his arm and hand.

*On August 6, detectives interviewed a woman by the name of Tonica Hill. Johnston had recently evicted Hill from her basement, which she’d been renting out in order to make ends meet. Hill explained how her friend, Kwasi Sadler, helped her move furniture and clothing from the property on July 29. A few days later, Hill told police Sadler randomly called to say he was near Johnston’s house and was vying to steal her car. With Hill’s consent, detectives downloaded data from her cell phone, which included three calls with Sadler on August 1, at 6:32 a.m., 6:33 a.m. and 8 a.m. The final call lasted 23 minutes.

On August 9, a little over a week after the ferocious murder, detectives arrested Sadler. During an interview at police headquarters, the 23-year-old confessed to entering through the basement, kicking down a pad-locked door to gain access to the main living area and arming himself with a kitchen knife. The loud noise, Sadler stated, woke Johnston. Sadler told police he ordered the 72-year-old back to her bedroom where he killed her and then fled with her purse, wallet and car.

“I don’t know how I went from stealing cars to murder,” Sadler was recorded telling detectives, seemingly puzzled as to how his home invasion turned out so terribly.

“I characterize this as savage,” McCarthy added. “He may have gone in there to steal a car, but he was also going to make sure he had a weapon that was going to enable him to get away with the car. No one was going to prevent him from taking the car.”

Sadler later guided officers to an Aspen Hill apartment complex where he had ditched Johnston's car. There was a large amount of her blood on the front and rear seats. Sadler said he'd disposed of the knife, bloody clothing and Johnston's credit card.

“Breaking into a house to steal someone’s microwave oven is one thing, breaking into a house where you know there are people, you know there is going to be a confrontation that’s a different story,” McCarthy concluded.

Judge Robert Greenberg is scheduled to sentence Sadler on September 6 at 9 a.m. He faces life in prison, but could potentially receive a sentence that would one day allow for parole.

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