Man who murdered Polk deputy and two others 33 years ago sentenced to death for third time

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - The man who murdered a deputy and two other men 33 years ago found out Wednesday that he's returning to death row.

Paul Beasley Johnson gave a blank stare to the judge when he handed down the sentence. It's the third time he's been sentenced to death, but he kept winning appeals for various issues.

The defense doesn't dispute that in January 1981, Johnson murdered Winter Haven taxi driver William Evans, Darrell Beasley, who agreed to give Johnson a ride, and Deputy Theron Burnham, known as TA.

Prosecutors say he was on a hunt for drug money.

"TA was the first officer killed in my young career. He had a lasting affect," said David Waller, retired FDLE officer who responded that night and helped search for Johnson.

The 27-year-old fallen deputy now has a bronze statue outside the Polk County Sheriff's Office to honor his sacrifice.

"He murdered my friend," Sheriff Grady Judd said of Johnson. "Theron Burnham was the future of the Polk County Sheriff's Office."

Judd went to high school with Burnham and even sat next to him in the police academy.

He's frustrated with the endless appeals.

"There's absolutely no discussion on whether or not he committed three vicious murders, whether or not there's evil in his flesh," he said. "All we're doing is playing lawyer games."

Under Florida law, Johnson automatically appeals this latest death sentence.

At the age of 65, his defense attorney acknowledged Wednesday that one day or anther, he will die in prison.

"For the last 33 years, he has confronted the horrors of his own actions," she told the judge.

Sheriff Judd would rather see the courts stop delaying the inevitable, in the name of justice for Deputy Burnham.

"He's earned the death penalty, and we should see that he gets it as soon as he can," Judd said.

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