By ADAM BEAM, Associated Press
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — The wife of a Kentucky lawmaker who killed himself after a sexual assault allegation surfaced this week defended her husband and said she will run for his seat because “these high-tech lynchings based on lies and half-truths can’t be allowed to win the day.”
In a statement Thursday, a day after Dan Johnson’s suicide, Rebecca Johnson said she has been fighting behind her husband for 30 years and “his fight will go on.”
“Dan is gone but the story of his life is far from over,” Johnson said.
Johnson shot himself Wednesday night, two days after leaders of both major political parties called for his resignation after the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published allegations that he sexually assaulted a 17-year-old girl in the basement of his home in 2013.
Police had investigated at the time and closed the case without filing charges. But the story prompted the police to re-open the investigation. Johnson, who pastors a church in Louisville, held a news conference from his pulpit on Tuesday where he denied the allegations and said they were part of a strategy to attack conservative Republicans nationwide.
Rebecca Johnson was by her husband’s side during that news conference. David Adams, a political operative who worked with Dan Johnson, said Rebecca Johnson was unavailable for a phone interview because she was at a funeral home.
Earlier Thursday, a sheriff said an ominous Facebook post that Dan Johnson made Wednesday night is part of what prompted his family to report him missing.
In the post, he asked people to take care of his wife and said “heaven is my home.”
The accusations came amid a sexual harassment scandal involving other Republican lawmakers at the state Capitol. Nationwide, a growing number of celebrities, politicians and businessmen have been accused of sexual misconduct in recent months, leading many to lose their jobs or resign.
Bullitt County Coroner Dave Billings said Thursday Johnson died of a single gunshot wound to the head and officially ruled the death a suicide.
Bullitt County Sheriff Donnie Tinnell said police recovered a 40-caliber pistol next to Johnson’s body. Johnson’s family had reported him missing because they could not reach him after he posted the Facebook message about 5 p.m.
He asked for people to take care of his wife and wrote that PTSD “is a sickness that will take my life, I cannot handle it any longer. It has won this life, BUT HEAVEN IS MY HOME.” The post appears to have been removed.
Tinnell said a neighbor found Johnson’s body and dialed 911.
Johnson was elected to the state legislature in 2016, part of a wave of Republican victories that gave the GOP control of the Kentucky House of Representatives for the first time in nearly 100 years. He won his election despite Republican leaders urging him to drop out of the race after local media reported on some of his Facebook posts comparing Barack and Michelle Obama to monkeys.
The pastor of Heart of Fire church in Louisville, Johnson sponsored a number of bills having to do with religious liberty and teaching the Bible in public schools. But he was mostly out of the spotlight until Monday, when the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting published an account from a woman saying Johnson sexually assaulted her in the basement of his home in 2013.
Michael Skoler, president of Louisville Public Media, which owns the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting, said everyone at the organization is “deeply sad.”
“Our aim, as always, is to provide the public with fact-based, unbiased reporting and hold public officials accountable for their actions,” Skoler said. “As part of our process, we reached out to Rep. Johnson numerous times over the course of a seven-month investigation. He declined requests to talk about our findings.”
Other Kentucky lawmakers have recently faced sexual misconduct accusations. Former Republican House Speaker Jeff Hoover resigned his leadership position after acknowledging he secretly settled a sexual harassment claim with a member of his staff. Three other lawmakers were involved in the settlement, and all lost their committee chairmanships.
“I am very sad over the passing of Rep. Dan Johnson. Over the past few weeks in some of the darkest days of my life, he reached out to me, encouraged me, and prayed for me,” Hoover tweeted .
Republican Gov. Matt Bevin tweeted that “my heart breaks for his family tonight.”
“These are heavy days in Frankfort and in America,” Bevin said in the post. “May God indeed shed his grace on us all. … We sure need it.”