LEON COUNTY, Texas - A Texas woman has been charged with murder more than 35 years after her husband was gunned down inside their home near Buffalo.
Norma Allbritton, 84, of Palestine, is charged with murder in the May 14, 1984, shooting death of Johnnie E. Allbritton. According to the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, Norma Allbritton was arrested July 1 following a grand jury indictment in the case.
The defendant, who was 49 years old when her husband was killed, posted a $50,000 bond July 3 and was released from the Leon County Jail, according to the Palestine Herald-Press.
The Buffalo Express reported in 2014, around the 30th anniversary of the cold case, that Johnnie Allbritton, a 64-year-old World War II veteran, rancher and grocer, was shot five times -- twice in the chest and three times in the back -- with his own 20-gauge shotgun. It was the day after Mother’s Day.
Johnnie Allbritton’s daughter, Judy Allbritton Robinson, had spent Mother’s Day at her father’s home, about 120 miles southeast of Dallas. When she told him goodbye on the front porch, it was the last time she saw him alive, the Express reported.
At the time of the initial investigation, then Leon County Sheriff Royce Wilson said he believed Johnnie Allbritton came in through a patio door and surprised a burglar. His body was found by deputies next to the door to the back patio and several guns were laid on a blanket in the doorway as though the home was being burglarized.
The slaying was discovered after Johnnie Allbritton failed to pick up his son, Jamie, from elementary school that afternoon, the Express said. The boy’s teacher took him to the family’s store, from which he got a ride home. He found the doors of the family’s home ajar.
The boy sought help, and deputies responding to the 911 burglary call found Johnnie Allbritton’s body. The shotgun used in the killing was in the room, along with multiple other weapons, the Express reported.
Robinson told the newspaper five years ago that investigators found no evidence of forced entry and no fingerprints other than those of family members.
A string of shootings
Johnnie Allbritton’s slaying was not the first shooting in the family’s home, nor was it the last. Three years before his killing, the couple's 13-year-old daughter, Pam Allbritton, died of a gunshot wound.
Her death was ruled a suicide, but Leon County Sheriff Kevin Ellis told the Herald-Press this week that the case remains open and his detectives have several leads.
“I won’t rest,” Ellis told the newspaper. “I don’t think my investigators will rest until everyone involved in this case, and with other possible crimes related to it, are brought to justice.”
The third shooting that took place in the Allbritton home, just two weeks after Johnnie Allbritton’s homicide, injured Norma Allbritton. She told investigators she was handling a .410-caliber shotgun when she dropped it, causing it to fire and strike her in the chest.
The Herald-Press reported Norma Allbritton had been scheduled to take a polygraph test that day in connection with her husband’s slaying. The test was never rescheduled.
Ellis began looking into the long cold homicide of Johnnie Allbritton in 2014, after inquiries about the case sparked his interest, the Express reported. To get fresh eyes on the evidence, he digitized the case files the following year and sent the data to the producers of “Cold Justice,” a reality TV show in which veteran investigators try to solve cases that have languished on the shelves in squad rooms across the country, the Herald-Press reported.
Ellis and his investigators spent five weeks preparing the case, at which point “Cold Justice” investigator Johnny Bonds, a retired Houston police detective, stepped in to work with Leon County detectives trying to solve the case, the Herald-Press reported.
Leon County investigator Tommy Page told the newspaper the show funded the new investigation into Johnnie Allbritton’s homicide, including trips around the state to interview about 50 potential witnesses.
The show also brought technology unavailable to the Sheriff’s Office, allowing much quicker turnaround on the testing of evidence.
“This truly was a team effort,” Ellis told the Herald-Press Tuesday. “Without ‘Cold Justice,’ I don’t think we could’ve progressed as we have, but they also couldn’t have done it without the LCSO staff.”
A well-respected and beloved citizen
“My father was well respected in the community and had no enemies other than the ones who took his life,” Robinson told the Express in 2014. “I want my father to rest in peace, and we continue to hope that justice will be done.”
Robinson asked Tuesday on Facebook for prayers for her “baby brother” James, who was the one who found things amiss that day 35 years ago.
“As I said before, he lost the most that dreadful May 14,” Robinson wrote. “Our dad was bigger than life itself in his eyes.”
She indicated she is still in disbelief that an arrest has been made after more than three decades.
“I still have to pinch myself to make sure this isn’t a dream,” Robinson wrote.
She said she is appalled at some of the horrible things people have said since the announcement was made.
“I feel like I signed away my life in order to get justice for my Daddy, but I would proudly do it again to be where we are today,” Robinson wrote.
She did not mention Norma Allbritton by name.
“This is not a Lifetime movie. The devil has many disguises,” Robinson wrote. “We are dealing with pure evil in disguise. I grew up with it, I know.
“I am so grateful for the people who prayed for me early on to not fall prey to it.”
Robinson also praised Ellis, his investigators and Leon County Attorney James “Caleb” Henson. “I pray they are given the support to do great things and see justice prevail not just in this case, but for all the other cases that were forgotten and filed away,” Robinson said. “People need justice for closure. Without justice there is no peace.”
The Herald-Press reported that the Oxygen network is expected to air the "Cold Justice" episode about the Johnnie Allbritton case sometime in March or April 2020.
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