Kelly Wilkinson: Brian Earl Johnston sentenced to life in prison for Queensland murder

<span>Kelly Wilkinson was stabbed eight times by Brian Earl Johnston but likely died after he set her on fire, Queensland supreme court heard. A judge has sentenced him to life in prison over the murder.</span><span>Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE</span>
Kelly Wilkinson was stabbed eight times by Brian Earl Johnston but likely died after he set her on fire, Queensland supreme court heard. A judge has sentenced him to life in prison over the murder.Photograph: SUPPLIED/PR IMAGE

The night before Brian Earl Johnston murdered Kelly Wilkinson, he was recorded on a CCTV camera making “preparations”.

The former US marine packed a camouflage bag with a prybar, duct tape, zip ties, a tomahawk axe and a sedative, the Queensland supreme court heard. He filled a 20-litre jerry can with petrol.

Johnston was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison for the premeditated murder of 27-year-old Wilkinson, his estranged wife, at her Gold Coast home on 20 April 2021. He was also sentenced to three years for breaching a domestic violence order. Justice Peter Applegarth set a non-parole period of 20 years, the statutory minimum.

Related: It’s true, Kelly Wilkinson was cop shopping. She was looking for a Queensland cop who cared | Lucy Clark

Applegarth found that Johnston had gone to the property, where Wilkinson lived with their three young children, with intent to murder her and commit suicide. The court heard Wilkinson was stabbed eight times, but likely died after being set on fire.

Johnston then set himself alight, before jumping in a pool.

“That’s the intent I find you had,” Applegarth said.

“The weapons that you had, the other items that you had. That you went there masked. That you went there armed, that you went there with 20L of petrol.

“I find that you intended to kill her, and then kill yourself – something you failed to achieve.”

The court heard significant detail about the events prior to the murder, including that Wilkinson had disclosed allegations that Johnston had been “abusive and controlling”.

She devised a code – that she would claim she wanted to return to Ohio, where she had previously lived with Johnston before 2017 – designed to alert family members she was in danger.

Guardian Australia reported last month that in the following weeks, Wilkinson had visited multiple police stations seeking protection, and that police notes said she had been “cop shopping”.

Prosecutor Philip McCarthy KC told the court that two of Wilkinson’s children had witnessed their mother’s murder.

The oldest told police in a statement that he seen “a man with a black mask covering his head, punching his mother repeatedly”.

“He heard his mother say stop, collected his two sisters and ran to the neighbours’ house [where] he told them someone was hurting Mummy,” McCarthy said.

Related: Kelly Wilkinson sought help from the police ‘almost every day’ after her first domestic violence complaint. So what went wrong?

The court heard Johnston served in two tours of Iraq with the marines and had symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. He had sought mental health treatment in the weeks before the murder.

Footage from a workshop CCTV camera, recorded the night before the murder, shows Johnson making what Applegarth described as “preparations” including taking a prybar from a toolbag.

The court heard the footage shows Johnston tell a friend he’s “not going to be there” tomorrow.

Family members and friends of Wilkinson read victim impact statements describing their years of trauma since the killing.

Wilkinson’s sister, Danielle Carroll, described the moment her father called to say: “He has killed her.”

“I just had this feeling I needed to be with her,” Carroll said, addressing her remarks to Johnston, who sat impassively in the dock.

“In the same moment I was told you set her on fire, not only taking her life but her body as well.

“I couldn’t hold her hand. I couldn’t kiss her on the forehead. You robbed me of giving her the proper goodbye she deserved.

“All Kelly wanted was to love and be loved. All you gave her was pure evil.

“I can’t bear to think about her last moments and what you did to her, the sleepless nights, the nightmares, days on days of immense heartbreak only to turn to numbness.”

• In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 988 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via