The Fifth District Court of Appeal today upheld the murder conviction of former Palm Coast resident Keith Johansen, who is serving a life sentence at a state prison in Lowell for the shooting death in 2018 of Brandi Ruth Celenza, who was 25.
The court affirmed the trial court’s 2021 conviction with a minor exception: the trial court erred in assessing investigative costs ($100 to the State Attorney’s Office, $100 to the Public Defender’s Office) when the state had not requested those costs be assessed.
So the case has been remanded to the trial court–the case was tried by Circuit Court Judge Chris France–for an amended judgment to be entered, without the investigative costs. That will not materially change the outcome of the case.
Johansen was arrested for the April 7, 2018 shooting of Celenza at the couple’s home on Felter Lane in Palm Coast. A jury deliberated a little less than three hours before finding him guilty of first degree murder. He was represented by Garry Wood of the public defender’s office. The appeal was automatic.
But it was a so-called Anders appeal, meaning that, while the defense attorney abides by a defendant’s right to appeal a case, the defense is also aware that certain appeals can be frivolous: there was nothing substantial in this case that warranted an appeal, in the defense’s view, but one was filed anyway, with the caveat that the defense was aware that it was merely following the defendant’s wishes.
Nevertheless the appeal included several claims. For example, the court allowed the state to have a witness testify by zoom. Johansen’s attorney argued in the motion that it was a violation of Johansen’s right to confront his accuser in person, though the witness was merely a records custodian of digitally recorded (or not recorded) surveillance footage that played a central role in Johansen’s conviction (the jury got to see extended footage from the bedroom of Johansen and Celenza, where Johansen is seen repeatedly threatening Celenza, including with a firearm, and encouraging her to kill herself.)
Johansen also objected to the 10 video clips introduced at trial, and to the testimony that the two guns found next to Celenza–a Canik and a Baretta–had been dropped in place after the shooting.
Johansen had lied to police, including detectives, to EMTs and to his own parents, telling them Celenza had shot herself. He claimed he lied because he didn’t want them knowing about his and Celenza’s alleged meth use. At trial, he testified that it was self-defense, that he had fired both shots as he was trying to get away from her. But his testimony had also been filled with self-extrications from lie after lie, leaving the jury little room to believe much of anything he was saying. His behavior toward Celenza had not endeared him to anyone, either: the jury saw his misogyny and dehumanization of the woman he said had been everything to him.
The appeals are not necessarily over. Johansen may still appeal the sentence in hopes of lessening its severity. But those appeals tend to have as much of a chance of success as a appeal of the conviction. Johansen is 41.
Leave a Reply