Ojai Man Sentenced to Life in Prison for Trying to Kill Sheriff's Deputy

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By Raul Hernandez

Ventura County Star

John Steven Atkinson who was found guilty of trying to kill a sheriff's deputy who was responding to a 911-call got a lengthy prison sentence today at Ventura County Superior Court.

Before Atkinson was sentenced to 23 years to life, he turned around and apologized to the female deputy's family who sat in the front row behind the prosecutor's table.

"I'd just like to say, I am horribly, horribly sorry for the thing that happened," said Atkinson.

In September, a jury found Atkinson guilty of attempting to murder a sheriff's deputy Traci Salmon during a struggle in the Ojai Valley in December 2010. Jurors also found Atkinson guilty of assault with a deadly weapon, second-degree robbery, false  imprisonment of his parents and two misdemeanor counts of elder abuse.

In addition, jurors found that Atkinson, 34, used a weapon, including a stun gun and radio, against  Salmon.

Salmon who wasn't in court had a prepared a one-page statement that was read to the judge by a district attorney employee.  It stated that she couldn't attend because it was more important to go on a field trip with her daughter than be in the same courtroom with her assailant.

She stated that on the morning of the assault she "stared at pure evil in the eyes" and all she thought about was what she would need to do to go home to her family.

 Salmon told about the fear of having a gun pointed at her face and hearing it click.

"I thought for a moment I was already dead," Salmon stated.

Salmon described how this incident had left her mentally scarred, leaving her with a feeling of isolation, having nightmares, and trying to deal with an emotional roller coaster that also impacted her family. She said she tried to go back to work but found that she was unable to do so because of her mental problems caused Atkinson, who, Salmon described, as a dangerous man.

"I am trying everything within my power to gain normalcy," Salmon stated in her statement.

Prosecutor Richard Simon said the entire community along with the law enforcement  were also victims because of what happened.

 Atkinson has schizophrenia and depression. He was admitted to Patton Hospital, a state mental facility, in October 2009 and released in September 2010, according to his lawyer Rebekah Mathis.

"He was suffering from mental illness. He had a complete psychotic breakdown. He didn't understand what was going on."

Mathis said Atkinson had two arrests for taking a vehicle and vandalism.

"His behavior has been good in jail," said Mathis.

Salmon, 33, was alone when she responded to a 911 hang-up call from a home in the 4900 block of Casitas Pass Road. Police say Atkinson had been terrorizing his parents John and Diane that morning and had struck his mother.

Soon after Salmon arrived, Atkinson attacked her as she was reaching for her Taser after she heard Atkinson's father, John, ask for help.

Atkinson's mother Diane Atkinson said the family loves him very much, asking the judge for some leniency in hopes that one day he can be released to be with his family again.

"John was a good boy growing up;. He never gave us any trouble," said Atkinson's father John, adding that all this changed when his son turned 30 and began displaying bizarre behavior.


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The Court Reporter
Raul Hernandez has spent years writing stories about the drama that unfolds in the courtroom. Here he answers common questions, share some insights on the judicial system and passes along some of the little things that make the Ventura County courts an interesting place to be. You can contact him at rhernandez@vcstar.com.