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Colorado Springs Walgreens employees testify Thursday in murder trial of former co-worker Joshua Johnson

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KRDO) -- Witness testimony Thursday on the second day of the murder trial of Joshua Johnson, 29, revealed that the victim, Riley Whitelaw, 17, had expressed concern to a Walgreens store manager that he was uncomfortable working with the defendant.


Prosecutors have accused Johnson of killing Whitelaw at the store in the Rockrimmon area in June of 2022.


Justin Zunino, the former store manager, said that Whitelaw came to him in December 2021 to discuss the matter.

"She said that he said things to her such as, did she like to be dominated?" he explained. "She asked me to address it, so I did."


Zunino said that he talked with Johnson and warned him that "there would be consequences" if his behavior with Whitelaw continued.

"He told me it wouldn't happen again," he said. "And I granted her request to change her schedule so that she didn't have to work with him."


However, Zunino added that just a few weeks before her murder, Whitelaw told him that Johnson was no longer a problem for her, and that she was OK to work with him.

That testimony came after former assistant manager Billy Archuleta took the stand, saying that he never saw any inappropriate behavior from Johnson and Whitelaw denied there was an issue when he asked her about it.


"(Johnson) was training (Whitelaw) and another employee about how to run the photo lab," he stated. “There was a conflict. She felt there was favoritism, that she wasn’t being listened to, and wondered why she wasn’t doing more. She said that (Johnson) was being kind of salty, or unfair." 

Another key witness was Jake Leacock, who began dating Whitelaw after she helped him get a job at the store.

"(Johnson) always seemed angry when I worked with him," he said.


Two high school classmates and close friends of Whitelaw confirmed in text and voice messages between them that Johnson had expressed a romantic interest in Whitelaw, and that despite their age difference, "he would ask her out when she was 18."

"He brushed up against her and smacked her (butt)," Rebekah Wheeler testified. "She said that she shouldn't have to be careful about how friendly she was. She said that work was her happy place, and (Johnson) had to ruin that."


According to the messages, Whitelaw replied that she wasn't interested in Johnson and hoped that would end the matter.

The other classmate, Jordan Swain, said that Whitelaw suspected Johnson may have been more interested in a married co-worker he was spending time with.


Wheeler also testified that Whitelaw became frustrated with Leacock when she told him about the situation because he wasn't giving her enough emotional support.

The atmosphere in the full courtroom became emotional when Zunino recalled how he received a call from an employee the day Whitelaw died.


"(Whitelaw) was more than an hour late returning from her break and Johnson was missing, too," he said. "My employee also told me that she'd seen someone in the dumpster area that made her uncomfortable because she heard a voice that said I'm changing. So she went back up front to call me."

Upon arriving, Zunino said that he told the employee to call 911 twice, and he checked the store's surveillance video -- which showed Whitelaw walking to the break room and Johnson moving items from a delivery that morning.


Zunino said that he noticed the rear delivery door was open and unlocked.

"I checked the break room last because I didn't know that (Whitelaw) had taken a break," he explained. "I also called (Leacock) to see if he knew where she was because he had dropped her off at the start of her shift. The lights were off in the break room and there was a sheet covering the window. I turned the lights on and that's when I saw a body. I got everyone out of the store and the police arrived soon after that."

Zunino's testimony led jurors to ask more than 20 questions -- ranging from whether Johnson could have had access to the store's computers, lockers surveillance system even though he wasn't a manager, to what is Wallgreens policy regarding co-workers dating.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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