HILLSBORO, OR (KPTV) - The man who killed 28-year-old Sara Zghoul of Aloha was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to charges including first-degree murder and abuse of a corpse.
Jeremiah Ward Johnston, 37, also pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
Johnston was arrested in January 2018. Zghoul’s body was found inside a black BMW near Southwest Sarala Street and Hargis Road. Johnston was subsequently located in a wooded area near Southwest Murray Boulevard and Teal Boulevard in Beaverton.
A witness told FOX 12 that Johnston was sitting in the woods for more than an hour and was screaming for help.
After his arrest, deputies said Zghoul and Johnston knew each other, but few details were released as the investigation unfolded.
Zghoul was a mother to a young son, and she worked as a model and actress.
Zghoul’s friends and family packed the courthouse Wednesday, but they left the courtroom as prosecutors described how Johnston committed the murder.
In court Wednesday, it was released that Zghoul was about to go into a drug treatment program, but she first called her dealer, identified as Johnston.
Prosecutors said Johnston was angry because he claimed Zghoul owed him money, but she said she would not pay him.
The Washington County District Attorney’s Office reported Johnston attempted to use Zghoul to lure another drug dealer into a robbery. Zghoul was bound with duct tape, but eventually released from the restraints. As she attempted to run away, investigators said Johnston pushed her down a staircase and then killed her.
Prosecutors said Johnston dismembered her body, but her head has not been recovered. Prosecutors said Johnston put it in a plush bear and only he knows where it is.
Zghoul’s family has her cell phone, but prosecutors said Johnston changed the password, so they can’t access her information and memories.
Johnston did not look at Zghoul’s family in court Wednesday. Some yelled “coward,” while others cried.
Zghoul’s sister spoke after the sentencing, saying, “Sara loved her family. We’re missing a big part of us now, but mostly she loved her son. Her 8-year-old son who will face the rest of his life without his mom by his side.”
Johnston’s prior criminal history includes charges of tampering with drug records, forgery and identity theft in 2014, possession of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin in 2015 and parole and probation violations in 2017.
Johnston’s conspiracy to commit murder charge is related to his attempt to hire another jail inmate to kill a witness in this case, according to court records. The plot was discovered before it could be carried out.
Johnston was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum of 65 years before the possibility of parole.
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