'It's a miracle I survived,' throat-slashing victim says, as his ex takes plea in SLO attack

A cellphone camera allegedly captures the scar of former Atascadero resident Robert Johnson's neck wound.
A cellphone camera allegedly captures the scar of former Atascadero resident Robert Johnson's neck wound.

A man whose throat was slashed with a box cutter at a Bishop Peak trailhead said Wednesday "it's a miracle that I survived" and that he suspects the woman accused in the crime wanted to kill him to take money and other property.

On Tuesday, the man's ex-girlfriend — Erika Christine Deherrera, 40, of San Luis Obispo — accepted a plea agreement in the June 2017 attack and will spend about eight years in state prison.

She pleaded no contest to a single charge of attempted murder and admitted a criminal sentencing enhancement for inflicting great bodily injury on the victim, 55-year-old former Atascadero resident Robert Johnson, according to court records.

She had faced additional felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon and inflicting corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant, which were dismissed in exchange for her plea agreement. She faced the possibility of life in prison.

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Erika Christine Deherrera, 40, of San Luis Obispo pleaded no contest Tuesday, April 3, 2018, to attempted murder for cutting a man’s throat at Bishop Peak in June 2017. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office

On June 18, 2017, deputies were dispatched to the Bishop Peak trailhead on Foothill Boulevard in northern San Luis Obispo after receiving several calls reporting a man bleeding from his neck, the Sheriff’s Office said at the time. When they arrived, they found a man with a gash across his neck and as they searched the area for a suspect. They received more calls about a woman seen running away from the crime scene.

Deherrera was arrested without incident after she was found hiding in the bushes near Cerro Romauldo Avenue. She has been in custody at San Luis Obispo County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail.

Johnson, who spoke by phone with The Tribune, said that he and Deherrera were in a relationship for 12 years when they went to a pond near the trailhead together and Deherrera began to give him a shoulder rub. Johnson said that as she went to "crack" his neck, he reached up to catch his sunglasses from slipping off his head.

At that moment, Deherrera attempted to stab his neck with a box cutter, and she was partially blocked by Johnson's arm, he said. A struggle ensued, and Deherrera was successful in slicing a 7-inch gash along his throat, stopping within millimeters of his carotid artery, Johnson said.

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Johnson admitted that he struck Deherrera several times in the face after he sustained the injury.

After wrapping his neck in a shirt, Johnson described attempting to get motorists to drive him to a hospital, but none would. He said one woman named April, a nurse at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center, stopped and applied pressure to his wound on the side of the road until an ambulance arrived.

"She saved my life," Johnson said. "It's a miracle that I survived."

He said he suspects Deherrera wanted to kill him to take money and other property after he told her his plans to end the relationship and move out of state.

Johnson also said Wednesday he feels "deceived" and that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office entered into a plea deal without notifying him, calling the office's decision "a total joke."

Johnson added that he had been in contact with the DA's Office's Victims and Witness Assistance Center as Deherrer'a criminal case progressed, and said he had been given assurances that prosecutors planned to take the case to trial, where Deherrera faced a more serious sentence.

Saying the evidence proved Deherrera's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, he said he went to Tuesday's hearing expecting the court to set a trial date for mid-April.

Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth on Wednesday defended the agreement, saying that the two lesser dismissed charges were based on the same alleged act, and California law prohibits multiple punishments for the same offense, so it's unlikely they would have led to additional time on a sentence.

Dobroth said he's mindful of the trauma Johnson endured and understands he's upset, but said that the prosecutor in the case spoke with Johnson for a half-hour Tuesday morning and explained the offer.

Deherrera's attorney, Pierre Blahnik, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday, but he said in July that the woman was acting in self-defense.

Deherrera's sentencing is scheduled for May 22 in San Luis Obispo Superior Court.

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909; @mattfountain1