New details emerge in murder, dismemberment of Aloha mom

Washington County

Detectives recovered Sara Zghoul's cell phone

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — It’s been nearly 2 years since young mom and aspiring model Sara Zghoul was murdered and found dismembered in the trunk of a car. As the anniversary approaches, court documents reveal new details about what prosecutors think the suspect did after she was killed to throw them off the trail.

Court records indicate that investigators believed Jeremiah Johnston used Zghoul’s cell phone to post on social media that she was away at the coast. Her cell phone was missing for nearly a year until an informant told them where to find it.

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Johnston is accused of killing Zghoul. He has been sitting behind bars, awaiting trial. Detectives said he kidnapped Zghoul, killed her, and dismembered her body—stuffing her into a suitcase in the trunk of a BMW. Later, he was also charged with trying to hire a hit man from jail to kill a witness who heard him talking about the crime.

According to court documents, the hit man he tried to hire was Daniel Kerbs, who became an informant. Not only did Kerbs tell investigators about the alleged “murder-for-hire” plot, he also told them where Zghoul’s cell phone was. Records state, “included in Kerb’s statement was that the defendant’s (Johnston’s) attorneys were in possession of Sara Zghoul’s cellular phone.”

Prosecutors filed a motion to get that cell phone back from his defense attorneys. Documents also state, “detectives learned that the defendant (Johnston) had disposed of the majority of Sara Zghoul’s property. However, detectives also learned that after the defendant murdered Sara Zghoul, he posted a message on her Facebook account purporting that she was on the Oregon Coast.”

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Undated photos of Sara Zghoul (KOIN File)

Lester Tsai, a photographer and friend of Zghoul’s, has been slowly waiting for justice for his friend. He recalls what a bright light she was in everyone’s life.

“She was great, she was super nice to everybody, really caring for her friends,” said Tsai. “She had two friends that had babies at the same time and she actually booked me to do their photos for them because she wanted to do something nice for them. That was just something she always seemed to be doing.”

Tsai said as the case moves forward, he’ll be watching and will keep Zghoul’s memory alive.

“I feel like he deserves life in prison and possibly the death penalty because of just how disgusting and heinous what he did was,” said Tsai.

Court documents show the phone was turned over to investigators a few months ago and the defense attorney who initially had the phone is no longer representing Johnston in the case. A motion hearing is scheduled for August 18, 2020 and the trial isn’t set to begin until January of 2021.

KOIN 6 News will continue to follow this story.

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