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February 7, 2007

A Kathryn Johnston Update

by Jason Pye

One of the officers involved in the Kathryn Johnston shooting will be charged with murder and more:

Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard will seek felony murder charges against at least one of the Atlanta police officers involved in a botched drug raid that resulted in the shooting death of an elderly woman, the officer’s attorney said.

Defense attorney Rand Csehy, who is representing Gregg Junnier, said he had received an e-mail from Howard’s office Wednesday saying the prosecutor would go before a grand jury on Feb. 26 to seek charges against his client.

It was unclear Wednesday evening whether charges were being sought against other police officers. Eight Atlanta officers were put on administrative leave after the shooting. The November incident prompted a multi-jurisdictional investigation that included state and federal authorities.

Csehy responded angrily to the threat of an indictment against his client. “It’s an overbroad indictment,” he said.

I think a felony murder charge is a bit over the top, manslaughter and trespassing sound more levelheaded. Murder implies an intent to kill. I don’t believe they had a premeditated intent to kill Kathryn Johnston.

Paul Howard is a terrible district attorney and I have no doubt in my mind that he will drop the ball on this no matter how he chooses to pursue it.


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10 Comments

  1. Murder over the top? If Cory Maye can be convicted of murdering a police officer when he was only trying to defend his home, his child, and himself then I think a police officer should be held to at least the same standard.

    Far too often when a police officer makes a fatal mistake, they only get a slap on the wrist. But let a citizen make a mistake and the court is not as understanding. If you read The Agitator on a regular basis you know this to be true.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — February 7, 2007 @ 11:22 pm
  2. Cory Maye’s conviction was unjust. Convicting this police officer of murder would also be unjust. But you are right, police officers should be held to much higher standards than anyone else.

    There needs to be more accountability at higher levels. The guy who pulled the trigger is obviously responsible, but the overzealous police Lieutenant or whatever who set up the SWAT raid is at least as responsible. Mistakes that were made during the decision making process caused her death as much as the officer who shot her.

    Comment by Jason — February 7, 2007 @ 11:29 pm
  3. Murder over the top? If Cory Maye can be convicted of murdering a police officer when he was only trying to defend his home, his child, and himself then I think a police officer should be held to at least the same standard.

    Stephen,

    That is a very valid point, but I stand by what I said.

    Comment by Jason Pye — February 7, 2007 @ 11:31 pm
  4. I agree Jason, everyone involved from the top down should be held responsible.

    Jason Pye, I actually agree with your point. Whether or not the officer is charged with murder should depend on the facts of the case (as should Maye’s case). I think police officers should get no more favorable treatment when firing thier weapon than an average citizen. In my view, everyone has the right to use leathal force if and when his or her life is threatened or the lives of others are threatened. The police officer in question probably did not have any other choice but to use deadly force once he was put in that situation (I’m not very familiar with the details of this particular case but didn’t Johnson draw a gun to protect herself?).

    I have my doubts that this officer will be convicted of murder; he will probably be convicted of a lesser charge. If Johnson has any surviving family members, the department should be charged with wrongful death and give a handsome reward to Johnson’s next of kin.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — February 7, 2007 @ 11:46 pm
  5. Over at Hit&Run, someone proposed that there are no lesser charges in a felony murder case. The thought is: Charge the officer with a charge that can’t be pled down, try the case somewhere where it is unlikey to garner many black jurors. Since, as Jason Pye as stated, it is pretty hard to see intent in this case, the jury will have no choice but find the officer innocent. Granted, the officer’s life is still ruined, but the prosecutor and other officials get to say “We did something.” They are sacrificing this man instead of looking at the system that put him in that situation. It’s not justice, it’s politics as usual.

    Nick

    Comment by Nick M. — February 8, 2007 @ 8:58 am
  6. I think that Nick M might be on the right track here. Charge him with murder, which you know (since he was fired upon before firing back) would likely not result in a conviction. Cop gets off, DA looks like he’s “doing something”, and everyone (except, of course, the public and Kathryn Johnston’s family) is happy!

    Charging them with negligent homicide or something like that would likely carry a much higher chance of conviction… Which may be why it’s not being done.

    Comment by Brad Warbiany — February 8, 2007 @ 11:28 am
  7. Felony murder is not the same as regular murder amd occurs when anyone dies during the commision of a felony regardless of intent. Police break into the home (felony), woman dies, gives you felony murder.

    Comment by Michael — February 8, 2007 @ 11:31 am
  8. Michael- correct. The case will hinge on the breaking and entering. No warrant, possibly some intentional negligence.

    However, that said, they will find it hard to convict.

    I have a relative who was head of SWAT team in a mill town/ small city in the Pacific NW. He rose through the ranks as a kind of superstar. He also ordered a raid on a house. A woman who screamed as they kicked in the door was shot dozens of times. She fell onto her young child and his friend who were in sleeping bags on the living room floor.

    The warrant was issued based on testimony that was never checked out. At All. The person who had tipped off the sherriff that the perp of an armored car robbery/murder (over a year old) would be at the house that night. The informant named the man. Up to that poiont there were no suspects.

    The informant turned out to be an ex of the man’s wife.

    Lethal force is not something to be forgiving about. Choose to live by the gun, cease to matter.

    Comment by bwe — February 8, 2007 @ 1:59 pm
  9. I think a felony murder charge is a bit over the top . . . . Murder implies an intent to kill. I don’t believe they had a premeditated intent to kill Kathryn Johnston.

    You misunderstand the felony murder rule. That rule provides, in a short basic explanation, that when a person commits an independent felony, and during the commission of that felony a person dies as a result, that the offenders can be charged with the murder of that person. A typical fact patter might involve 2 robbers who go to a store. One of them has a gun and hasn’t told the other robber he is packing. During the robbery the victim resists and the robber with the gun shots and kills him. Both robbers are both caught. The second robber, who had no intention of killing anyone, can be charged with murder.

    The idea being that when you engage in inherently dangerous activity such as a felony crime, it is foreseeable that things will spiral out of control and someone may die, even though you had no specific intent to kill someone. Under such circumstances it is reasonable to charge people with murder.

    Here, assuming the news reports are accurate, the police officers feloniously (because they had no legal authority to do so because their “warrant” was illegitimate and they knew it) attempted to break into a single old ladies house, at night, in a high crime neighborhood. Legally speaking, they were no different than burglars. If this had been burglars it would not be controversial to charge them with murder in the death of Ms. Johnston.

    Why is it controversial just b/c they happened to be police officers?

    Comment by Glenn Dale — February 8, 2007 @ 3:11 pm
  10. Here, in support of the comments noting the misunderstanding of felony murder rule, is the relevant provision of the Official Code of Georgia.

    16-5-1. Murder; felony murder

    (a) A person commits the offense of murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being.

    (b) Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.

    (c) A person also commits the offense of murder when, in the commission of a felony, he causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.

    (d) A person convicted of the offense of murder shall be punished by death or by imprisonment for life.

    Comment by Winston Smith — February 8, 2007 @ 10:07 pm

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