Seventeen years ago, a motion for a new trial was filed on behalf of Garry Johnson in Burke County Superior Court. He’s still waiting for a hearing.
Augusta Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Carl C. Brown Jr. recently took action on Johnson’s behalf after learning that 17 years had passed since his murder conviction and that he’s yet to have an appeal, a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Johnson, now 54, was convicted in November 2000 for the Dec. 27, 1997, slaying of 31-year-old Irene Shields just days after she left him. Johnson faced a possible death sentence, but the jury voted for life without parole.
His lead trial attorney, Jack E. Boone, filed the motion for a new trial – the first step in the appellate process – and withdrew from the case. His second attorney, Luther McDaniel, remained on the case but was disbarred in 2003. Judge William M. Fleming Jr., who presided over Johnson’s trial, retired in 2006.
According to court documents, Johnson wrote letters to the court several times over the years without hearing a word back until this year. In April he wrote, “Thanks for the response … After 20 years this is my first response.”
But still no action was taken for his appeal.
Brown told The Augusta Chronicle last month after learning of the case that the issue now was who would represent Johnson. His case predates the 2005 establishment of a public defender system in Georgia. Before 2005, trial judges appointed appellate attorneys.
Johnson is now represented by an attorney with the local public defender’s office. Lucy Dodd Roth filed an entry of appearance Nov. 28. Judge James G. Blanchard Jr. set a hearing for Jan. 8 but granted a delay last week after Roth asked for more time to prepare. She was still trying to find an attorney’s case file and had filed a request with the district attorney’s office for a second copy of the discovery.
According to testimony during Johnson’s trial, the day after Shields went missing, her mangled body was found beside Boll Weevil Road. Not far away, investigators would find the vehicle Shields had borrowed from a friend the day before, a Ford Explorer. The vehicle was used to repeatedly run over the mother of three, who had been bound and gagged.
Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or firstname.lastname@example.org.