Felony Murder Charge in the Kathryn Johnston Death

It looks like at least one of the officers in the shooting death of Kathryn Johnston will face felony murder charges.

...the district attorney expressed outrage over the shooting in a Feb. 6 letter to Markel Hutchins, spokesman for the family of victim Kathryn Johnston.

"The death of Mrs. Johnston constitutes one of the greatest tragedies ever to occur in Fulton County," Howard wrote. "I will not rest until every person responsible for her death is held accountable. ...

"When homicides occur in Fulton County, whether committed by a civilian or a law enforcement official, it is the obligation of the district attorney's office to take the appropriate legal actions. ... The public will not tolerate separate treatment for police officers."

This is encouraging news, but I'd throw out a couple of cautions. First, it's important that Atlanta recognize the shooting for the systemic failure it was, and not just blow it off as the unfortunate acts of a few rogue police officers. Fact is, the use of confidential informants creates all sorts of incentives for shortcuts and malfeasance, and allows for this kind of thing to happen. There need to be more stopgaps put in place, not just limiting the use of informants, but to double-check and verify when they are used. And of course, it would be helpful if Atlanta revisited the whole issue of using confrontational, forced-entry raids for nonviolent crimes. 

When Alberta Spruill was killed during a no-knock raid in New York a few years ago, Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields encouraged other victims of botched no-knocks to come forward, in order to get a feel for the full extent of the problem.  She then issued a report documented the cases and making recommendations for reform.  Atlanta should use the Johnston raid in a similar way.

My other reservation is that encouraging as it is to see a prosecutor eager to hold police to the same standards he holds everyone else, I can't get terribly excited about a felony murder charge. If the reports of making up the informant, then threatening a "stand-in" informant into lying are true, I think these officers need to go to jail for a very long time. But I'll never be comfortable with criminal charges that lack the component of intent, no matter who they're levied against.

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  • ||

    One thing about felony murder (as I understand it, and I'm certainly not a lawyer in my own state or in Georgia) is that there are no lesser included felonies. That means the jury can't decide between felony murder and manslaughter, for instance. So I think I see the emergence of the "let's prosecute the bad cop" scenario:

    1. Charge him with the worst possible crime, even if the evidence isn't there.
    2. The public interest groups say "Whoopee! Our D.A. understands our grievance!"
    3. The trial is held in a place where the jury is less inclined to be composed mostly of minorities.
    4. The verdict is not guilty.
    5. The D.A. gets to say he tried.

    That's my bet for this case. The officer will still lose his job, go bankrupt, etc. But no one will get charged with misuse of a weapon, trespassing, assault, misuse of authority of law, or a host of other crimes that can apply to this case. Did Rodney King's attackers get charged with giving a gangland beatdown? No, I believe it was a civil rights violation with loads of necessary elements which weren't provable with the available evidence.

    It's deja vu all over again, as far as I'm concerned.

  • Sam Franklin||

    If a felony murder charge makes this more likely to go to trial and less likely to plea bargain, then i like the charge choice.

    Whether the officer is found guilty or not, this needs to be in the newspaper and to have some drama attached to it.

    yesterday in my weekly phone call, I asked my mother if she heard of the police shootings going on down in the south. She said no. that surprised. She is usually a bit more aware than that.

  • ||

    I'm inclined to see the shooting as the symptom, not the disease. Once the cops were in that house, facing a woman who did not realize they were cops, who was pointing a gun because she did not realize it, the die was cast.

    The problem is that they entered the house in the manner that they did based on the "evidence" that they had. I would be happier if the charges were related to the decisions made and the "evidence" collected, even if the charges were less severe than murder. It would mean that the actual decisions that led to this were prosecuted, rather than the end result of those decisions.

    You have to gets the roots when you're pulling weeds, not just the stem.

  • Alex||

    And of course, it would be helpful if Atlanta revisited the whole issue of using confrontational, forced-entry raids for nonviolent crimes.

    It is necessary to prevent evidence from being flushed down the toilet.

    victims of botched no-knocks to come forward, in order to get a feel for the full extent of the problem.

    It isn't really a problem because all wars have collateral damage, a few people killed here and there is the price we pay to be protected from drugs.

  • Sam Franklin||

    The problem is that they entered the house in the manner that they did based on the "evidence" that they had. I would be happier if the charges were related to the decisions made and the "evidence" collected, even if the charges were less severe than murder. It would mean that the actual decisions that led to this were prosecuted, rather than the end result of those decisions.

    Actually with aiding and abetting law being as strict as it is, the charges could probably be made exactly as serious as a murder charge.

    This blog entry doesn't say which of the officers has been charged so far, and maybe it was one of the higher ups (or maybe I need to RTFA).

  • Dave W.||

    The problem is that they entered the house in the manner that they did based on the "evidence" that they had.

    Furthermore, if one of the triggermen in this case has a defense that he believed in good faith that the "evidence" was not a big, glaring lie, then the BEST place to have that discussion is in an open courtroom, under oath, at a criminal trial, in front of a jury, in front of journalists and WITH CROSS EXAMINATION.

    What would be sadder for us is if that conversation took place confidentially and behind closed doors.

    I, for one, would love to see junior po po explain why he had faith in the system that let him down. (Myself, i suspect that junior po po knew exactly what was up and wanted to do the raid anyway, but a public trial would give us some better insight there.)

  • ||

    some of the article I read this morning imply that the DA may have brought charges to derail the federal investigation. His fiefdom was under threat so he struck first.

  • ||

    "It isn't really a problem because all wars have collateral damage, a few people killed here and there is the price we pay to be protected from drugs."

    It's amazing no one gets this point, nothing is scarier than walking out of your front door and being confronted by a bag of blow that wants to do you harm. Especially a bag of blow with a gun. I'd say many people killed is a small price to pay. Remember when drugs ran wild and just did whatever they wanted, those days are gone now, and thanks to what, the payment of killed people. It boggles the mind that no one realizes this.

  • ||

    Remember when drugs ran wild and just did whatever they wanted, those days are gone now, and thanks to what, the payment of killed people.

    Guns don't kill people. Drugs kill people. ;)

  • ||

    From the article, the cop's lawyer sez:

    Csehy conceded his client may have made mistakes, but he said Junnier didn't commit murder. "There was no malfeasance here. It was sloppy police work," Csehy said. "It was cutting corners."

    Someone get this man a dictionary! What he just described is the ever-loving definition of malfeasance.

  • ||

    No Intent?

    He intended to kick the door down to someones home while waving a gun around in his hand. He shoots a woman dead. What other intent does one have going into a home with a gun in hand. Thats the whole point of the problem with these raids in. Someone kicks a door in, someone inside sees a gun that is all most people need to begin shooting at a perceived intruded. You can count on it if kicking in my door.

    Glad somoene is going to go down but they need to look long, hard and deep at all the issues to make true change I agree. Often you hear fire and brimstone DA against a cop only to 2 or 3 years later have it be a snipet of news that they were found innocent based on some crap. Short memories of the public are our big problem.

  • ||

    Sorry, I suppose technically it's misfeasance that the lawyer is claiming, whereas the facts (lying about CIs, etc.) lead me to believe in malfeasance.

  • ||

    On monday morning, listening to a news report about recent developments in the case on the radio, I heard the announcer say (no lie) that "Kathryn Johnston was a 92-year old woman who had been selling crack out of her house."

    Made me sick.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    According to this one good old boy I know, Fulton County cops are bad to the bone and the entire system is corrupt. Course he's bitter about them putting him on trial for shooting those two cops he caught burglarizing his house. The ones that faced zero disciplinary actions while he spent thousands of dollars trying to keep out of state prison.

  • The Wine Commonsewer||

    Oh, forgot, yes, he was acquitted. Good thing he was white.

  • ||

    According to this one good old boy I know, Fulton County cops are bad to the bone and the entire system is corrupt.

    That is a assumption I make about any police force in the country unless someone has pointed out how well run and honest it is. There are well run police departments and there are officers whose conduct is beyond reproach.

    Precious few of those officers end up in drug or vice squads, though. And of those who do very few last long there.

    I am probably more cynical than most and it is possible that I am wrong about most departments. But nothing in my experience has ever suggested that I am.

  • dhex||

    "Guns don't kill people. Drugs kill people. ;)"

    wrong! guns on drugs kill people. like that gun that did so many drugs it thought it was a glass of orange juice. it accidentally shot itself to death trying to drink its own brain.

  • ||

    It is necessary to prevent evidence from being flushed down the toilet.
    As a practical matter, even that result would "get drugs off the street" and without the massive costs of trials and confinement, SWAT teams etc.
    Also the "lost" stash has some monetary value attached to it.

  • ||

    "He intended to kick the door down to someones home while waving a gun around in his hand. He shoots a woman dead. What other intent does one have going into a home with a gun in hand."

    The intent is to inspire fear, dread, and submission in the subjects of the Realm.

    I am in general opposed to the death penalty, except for public employees and elected officials. I, too, worry that this is just a distraction, in order to divert the attention of the audience prior to the removal of the elephant from the stage.

  • Alex||

    As a practical matter, even that result would "get drugs off the street" and without the massive costs of trials and confinement, SWAT teams etc.
    Also the "lost" stash has some monetary value attached to it.


    Yes but they need to be punished.

    "He intended to kick the door down to someones home while waving a gun around in his hand. He shoots a woman dead. What other intent does one have going into a home with a gun in hand."

    Regardless of wheather or not they anounced they were cops or she knew, you point a gun at a cop you gets shot.

    Don't want your door busted down? Don't do up the crimes.

  • Choy||

    If nothing else, the officer's actions sound a lot like what I would think of as reckless endangerment. I'm just sorry that Mrs. Johnston didn't have a little better aim/luck and kill a few of the b***trds before they got her. Maybe that would make them more circumspect in the future; then again, probably not.

  • ||

    Just so everybody is clear "Felony Murder" is a killing that occurs during the commission of another felony. The person who started the chain of events that lead to the killing can be charged with murder, even if he didn't pull the trigger

    For example, If I go rob a bank and the security guard accidentally shoots a teller, I can be charged with murder for the teller's death.

    Or, if I am fleeing the cops in a vehicle afterwards, and they hit and kill a pedestrian, I can be charged with felony murder for the pedestrian's death.

    So in this case, the prosecutor would only have to prove that the police committed a felony in order conduct the raid, and they would be guilty of "Felony Murder"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony_murder

  • ||

    Is this the granny that shot at the cops? Or something else?

    You know it is a sad state of affiars when it's frequent enought I can't keep track of which is which anymore.

  • Alex||

    Everybody allways gets what they deserve, period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    """Don't want your door busted down? Don't do up the crimes."""

    So what if you don't do a crime and they break your door down?

  • Alex||

    So what if you don't do a crime and they break your door down?

    Collateral damage is unavoidable, but everybody allways gets what they deserve, period, end of discussion.

  • ||

    Alex said

    """It isn't really a problem because all wars have collateral damage, a few people killed here and there is the price we pay to be protected from drugs.

    Everybody allways gets what they deserve, period, end of discussion.

    Don't want your door busted down? Don't do up the crimes."""""

    It seems obvious to me Alex thinks he is safe because he is not doing anything wrong.

    Something he shares with the homes owners in these cases.

  • ||

    Alex

    Don't you worry, people like you always get what they deserve. My guess will be a 10 year sentence for the kiddie porn they find in your house. If anything in this world is predictable, it's the fact that the ones who ask for the most severe penalties are guilty of something else.

  • Anonymous||

    RE: Alex and his posts

    C'mon guys, we're supposed to be brighter than the average bears. Please don't feed the trolls.

  • Edrea||

    "Is this the granny that shot at the cops? Or something else?"

    I believe Ms. Johnston shot the police as much as I believe Sam was selling drugs earlier that day.


    "Don't want your door busted down? Don't do up the crimes"

    There-in lies the problem Dr. Spock. Have you read the reports? Or just don't get it? They are busting in the doors of innocent, law abiding, tax paying, home owning, Bible reading, honest citizens. All predicated on the so-called war on drugs. All this work and the real drug dealers are flourishing.

    I don't know what the actual charge should or will be, however, I do know they should clear out the jails if they are going after the corrupt people in the system. Next they should get the judges that sign the warrants knowing they have weak evidence and the DA's that will go to court to get a conviction knowing they're using crack-head snitches as witnesses and shoddy evidence.

  • Dave W.||

    Next they should get the judges that sign the warrants knowing they have weak evidence

    One or two executions in this case for those LEOs who sought the warrants and the warrant-signing judges will be called on to sign a lot less bogus crap in the future.

    The death penalty is a powerful deterrent -- at least for po pos.

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