A judge has decided a Dalton, Ga., teen should be tried on murder charges in Juvenile Court, which could alter significantly how long he would spend in jail if found guilty.
Whitfield County Judge David Blevins decided that 17-year-old Joshua Johnson has been detained for the last two years because he's been under house arrest with an ankle monitor. That decision means that, under state law, prosecutors didn't indict Joshua in a timely manner, within 180 days from his arrest, and his case will go before Juvenile Court.
Prosecutors plan to file an appeal this week, hoping the higher court will disagree with the judge's decision.
Johnson was charged with strangling his grandmother, Lorraine Frazier, in October 2010 when he was 15. She was found dead on the floor of her bathroom, and police said an autopsy showed she had been strangled with a cord. Johnson and his mother were living with Frazier at the time of her death.
The teen has maintained his innocence, and his attorneys have asked for Frazier's psychiatric records, which could show the 57-year-old woman had been suicidal, according to Johnson's attorney, L. David Wolfe.
In an earlier hearing, Conasauga Judicial District Attorney Bert Poston argued that Johnson was released from jail on specific bond conditions so prosecutors didn't have to indict him within the six-month timeframe required in juvenile cases.
Because the law doesn't give a clear definition for what the word "detainment" means, Blevins had to look at the definition of the word and apply previous case law to come to his decision.
Now Johnson's case must wait until the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals makes a decision before moving forward, Poston said.
"Everything is frozen in place until the appeal is resolved," he said.
If the case goes to Juvenile Court and Johnson is convicted, his sentence could be limited to four years in a state detention facility. At 21, he could be transferred to a state prison, but a Juvenile Court judge would have to decide that during sentencing, officials said.
Johnson's attorney didn't return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...