Tuesday, June 14, 2011

14 JUN 11: Two Strikes and a Cloud of Dust

A car in the repair shop forced me allowed me to watch the current version of "Let's Make a Deal" several weeks ago. Wayne Brady is far more entertaining than Monty Hall was decades ago. Brady sings, Brady dances a bit - and he even allows the model on the display floor to speak out loud.

A convoluted case of Columbus deal-making was settled Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court. The justices overruled a prisoner's life sentence, because prosecutors set a plea-bargain deadline but his attorney never told him about it. Those prosecutors ought to go to Washington, and do that same thing with the national debt ceiling.

The Georgia Supreme Court found 5-2 in favor of convicted armed robber Jesse James Johnson. You'd think his first two names would have been grounds to reject an appeal all by themselves....

But anyway: Jesse Johnson was arrested for a 2003 home robbery in which he carried a long knife. Then the wheeling and dealing began -- as Muscogee County prosecutors offered Johnson a 25-year sentence, instead of possible life in prison. This WAS when Gray Conger was a Democrat, wasn't it?

Jesse Johnson entered a not guilty plea, then was told by his attorney he risked a mandatory life sentence under the Georgia "two strikes" law. Johnson says he offered to accept 20 years - but prosecutors responded he was too late, after making his plea. At some point, even an accused criminal's word has to be good....

Jesse Johnson was convicted of aggravated assault and armed robbery. But he filed papers seeking a new trial, saying he had "ineffective.... counsel" because he was told too late about the possible life sentence. I'm sure one TV station noted Johnson's public defender was Mark Casto - the attorney now representing Kurt Schmitz.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled Jesse Johnson was unable to "make an informed decision" during the plea-bargain process. That's only fair, isn't it? After all, prosecutors say Johnson informed his robbery victim of plans to cut her throat....

Jessie Johnson has a new attorney now -- and Stephanie Wald has admitted to WRBL there's plenty of evidence to convict her client. Yet Johnson could get a reduced sentence, based on Monday's ruling and whether the current District Attorney wants to keep pursuing the case. Will Julia Slater keep sounding tougher, as re-election time draws closer?

But to me, this case illustrates how messy the criminal justice system can be. Why didn't prosecutors play hardball in the first place - telling Jesse Johnson it was life in prison or else? And in this case, "else" would mean a soft jury instead of a softer sentence.

This is yet another example of how Muscogee County officials drilled holes in Georgia's get-tough "two strikes" sentencing policy. It was Judge John Allen who ruled in 1997 that an armed robber could serve only eight years in prison for a second conviction. It's a wonder some baseball umpire hasn't used those cases against Columbus Little League teams.

Let's deal with some other Monday news now....

+ Columbus Police told WTVM someone climbed onto the roof of the Kmart store on Milgen Road, and stole parts from the air conditioning system. There's something for the mayor's copper theft task force to know - it needs money added to the city budget for a helicopter.

+ A federal judge ruled attorneys cannot subpoena former Alabama Governor Bob Riley to testify at the gambling corruption trial. This is an important decision - because it frees Riley to be a surprise guest witness at the Casey Anthony trial.

+ The manager of the Holly Hills apartments on Oakley Drive admitted to WRBL water service has been intermittent for several days. One family talked about being unable to shower during the June heat -- as if it hasn't the single guy's secret of wiping body wash in creative places.

+ The Ledger-Enquirer revealed the identity of a disheveled man drivers have passed for years near the 13th Street Viaduct. Frank Collins is 77 years old, and moved into the House of Mercy several weeks ago. So no, he did NOT finally melt into a puddle in the heat.

+ The Muscogee County School Board held a public hearing on the district's millage rate - or as WLTZ spelled it in one newscast, the "mollage" rate. There certainly are holes in the budget for next fiscal year....

+ Chris Heaps was introduced as the new Phenix City Central baseball coach. Heaps told WTVM he wants his players to be "energy givers," not takers. I can't wait to see the team carrying gas cans to the dugout next March.

+ Patrick Murphy took back his decision to become Louisiana State softball coach, saying he's returning to Alabama because he "made a mistake." OK, who's the wise guy in Tuscaloosa who prepared posters with Murphy's picture next to LeBron James?

BURKARD'S BEST BETS: FREE spicy chicken sandwiches at Chick-Fil-A if you wear a U.S. flag (check restaurants for times and restrictions).... gas for $3.36 a gallon at Liberty on 13th Street in Phenix City.... and the RiverCenter smelling nicer, because of rehearsals for the Miss Georgia pageant....

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