Cops Plead Guilty In Granny Murder
Junnier and Smith, who is on administrative leave, had been charged in an indictment unsealed earlier Thursday with felony murder, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and making false statements. The third officer, Arthur Tesler, also on administrative leave, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process.
Two police officers pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter in the shooting death of a 92-year-old woman during a botched drug raid last fall. A third officer still faces charges in the woman's death.
Officer J.R. Smith told the judge Thursday that he regretted what had happened. "I'm sorry," the 35-year-old said, his voice barely audible. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation, making false statements and perjury, which was based on untrue claims in a warrant.
Former Officer Gregg Junnier, 40, who retired from the Atlanta police force in January, pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation and making false statements. Both men are expected to face more than 10 years in prison.
The charges followed a November 21 "no-knock" drug raid on the home of Kathryn Johnston, 92. An informant had described buying drugs from a dealer there, police said. When the officers burst in without warning, Johnston fired at them, and they fired back, killing her.
Fulton County prosecutor Peter Johnson disclosed Thursday that the officers involved in Johnston's death fired 39 shots, striking her five or six times, including a fatal blow to the chest. He said Johnston only fired once through her door and didn't hit any of the officers. That means the officers who were wounded likely were hit by their own colleagues, he said.
Junnier and Smith, who is on administrative leave, had been charged in an indictment unsealed earlier Thursday with felony murder, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and making false statements.
The third officer, Arthur Tesler, also on administrative leave, was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process. His attorney, William McKenney, said Tesler expects to go to trial.
Tesler, 40, is "very relieved" not to face murder charges, McKenney said, "but we're concerned about the three charges."
In Junnier's and Smith's cases, prosecutors asked the judge Thursday to withhold sentencing until after a hearing later Thursday in federal court where both are expected to enter pleas.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias told The Associated Press that the recommended federal sentence for Junnier will be 10 years and one month in prison, and for Smith, 12 years, seven months. The state and federal sentences are expected to run concurrently.
Both men could have faced up to life in prison had they been convicted of murder. The deadly drug raid had been set up after narcotics officers said an informant had claimed there was cocaine in the home.
When the plainclothes officers burst in without notice, police said Johnston fired at them and they fired back. No cocaine was found.
The case raised serious questions about no-knock warrants and whether the officers followed proper procedures. Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington asked the FBI to lead a multi-agency probe into the shootout. He also announced policy changes to require the department to drug-test its nearly 1,800 officers and mandate that top supervisors sign off on narcotics operations and no-knock warrants.
To get the warrant, officers told a magistrate judge that an undercover informant had told them Johnston's home had surveillance cameras monitored carefully by a drug dealer named "Sam."
After the shooting, a man claiming to be the informant told a television station that he never purchased drugs there, prompting Pennington to admit he was uncertain whether the suspected drug dealer actually existed.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist who serves as a spokesman for Johnston's family, said the family was satisfied with Thursday's developments.
"They have never sought vengeance. They have only sought justice," he said. Hutchins said the family is considering civil action against the police department. "I think what happened today makes it very clear that Ms. Johnston was violated, that her civil rights were violated," he said.
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