December trial date set in decades-old Warner Robins slaying

bpurser@macon.comOctober 5, 2013 

Timothy Johnson

WARNER ROBINS -- A Dec. 2 trial date has been set for a decades-old murder case in Houston County.

Timothy Johnson pleaded guilty in December 1984 to the slaying of 24-year-old clerk Taressa Stanley. The mother of three young children was shot and later died after a September 1984 botched armed robbery at a Kwickie convenience store at the corner of Wellborn Road and Wall Street in Warner Robins.

Johnson pleaded guilty to murder and armed robbery as part of a deal in which prosecutors agreed not to seek a death sentence.

But in February 2006, the Georgia Supreme Court set aside the conviction. The court found that Johnson didn’t understand his right not to incriminate himself and to question witnesses when he entered his plea.

Former Houston County District Attorney Kelly Burke successfully fought to prevent Johnson from being released from custody in order to take the case back before a new Houston County grand jury. Johnson was reindicted in June 2006. The crime of murder has no statute of limitations.

A notice to seek the death penalty was also filed but later withdrawn. Other appeals were filed. Now, the case has been set for a jury trial before Superior Court Judge George Nunn.

“We’re in the process of just getting things ready,” said Deputy Chief Assistant District Attorney Daniel P. Bibler, who will prosecute the case.

He declined to comment on the facts of the case.

Stacey F. Morris, Johnson’s lead attorney, could not be reached for comment. Morris and her husband, Ricky W. Morris, are McDonough attorneys representing Johnson free of charge. They sought to have the new case against Johnson dismissed, arguing that his constitutional rights to a speedy trial have been violated. A new appeal was made to the Georgia Supreme Court.

But in February, the state Supreme Court declined to hear the case based on a procedural error. Defense attorneys then asked Nunn to dismiss the case on the same grounds. In August, Nunn agreed with the state Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the 51-year-old Johnson has been held in the Houston County jail since March 2006, having been transferred there from prison on a hold for Superior Court to face trial. He says he’s innocent of the slaying that he pleaded guilty to when he was 22.

Deborah Pratt, who’s been vocal about her sister’s killing and has never missed a court hearing involving Johnson, said Bibler asked her not to comment.

The prosecutor said Pratt may be called as a witness at trial, and that while she is free to talk to reporters and defense attorneys, he’d prefer that his witnesses did not.

Both the prosecution and defense have acknowledged that trying the 29-year-old case will be difficult because some of the evidence wasn’t kept and some of the witnesses have died.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.

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