Woman accused of killing her baby's father argues battered woman's defense
It’s been a little more than two years since Martegus “Pale” Jamell Johnson died after being struck by a car on Macon’s Pio Nono Avenue.
Surveillance video shows a black Ford Explorer making a U-turn May 9, 2014, and running him over in a post office parking lot.
Johnson’s girlfriend, 33-year-old Tasha Yolanda Phillips, is charged with murder in his death.
Her attorney filed a motion in Bibb County Superior Court this month seeking to have jurors hear evidence of Johnson’s alleged past violence toward her and other women.
A hearing hasn’t been scheduled.
When the case goes to trial, Phillips will claim a “Battered Person’s Syndrome” defense, according to the motion.
“She was terrified of this man,” Phillips’ lawyer, Debra Gomez, told a judge at a 2014 hearing in the case.
She was terrified of this man.
Lawyer Debra Gomez said of Phillips at a 2014 hearing
Prosecutors are seeking to have Phillips evaluated by a prosecution-selected mental health expert, according to court records.
The case had been set to go to trial Monday, according to prosecutors’ motion. The trial now has been postponed.
When reached by phone Friday, Gomez said Phillips has been diagnosed with battered person syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder by an expert who has testified in courts throughout Georgia.
In jail since her arrest in 2014, with the exception of giving birth, Phillips “cries and she laments (Johnson’s) death,” Gomez said.
Phillips, who was seven months pregnant at the time of Johnson’s death, was suicidal when she was first arrested, Gomez said.
She said her client has come to better understand why she stayed with Johnson through her evaluations with the defense’s mental health expert.
Gomez said Phillips thought of herself as a strong woman.
”She is ashamed that she took it and stayed so long,” Gomez said.
Allegations of violence
Authorities have said Johnson, 24, called Phillips on the night he died and asked her to pick him up at the Pio Nono Avenue Kroger. They argued and Johnson hit her in the head as she drove.
At some point, Johnson got out of the car and set off walking toward the Pio Nono Avenue post office.
Post office surveillance cameras captured images of Phillips’ Explorer accelerating and running over Johnson, the prosecution has argued.
Gomez is seeking to offer evidence that Phillips was justified, according to the motion, filed Sept. 9.
In the year or so leading up to Johnson’s death, Phillips contends Johnson slapped her, choked her, punched her, “assaulted” her with a 56-inch TV, slammed her onto a bed, threatened her life and shoved a gun into her mouth, according to her attorney’s motion.
About three months before his death, she contends Johnson said “he would get away with murdering her just like he had gotten away with murdering the sister of a Mafia member during his initiation into the Crips” street gang, according to the motion. The Mafia is another street gang in Macon.
Days before he died, Johnson sat on Phillips’ stomach, saying she wouldn’t be allowed to give birth to his child if she didn’t want to continue their relationship and threatened to bash her head with a brick if she called police, she alleges.
He didn’t hit women like they say he did. He wasn’t raised like that. That wasn’t him.
Jessica Johnson, talking about her brother
The motion also alleges Johnson fired a shot into a car full of people in 2012 and in 2006 held another pregnant woman over a balcony railing, threatening to drop her.
Bibb County Superior Court records show he was charged with battery on a pregnant woman after punching his child’s mother in the ear in January 2007. The case was later dismissed.
He was sentenced to a year on probation in 2009 after he pleaded guilty to striking the same woman, records show.
Gomez’s motion also alleges he pulled a gun on another woman in 2010 and stole her car.
‘Just trying to get off’
Johnson’s mother and sister describe him as a “loving person” who wasn’t violent.
Jessica Johnson said her brother was a member of the Crips gang, but he didn’t do anything illegal for the gang.
He was the type of person who would help a woman who was being beaten, she said.
“He didn’t hit women like they say he did,” Johnson said. “He wasn’t raised like that. That wasn’t him.”
She said her brother liked to fish, work on cars and ride motorcycles.
Having previously worked at Economy Tires, he’d been hired back there just before his death, she said.
Johnson said she and her brother were teenagers when Phillips moved in next door. It wasn’t until years later that her brother and Phillips became romantically involved.
Eula Fay Johnson said her son was good to Phillips’ children while also having three children of his own.
Days before Johnson was killed, Phillips wrote on Facebook about her love for him and his love for her children, Jessica Johnson said.
Both women say Phillips is lying in claiming she was battered by Johnson.
“She’s just trying to get off,” Johnson’s mother said.
Gomez said the incidents summarized in her motion include accounts not just from Phillips, but from other people allegedly harmed by Johnson. Information also was gleaned from police reports.
”Are all of these people lying?” she said. “Are the police officers lying?”
Gomez said she’s “terrified” potential witnesses whose accounts were included in the motion could be intimidated by Martegus Johnson’s family and friends.
Authorities have said Phillips initially told them that she and Martegus Johnson had gone to buy drugs and drug dealers ran over Johnson in a silver Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Arrest warrants in the case allege Phillips “attempted to conceal” a crime by having her vehicle removed before police and medical personnel were called. Along with murder, she’s charged with evidence tampering.