Acquitted Of Murder After 29 Years Behind Bars, Georgia Man Sues State And Police

| by Nik Bonopartis
Houston County Police.Houston County Police.

A Georgia man is suing the state, alleging he was coerced into signing a murder confession and regularly beaten by prison guards during almost three decades in prison, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Timothy Johnson, 53, spent 29 years in prison until a Houston County jury acquitted him of murder and robbery charges after a retrial in 2013. Johnson was accused of killing Taressa Stanley, a Kwickie Food Store clerk, in Warner Robins, Georgia, on Sept. 14, 1984, The Macon Telegraph reported.

In 2006, the Georgia Supreme Court overturned Johnson's conviction, finding Johnson hadn't been informed of his rights before his guilty plea. But it took the state more than seven years to grant Johnson a retrial, according to a federal lawsuit filed Nov. 9 by Johnson's attorneys, of the firm Krevolin and Horst of Atlanta. By that time key witnesses had died, and evidence — including the alleged murder weapon and a bullet — had been destroyed, The Telegraph reported.

According to the lawsuit, Johnson spent almost half of his 29 years in prison in solitary confinement, where he says he was restricted to a cramped, windowless cell. Johnson was only allowed out of his cell to shower, the lawsuit alleges, and over a nine-year stretch was only allowed to use the state prison's exercise yard "three or four times."

Johnson wasn't allowed to interact with other inmates or place phone calls, the lawsuit alleges, and he was forbidden from using the prison library. The former inmate says he was denied proper medical care, and the lawsuit claims a group of guards — dubbed the "Goon Squad" — broke both his knees, his right foot, a toe and a finger during weekly beatings.

The lawsuit names the state of Georgia, Houston County, the jail's wardens, several sheriff's deputies, and police detectives as defendants in the case.

The detectives and a handful of officers are accused of coercing the then-22-year-old Johnson into signing a confession by dangling him off a bridge straddling a Georgia state highway, according to The Telegraph.

"At one point it scared me so bad I told them I must be having a heart attack or something," Johnson told The Telegraph. "That's when it ended. They took me to the hospital."

Zahra Karinshak, one of the lawyers representing Johnson, told The Telegraph the her client is seeking unspecified monetary compensation and reform in the prison system's policies and oversight.

Sources: The Telegraph, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11 Alive / Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons