WV Supreme Court denies convicted murderer's petition - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

WV Supreme Court denies convicted murderer's petition for writ of habeas corpus

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A convicted murderer couldn't convince the state Supreme Court of Appeals that his rights had been violated by a Cabell County Circuit judge.

John Rodney Johnson, convicted of the Jan. 3, 2003 shooting death of Thomas Drake outside a Huntington bar, had argued the lower court erred in dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus to determine whether he is being lawfully detained.

Convicted in 2004, the high court had refused to hear his appeal in 2006. He petitioned circuit court for a writ of habeas corpus in 2007, renewed his plea in 2008 and amended it in 2009, but the court denied and dismissed his petition the following year. He appealed in 2011, but the supreme court remanded the case to the Cabell court for a final order. The Cabell Circuit judge again denied and dismissed the case, prompting Johnson to appeal yet again to the Supreme Court.

Johnson contended, among other things, prosecutors failed to disclose potential exculpatory evidence, phone records for a witness who said he'd talked to Johnson the night of the murder; claimed his lawyer was ineffective; said in questioning witnesses, the prosecutor had been allowed to reference items found during execution of a search warrant that in itself had been ruled inadmissible; claimed misconduct because a juror didn't disclose until after the trial that he knew him; challenged his out-of-court identification by one witness and argued that his petitions for a writ had been wrongly denied.

The justices, however, ruled that the circuit court "did not abuse its discretion in dismissing petitioner's petition for habeas corpus." They said Johnson had failed to demonstrate how a delay in producing the phone records had prejudiced him at trial and said the prosecutor's comments "were isolated, and we find no evidence that they were prejudicial or inflammatory."

In addition, the juror who failed to reveal the fact that he knew petitioner until after the conclusion of the trial "informed the circuit court that he played baseball as a child with petitioner's brother but did not realize who petitioner was until seeing the family during the trial," the justices said. "Further, no evidence was presented of a negative relationship between the two, and the contact between petitioner and the juror was very remote in time from the trial."

Likewise, they said the out-of-court identification Johnson took exception to was made by a friend of the victim "who knew petitioner from previous altercations" and had picked him out of a photo lineup and also identified him at trial. "Petitioner has failed to show any error committed related to either identification," they wrote.

The justices also said Johnson had "failed to show that counsel's performance was deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness or that there was a reasonable probability that but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different."

"It is clear from the record that trial counsel made strategic decisions, of which petitioner now complains," they added. "Further, there was ample evidence presented to the jury, outside of the alleged errors, on which the jury could base its decision of guilt. Therefore, we find no error in the circuit court's finding that the allegation of ineffective assistance of counsel is without merit."