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Guilty - Johnson gets life

Michael Samuel Johnson took the witness stand in his own defense Thursday morning in McDuffie County Superior Court, coming to tears at one point when remembering the night that he took the life of Todd Brooks.

Later in the day, closing arguments were heard - District Attorney Dennis C. Sanders contending it's a case of murder and Defense Attorney Jacque Hawk of Augusta maintaining it was self-defense. Following those arguments, each side being granted an hour to summarize the case before jurors in the three-day-old trial, which began Tuesday.

Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr. later instructed the eight-woman, four-man jury as to what the criminal charges are against Mr. Johnson and that they must be the fact finders in the case - based on the evidence and testimony that they heard during the trial. The panel retired just before 5 p.m. to the jury room where their first order of business was to elect a chairman or chairwoman.

They managed to deliberate about an hour before being dismissed until 9 a.m. Friday.

The 29-year-old Mr. Johnson is charged with malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of certain crimes. He has maintained his innocence since being arrested at his home on Nov. 22, 2006, when the fatal shooting of Mr. Brooks occurred there.

Courthouse security was again tight with more than a dozen local and state law enforcement officers there to safeguard Mr. Johnson, as well as those attending the trial.

It wasn't known whether or not Mr. Johnson would actually testify on his own behalf until Mr. Hawk announced it to the court. Prior to testifying, Judge Dunaway made it known to Mr. Johnson that he could testify if he chose to, but that he didn't have to if he didn't want to.

After agreeing to testify, he took the stand and was sworn in as a witness in his own defense. He first underwent a series of questions from Mr. Hawk. Asked how he felt after shooting Mr. Brooks, Mr. Johnson replied, "I felt like I didn't have no choice. I felt sorry that I had shot Todd."

It was at that time that the defendant began crying - Mr. Sanders asking for a recess to allow Mr. Johnson time to compose himself and resume testifying. Judge Dunaway asked Mr. Johnson if he needed a recess and he replied, "I just wanna get this thing over with."

Second later, he broke down crying again and was given a cup of water by Mr. Hawk before the judge granted a 10-minute recess.

During his closing remarks, Mr. Sanders noted that the tears shed by Mr. Johnson was one of the worse acts of drama he's ever seen in all of his years as a prosecutor. He asked jurors to think about the reason for such an act. The prosecutor said the act was solely for their benefit.

Continuing his testimony to questions from his defense attorney, Mr. Johnson said Mr. Brooks, who lived about a mile from the Johnson's 152-acre family property, and his friend, Teddy Grimes of North Augusta, S.C., came to his home seeking permission to search for a deer. Mr. Brooks' wife, Missy, hit the deer earlier that night near the driveway entrance leading to Mr. Johnson's mobile home. The men later entered the residence with Mr. Johnson and a friend of his, Roger Sturkey, agreeing to help Mr. Brooks and Mr. Grimes search for the deer.

"I didn't have no problem with it," Mr. Johnson said, noting that he retrieved his 7MM deer rifle and a spotlight. He and his friend drove around in his car looking for the deer, because it was thought to have been badly injured and reportedly had a nice rack of anglers.

Before leaving the residence, Mr. Brooks saw Rebecca Heacock there. The young girl, 17 at the time, and Mr. Brooks had known each other for several years and were described as "real close" to each others families: He called her "Baby" and she called Mr. Brooks, "Uncle Todd."

Miss Heacock, who testified as a defense witness Wednesday, was the "subject matter" of the shooting of Mr. Brooks, according to the prosecutor, who was assisted in the case by Chief Assistant District Attorney Durwood "Woody" Davis. In testimony from Miss Heacock, now 18, on Wednesday, it was learned that she had been staying at Mr. Johnson's home for the past couple of nights and that they sexually were involved.

"She testified for her lover," Mr. Sanders said, adding that jurors should not forget about the real victim in the case - Todd Brooks.

"Don't you forget about him," Mr. Sanders said. "He was a good man."

Mr. Brooks wanted Miss Heacock to go home with him and granted permission from her mother for that to happen. It never happened. And the reason it didn't is because an argument broke out, which later led to a physical confrontation between Mr. Brooks and Mr. Johnson inside the Johnson home.

The defendant said Mr. Brooks told him that Miss Heacock was leaving with him. He replied that it was "fine" with him, if it was OK with Miss Heacock. Mr. Johnson recalled Miss Heacock saying she did not want to go with Mr. Brooks, because he was drinking.

Mr. Hawk introduced testimony during the trial that Mr. Brooks' blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit for persons driving under the influence. It was pointed out, however, by Mr. Sanders that Mr. Brooks wasn't driving - he had been a passenger in a truck driven by Mr. Grimes.

At the time of Miss Heacock's refusal to go home with Mr. Brooks, Mr. Johnson stated that's when he told Mr. Brooks to leave his home.

"I told Todd, he needed to get of my house," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Brooks, according to Mr. Johnson refused to leave - contending he wasn't leaving without the girl. Mr. Johnson said Mr. Brooks told him that he couldn't make him leave and that they should settle the thing, like men, outside.

"I didn't want to fight that man," Mr. Johnson said, noting that Mr. Brooks kept repeating for him to go outside. Mr. Grimes was on the porch of the residence at the time, he said. It just didn't seem like a good idea to go outside with two of them, Mr. Johnson said.

The defendant said before the verbal altercation that he even tried to trick Mr. Brooks into thinking that he was going outside like he had requested. Mr. Johnson's plan was to get Mr. Brooks onto the porch and then lock his door. The plan backfired with Mr. Brooks staying in the house - the two men arguing about which one of them would go first.

Mr. Johnson, who still had his deer rifle strapped to his shoulder at the time, said Mr. Brooks then pulled his gun strap. The defendant said he attempted to retreat, continuously telling Mr. Brooks that he needed to leave his house.

Seconds later, Mr. Johnson said he ran and attempted to put his couch between himself and Mr. Brooks. According to Mr. Johnson's testimony, Mr. Brooks tossed the couch out of the way - an estimated four feet. Mr. Johnson said he then pointed his rifle at Mr. Brooks.

Mr. Johnson said he pointed his rifle at Mr. Brooks, "because I was scared for my life."

Mr. Brooks, according to Mr. Johnson's testimony, then came straight at him and got his hands on the rifle. Mr. Grimes later joined in the struggle for the weapon, too, Mr. Johnson said. During the struggle, Mr. Johnson claimed that both men beat him about the head and his body.

A photograph of Mr. Johnson, taken the day after his arrest, failed to reveal any cuts or bruises. In his closing argument, Mr. Hawk even told jurors that his client was beaten from one end of the house to the other.

By the time Mr. Grimes finally retrieved the rifle, Mr. Johnson had thought of another plan - that one successfully working - as he retrieved a pistol that he had nearby for his "protection."

Mr. Johnson later admitted firing six bullets into the body of Mr. Brooks - one of the bullets striking Mr. Brooks in the head, testimony revealed.

Web posted on Friday, January 18, 2008

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