Convicted murderer Michael Samuel Johnson was expected to have appeared back in McDuffie County Superior Court in Thomson last week for a hearing to see whether or not he has grounds to seek a new trial.
The hearing, however, was postponed because of a transportation issue in getting Mr. Johnson from the prison where he is being held back to Thomson, a court official said. The motion hearing for a new trial is now set for February 2009.
Since Mr. Johnson's January 18 murder conviction this year for the Thanksgiving Eve 2006 shooting death of Thomson businessman Todd Brooks, his family has hired him a new attorney. The new attorney is Brian Steele, of Atlanta. Mr. Steel replaces Jacque Hawk, of Augusta, who represented Mr. Johnson during his murder trial.
After jurors convicted the 29-year-old Mr. Johnson, of Thomson, in the shooting death of Mr. Brooks at Mr. Johnson's mobile home off the Wrens Highway, Toombs Judicial Circuit Superior Court Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. sentenced him to life in prison, plus five years. The sentences are to run consecutively.
Immediately after the trial, Mr. Hawk said he would file an appeal seeking a new trial. At the time, he contended that his client was dissatisfied with the jury's verdict and conviction and sought a new trial on the following grounds:
- Because the verdict is contrary to evidence and without evidence to support it;
- Because the verdict is decidedly and strongly against the weight of the evidence;
- Because the verdict is contrary to law and the principles of justice and equity and
- That the court "committed several errors" during the trial.
Back in November, Mr. Steel filed a much broader series of reasons for seeking a new trial for Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Steel contends that the court improperly instructed the jury that the defendant's plea of not guilty is not evidence of the defendant's guilt. He further contends that since his defendant's trial counsel did not object to this preliminary jury charge that his client received ineffective assistance of counsel.
As a result, he is seeking to have Mr. Johnson's conviction and sentence reversed.
Mr. Steel listed a number of other contentions - the majority of which involves what he describes in court documents as ineffective counsel. The new defense attorney also contends that Mr. Johnson had a right to defend his property, since he was being burglarized by Mr. Brooks and a friend of his, Ted Grimes. He contends the two men had stolen a rifle belonging to Mr. Johnson in the course of an altercation at the Johnson residence.