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Johnson case evidence should be presented to grand jury

By Dewitt Edenfield Why do we the citizens who put the people in the positions of legal authority ‘“ the very ones who decide which cases should be brought before the grand jury ‘“ accept it when cases that should be presented are not, for whatever reasons? The one that hurts the most ‘“ and presents the worst picture of our legal system ‘“ is the Donna Marie Ogletree Johnson murder case. We know Donna Johnson was killed in a manner that was both violent and diabolical. We know there was enough evidence to make an arrest. We also know there was ‘“ and is ‘“ sufficient evidence to present the case to the grand jury. Sadly, we know that her killer ‘“ or killers ‘“ has not yet been brought to justice. Of course, the most obvious suspect could have been innocent and may well have suffered all these years for a crime he ‘“ or she ‘“ did not commit. Allowing the grand jury to review the evidence and make prudent decisions based upon what was presented to them could have alleviated many years of speculation and accusation. The first of Edenfield’s columns appeared in the 11.15.2011 edition of The Herald-Gazette. it is reproduced in full as follows: There’s substantial entomological evidence in the Donna Marie Ogletree Johnson murder case that leads one to at least consider the fact she wasn’t killed by person or persons unknown. It’s the same information that contradicts statements and alibis of several people questioned during the original investigation in the weeks and months after the murder and put the previous assumptions that Donna Johnson was killed between 2-4 p.m. on July 16 into the ‘doubtful’ category. Then Lamar County Sheriff Joe Buice and investigator Steve Burge were undoubtedly disturbed ‘“ and rightfully so ‘“ when this data was presented to the GBI and prosecutors at a meeting in December 2005 and it failed to lead to an indictment. It’s at this point when an outside investigator ‘“ such as me ‘“ has to ask why. It’s a legal fact circumstantial evidence makes up the majority of the evidence presented at trial, so why didn’t District Attorney Richard Milam step up to the plate? When in 2005 he said, ‘It wasn’t a question of whether there was enough evidence but of whether there was any evidence,’ to qualify as probable cause for an arrest in the Donna Johnson murder case, one has to ask ‘what about the circumstantial evidence?’ It’s a true fact the general public has a misconception about what constitutes circumstantial evidence. The law is clear in every jurisdiction in Georgia: both direct evidence and circumstantial evidence are acceptable as a means of proof and neither is entitled to any greater weight than the other. The easiest way to define circumstantial evidence is by what it isn’t ‘“ it isn’t evidence that comes directly from an eyewitness or a participant. With direct evidence, jurors don’t have to draw any ‘if-then’ inferences. Everything else is circumstantial evidence, which is simply anything that allows a jury to reach a conclusion by reasoning. Most witness testimony is circumstantial, since most witnesses relate not that they saw the defendant actually commit the crime but instead that they saw or knew something else that might lead a reasonable juror to conclude the defendant committed the crime. That covers expert witnesses, too. Thus DA Milam’s statement ‘It wasn’t a question of whether there was enough evidence, but of whether there was any evidence,’ to qualify as probable cause for an arrest in the Donna Johnson murder case is dismissive of the circumstantial evidence. Dismissive judgments of evidence as simply circumstantial reflect a lack of true consideration of what’s involved. Not only can circumstantial evidence be extraordinarily persuasive, it can often be stronger than direct evidence ‘“ stronger than eyewitness testimony or even a confession. So, knowing this, I have to ask why. There’s sufficient circumstantial evidence to indict, and once indicted, to convict. The frustrating truth is this same evidence has always been there, yet there has never been an indictment. The prudent individual has to ask why. That same individual must question the reasons behind the fact no one has ever been brought to justice. It’s a small step from disallowing the circumstantial evidence to failure to carry out the sworn duties of the job. We expect those we elect to offices in our legal system to be above reproach, thus we also expect them to look out for our welfare ‘“ which is the reason they sit in those positions in the first place. The oath of office states, in part, ‘I do swear (or affirm) I will faithfully and impartially and without fear, favor or affection discharge my duties as staff attorney for the Prosecuting Attorneys’ Council of the State of Georgia.’ The oath ends with the words ‘So help me God.’ ’So help me God’ requests God to render assistance ‘“ or help ‘“ by being a guarantor of the oath taker’s own honesty and integrity in the matter under question, and by implication invoking divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their duty in this regard. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one’s duty, such as in the performance of the duties of a prosecuting attorney in ‘“ and out ‘“ a court of law. Edenfield holds a Ph.D. in criminal psychology, has more than 15 years of law enforcement experience and is a published author. He is the designated disposition authority for air superiority munitions and weapons for the Air Force, one of five within the Department of Defense. He lives in Milner.

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