By Victor Ochieng
It was September 22, 1984, when Timothy R. Johnson was apprehended by police officers and charged with the murder of a Warner Robins store clerk, who was shot dead during a robbery incident. In December of that same year, he pleaded guilty of the charges and was slapped with a life sentence.
There is one thing, however, that Johnson knew even as he was pleading guilty – that he actually didn’t commit the murder. He later revealed that he was coerced into pleading guilty by police officers, who even went as far as dangling him over a bridge.
Years went by, and in 2006, Georgia Supreme Court overturned the 1984 ruling. The court cited that the convict didn’t understand his right not to plead guilty and his right to question witnesses over their statements.
That, however, didn’t mean that he was a free man. He was only granted a chance to go through another phase of trial.
Seven years later, a jury made a ruling that Johnson wasn’t guilty of the said crime among other charges that were leveled against him in the case.
He’s been on a path to recovery, working to put his life back together after wasting so many years behind bars for wrongful incarceration.
One of the steps that he’s taken is to file a lawsuit against Warner Robins police officers and Houston County sheriff’s deputies for having arrested him and participated in his prosecution without any reasonable justification.
That isn’t all. Johnson also outlined some of the inhumane things he went through for the 29 years he was at the Houston County jail and Georgia State Prison. In his lawsuit, Johnson cites having been subjected to solitary confinement for part of the period and that he was denied access to physical exercise and interaction with others. He also mentions having undergone weekly beatings at the hands of “goon squad,” which was a group of rogue guards.
“It was like being in a bad dream, except you know you’re not dreaming,” Johnson said.
Gwendolyn Hogan, the Department of Corrections spokeswoman, declined to comment, while Houston County Sheriff Cullen Talton, whose office is in charge of the county jail, said he couldn’t comment because he hasn’t seen the lawsuit. Similar remarks were also echoed by other local officials.
Johnson’s lawsuit makes several claims, including failure by officials to follow the due process and malicious prosecution. He’s, therefore, asking the court to exercise compensatory and punitive damages.
“I’m feeling blessed to be out here,” he said.
Johnson, 53 now, says that he is happy that his parents are still alive and that he can still spend quality time with them.