published Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Judge to decide if Dalton teen should be tried as juvenile in killing

  • photo
    Joshua Johnson has been charged as an adult in the strangulation death of his grandmother.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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DALTON, Ga. — A judge will decide whether a Dalton teen should be tried as a juvenile for the death of his grandmother, who was strangled in 2010.

Joshua Johnson was charged with murder two days after his grandmother, Lorraine Frazier, was found dead on her bathroom floor in October 2010. Police believe he strangled her with a cord. He was 15 at the time, but murder falls under one of the state’s “seven deadly sins” that allow prosecutors to treat Johnson as an adult.

A week after his arrest, Johnson was released from jail and allowed to live with his mother in Atlanta and wear an ankle monitor as a condition of his bond. He has pleaded not guilty to the murder charge, and family members have said they believe the teen is innocent.

But Johnson’s attorney, L. David Wolfe, has filed a motion arguing the bond restrictions should be considered confinement. He argues the teen should be removed from Whitfield County Superior Court and tried as a juvenile because prosecutors didn’t follow the law.

Wolfe and Conasauga Judicial Circuit District Attorney Bert Poston argued the motion Tuesday afternoon before Whitfield County Judge David Blevins, using case law to defend their position.

Georgia law requires that a juvenile who is being tried as an adult must be indicted by a grand jury within 180 days of being charged if they are detained, Wolfe said. Johnson was indicted 230 days after his arrest, he said.

But Poston argued that Johnson’s living conditions should not be considered detainment and that the law isn’t clear on the definition. Poston told Blevins it would be “illogical” for the court to interpret the law the way Wolfe argued.

Blevins said he will allow both sides 10 days to respond to his questions and then he will make a decision.

During the hearing Tuesday, Wolfe also asked to view Frazier’s psychiatric records, which are protected under state and federal laws. The defense believes Frazier’s records will show the 57-year-old woman may have been suicidal, which could have been how she died, Wolfe said in court.

Blevins will consider writing a court order to allow Wolfe to see the records if Wolfe will write how it potentially could deny the teen’s due process not to see the file.

Another hearing was set for May 22.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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