The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed that Maurice Johnson should have a new judge as he tries to overturn his three murder convictions in the 1999 Valentine's Day triple slaying in Cleveland, Tenn.
Johnson's defense attorney and prosecutors both asked that Criminal Court Judge Amy Reedy be removed from the case because her "impartiality might reasonably be questioned," according to court documents.
The appeals court agreed in an order filed Nov. 18 and asked the Tennessee Supreme Court to appoint a new judge.
Reedy had previously refused motions by Johnson and the 10th Judicial District Attorney's Office that she recuse herself from the case.
Friday, she said in a telephone interview that she respects the court's ruling but can't ethically comment on the case.
"I respect the Court of Appeals and every opinion they have," Reedy said. "They're doing their job, and I do mine, and I absolutely regard and respect the job they do."
Johnson is hoping to piggyback on the dismissal of charges against his co-defendant, Michael Younger, whose 2010 triple-murder trial ended in a mistrial because a prosecutor disobeyed the judge's order. District Attorney Steve Bebb later dismissed the charges, claiming that records of numerous telephone calls between Reedy and the detective in the case, former Cleveland officer Duff Brumley, tainted the case too badly to try.
Johnson says his trial lawyers should have moved to dismiss his charges based on the Younger result, and the fact that they didn't shows that he did not have effective assistance of counsel, a constitutional right.
The DA's office agreed Reedy should be removed and said it intends to call her as a witness when Johnson's petition for post-conviction relief gets a hearing.
First, though, the new judge will have to decide whether the Bradley County Public Defender's Office can continue to represent Johnson.
When Johnson was tried in 2009 the public defender's office represented a person who had been called as a witness in the case. That creates a conflict for the office representing Johnson now, the appeals court noted.
But Public Defender Richard Hughes said Friday that the witness was never called to testify, which should negate the conflict. Also, he said, the appeals court didn't know that Johnson already had signed a document waiving any potential conflict.
"I think the public defender's office will be able to continue to represent Maurice Johnson in the post-conviction proceedings," Hughes said Friday.
He said he hopes the new judge will be named around the first of the year.
Contact staff writer Judy Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6416.