A Warner Robins man on Monday filed a federal lawsuit that contends he was wrongly prosecuted for a 1984 murder and that he was repeatedly beaten and held in solitary confinement for years while he was incarcerated.
"I never thought anything like that could happen," Timothy Johnson, 53, said in an interview at his lawyers' office in Midtown. "It was just terrible."
Two years ago, a Houston County jury acquitted Johnson of the killing and armed robbery, allowing him to walk free for the first time in 29 years.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Macon, alleges Johnson was maliciously prosecuted, subjected to cruel and unusual punishment and denied due process. It seeks unspecified damages and attorneys' fees.
Johnson, 22 at the time, was arrested for the Sept. 14, 1984, murder of convenience store clerk Taressa Stanley during an armed robbery. Prosecutors sought the death penalty but withdrew it when Johnson pleaded guilty to the crimes in December 1984.
But Johnson, acting as his own lawyer, persuaded the Georgia Supreme Court in 2006 to grant him a new trial. The high court ruled that both Johnson's trial judge and his lawyer failed to inform him of his right to confront witnesses at trial and his right to avoid self-incrimination.
He was tried for the murder and robbery seven years later and acquitted of all charges.
"I couldn't do anything but thank the Lord for that moment," Johnson said.
Johnson's lawsuit, filed by Atlanta lawyers Zahra Karinshak and Patricia King Minton, alleges jailers and prison guards repeatedly beat Johnson while he was incarcerated and kept him in solitary confinement for years. The suit was filed against various state prison officials and law enforcement officials from Houston County and Warner Robins.
"As a former federal prosecutor, I was shocked by this case and the facts of this case," Karinshak said. "It was a compelling case that needed to be filed in order to seek justice."
Just one month after Johnson's arrest, the lawsuit alleged, Houston County law enforcement officers yanked Johnson out of his cell and took him to a bridge. The officers dangled Johnson over the water, threatening to drop him unless he confessed to the crimes, the suit said.
At the time, Johnson said, he was handcuffed and shackled.
Once in the state prison system, Johnson was placed in solitary confinement in early 1997 for failing to stand up in his cell during an inspection by the warden, the suit said. He then spent the next nine years in solitary confinement and, once or twice a week, was visited by prison guards who beat him, the lawsuit said.
Guards broke Johnson's right foot and both his knees as well as a toe and a finger, the suit alleged. Because of this, Johnson suffers from anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, heart palpitations, depressions and hallucinations, the suit said.