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Officers may face murder charges

The case involves the shooting death of an elderly Atlanta woman.

February 08, 2007|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

ATLANTA — Prosecutors plan to seek felony murder indictments against three Atlanta police officers who killed an elderly woman during an exchange of gunfire in her home, according to a document released by one of the officer's attorneys Wednesday.

The Nov. 21 slaying of Kathryn Johnston, 88, sent waves of anger across Atlanta -- prompting hundreds to gather to vent and criticize Police Chief Richard J. Pennington.

Plainclothes officers entered Johnston's house after obtaining a warrant based on what they said was information that drugs were being sold there. The warrant did not require them to knock, and they stormed in. Johnston allegedly shot and wounded three officers before they killed her.

Pennington has asked the FBI to look into the case, which also is being investigated by the Fulton County district attorney's office.

On Wednesday, defense attorney Rand Csehy released a formal notification he received from Dist. Atty. Paul Howard's office. The document indicates prosecutors will ask a grand jury to return murder indictments against Csehy's client, retired officer Gregg Junnier, and officers Jason Smith and Arthur Tesler.

Howard's office could not be reached for comment, but the document lays out a case that also would seek to charge the officers with burglary, aggravated assault, false imprisonment and lying about the justification for searching the house.

Smith is accused of falsely telling detectives that he instructed an informant to make a police-monitored drug buy at the house. Tesler is accused of lying to the FBI when he told them he witnessed such a drug buy. Junnier is accused of falsely stating that the other two officers met with the informant.

After the shooting, a local TV station interviewed an unidentified man who said he was the informant. He said the officers told him to lie about what happened and offered to pay him.

The prosecutors' document also shows that they will seek indictments against Junnier and Smith for criminal solicitation; they allegedly asked the informant to make false statements.

Csehy said Wednesday that he was disappointed, calling the charges "overbroad."

"At worst, this is sloppy police work," he said. "We're going to beat this case."

Csehy said that the grand jury is to consider the case Feb. 26, and that his client had been cooperating with the federal investigation. Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Atlanta, said the district attorney had not contacted federal investigators.

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richard.fausset@latimes.com

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