A DeKalb County judge recently found two Brookhaven murder suspects not guilty after she said in a scathing order that the District Attorney’s office failed to do the work needed to be ready for trial more than a year after their arrests.
DeKalb Superior Court Judge Shondeana Morris granted the unusual order on Jan. 10 to acquit Stephen McAllister and Quintez Griffin. Brookhaven Police charged them in December 2018 with killing Carthel Johnson, 25, in a shooting at the Mille at Brookhaven Apartments on Barone Avenue. A third man was arrested but was later determined to be a victim and a witness and no charges are pending against him. Police said the shooting was the result of a drug deal that went bad.
“[W]e are upset. Our detectives spent a lot of time and effort in providing a solid case to the District Attorney’s office for prosecution,” Police Chief Gary Yandura said in an email.
District Attorney Sherry Boston said she and her officer are “currently evaluating our options to determine the most appropriate course of action.”
“Our primary interest regarding this matter remains securing justice for Carthel ‘CJ’ Johnson Jr.,” she said in a written statement. “We will continue to fight.”
Yandura suggested there is a possibility of federal charges being filed against Griffin and McAllister. They cannot be retried on the same charges in the Brookhaven case.
No one has said federal charges are being pursued.
Griffin is currently booked in the Fulton County Jail for violating probation, including possession of firearms by a convicted felon, according to online records. McAllister was booked at the Volusia County, Fla., jail on Jan. 24, on a charge of grand theft auto, but is no longer in custody there, according to online records.
Morris said in her order that despite the D.A.’s office agreeing to begin the murder trial on Jan. 7, more than a year after Griffin and McAllister were arrested and jailed, prosecutors failed to meet the deadline. They sought to delay the trial in a flurry of motions filed in the weeks before the trial date, but all were denied.
“[T]he State attempted to conceal its many failures by the belated filing of numerous motions unsupported by evidence or authority, which they knew to be without merit, or which were contrary to the law and rules,” Morris said.
The trial began on Jan. 7, but prosecutors refused to participate in jury selection, opening arguments or calling witnesses. Prosecutors asked Morris to dismiss the charges against Griffin and McAllister under a law that would allow the state to re-indict them on the same charges at some unknown future date. She denied that motion.
After a jury was selected and seated, prosecutors still refused to participate. With no evidence presented against Griffin and McAllister, their defense attorneys asked for a directed verdict of acquittal from the judge. She said in her order she had no choice but to grant the directed verdict as part of her duties to administer justice equally to the “poor and rich” and the “weak and powerful.”
“The State takes the position that these Defendants are dangerous to the community, but if so, it was the State which failed the community by failing to present any case at all for their conviction on the indicted charges,” Morris said in her order.
Seth Kirschenbaum, a former federal prosecutor and now a criminal defense attorney, said Morris was put in a “tough position” by the D.A.’s office and that it took courage for her to grant the acquittal, something she knew would be unpopular.
“This was a case where the state explicitly agreed to a set trial date … they knew for certain when it was going to be, then they started making a series of motions and requests designed to get a continuance,” he said.
“It’s easier to go along with what the D.A. asks for, but the judge had some backbone and was willing to stand up for what is right.”
Brookhaven residents and others may not agree with Morris, but Griffin and McAllister had been in jail for more than a year and all defendants are presumed innocent, Kirschenbaum said.
“And the state was not ready,” he said. “They pulled out all the stops to delay the trial and judge wasn’t having it.”