Murder convictions give Ann Curry's family ‘relief’ but they say it won’t ease grief

tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.comApril 28, 2011 

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Ann Johnson Curry’s family will never recover from the loss suffered 25 years ago when Ann and her two children were hacked to death with a bush ax.

Her older brother, Michael Johnson, 56, said he calls his parents every week, just to stay in touch -- until around Aug. 29 each year, the anniversary of that horrible evening in 1985 no one in the family can forget.

“The last two weeks in August and the first week in September, I don’t call, just because it’s too hard for any of us, at that time of year,” he said Wednesday after Ann’s husband, Michael Curry, was found guilty in the gruesome murders of his wife and kids.

“I don’t want to call and do anything that would cause them more pain. It’s a time of grief, every year, when August 29th rolls around.”

His former brother-in-law’s conviction won’t change that, he said: “They will always remember that day.”

Now Jim and Bernice Johnson have another day to remember -- the day Muscogee Superior Court Chief Judge John Allen announced that a jury had found Michael Curry guilty.

“We thank our God who has sustained us through the years,” Ann Curry’s mother, Bernice Johnson, told reporters after she and husband Jim thanked police and prosecutors at District Attorney Julia Slater’s office.

Asked her reaction when the verdict was announced, she said at first she wasn’t sure she heard it correctly. Once it was confirmed, she said, she felt “relief, just plain relief, that finally people know what I have known for so long.”

Still, it’s not clear others will continue to be as certain of Curry’s guilty as she is.

Defense pursues options

Defense attorneys are trying to get Allen to set the jury’s verdict aside and rule the evidence was insufficient to prove Curry’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Public defender Bob Wadkins’ motion for that directed verdict of acquittal will be argued during Curry’s sentencing hearing, which has not yet been scheduled.

Wadkins made his motion Monday after the prosecution rested its case, though closing arguments were yet to come. Allen declined to rule on it, saying he would take it “under advisement.”

If Allen rejects that motion, the defense either will file a motion for a new trial, or appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, said Wadkins, who maintained prosecutors never linked Curry to the place and time the crime happened: “They had no evidence that directly connected Mike to the crime, either circumstantial or direct -- no evidence that pointed to Mike.”

The jury’s take

That’s not the way jury foreman David Lennon saw it. “Bottom line, when you looked at everything, there’s nobody else they could really point to,” he told a Ledger-Enquirer reporter after announcing the verdict.

Jurors began their deliberations Tuesday afternoon, and their first vote was 9-3 favoring a guilty verdict, said Lennon, who estimated jurors voted three times that day and four times Wednesday.

“The thing that was a concern for everybody was this: that we made sure that when we go home tonight, we can say, ‘OK, we think we did the right thing,’” Lennon said. “Now, everything we saw and things like that, that’s going to stay with us for a while.”

Jurors got a close-up view of the crime-scene photos, showing Ann Curry nearly decapitated, 4-year-old Erika Curry in a thick pool of blood, and 20-month-old Ryan with a head wound that split his ear. The toddler had such a tight grip on the shag carpet upon which he lay that police had to pry his fist away.

“We knew Ann, Erika and Ryan didn’t have a say, and that’s what we were trying to do,” Lennon said.

But Allen could overturn the jury’s verdict, were he to favor Wadkins’ arguments during Curry’s sentencing hearing, which Wadkins said likely will be in about three weeks, after a trial transcript is completed.

Curry, meanwhile, will be held without bond in the Muscogee County Jail, where before his conviction his bond was set at $300,000 -- $100,000 for each victim. He faces a life sentence in the slayings, but would be eligible for parole in seven years under the laws in place in 1985. Someone sentenced to life for a 2011 murder would serve 30 years before coming up for parole.

More reaction

Allen announced the jury had reached a verdict about 3:20 p.m. Wednesday, ending almost eight hours of deliberation. Curry shook his head as the verdict was announced, while his mother, Joyce, sobbed in the audience. Deputies escorted her from the room afterward.

The jury of 10 women and two men convicted Curry on all six counts of murder with which he was charged -- one count of malice murder and one count of felony murder for each victim.

Slater said much of the credit for the case goes not just to her team of prosecutors, but to Sgt. Randy Long, the Columbus Police Department’s lead cold-case investigator, and to Police Chief Ricky Boren, who investigated the triple-homicide as a sergeant.

Wadkins credited Slater, but not in complimentary terms. He said that in her closing arguments, “she twisted facts to fit her theories and then twisted them back. She made up facts.”

He added: “Given the nature of the photographs shown over and over and over in the trial, and the prosecution playing fast and loose at the closing, the verdict didn’t surprise me. You know, she’s a thespian and she’s used to giving performances.”

Slater studied acting and once was a regular in local theater productions.

Boren said Slater’s closing argument sealed Curry’s fate: “It was a very powerful closing. She laid it out from the time Michael Curry got up that morning until he got home that evening. There was no doubt when she got through that Michael Curry was the individual who killed his family.”

The police chief said he was glad Jim and Bernice Johnson lived to see the verdict: “This family has seen closure as far as the prosecution. It won’t take the hurt away, and it most certainly won’t bring their family back.”

What might have been

Ann Curry was the youngest of Jim and Bernice Johnson’s four children.

Like her big brother, her sisters also were in the courtroom for Wednesday’s verdict: Elaine Johnson still lives here in Columbus, and Joyce Johnson Gibson traveled from Greenville, S.C., to be here.

Back in 1985, their 4-year-old niece Erika Curry had a cousin about the same age, Michael Johnson’s daughter Sarah.

Today Sarah is 29. When she visits her grandparents, her father can tell she makes Bernice Johnson wonder what sort of woman Erika would have been.

“We don’t talk about it much in words,” Michael Johnson said Wednesday evening. “But sometimes there are looks, where I can see Mom just kind of evaluating Sarah when she sees her, and wondering ‘What would Erika be like?’”

Tim Chitwood can be reached at tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com or 706-571-8508. Staff writers Alan Riquelmy and Jim Mustian contributed to this story.

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