Defense attorneys for Charles Johnston, accused of fatally shooting three people at Doctors Hospital in 2008, intend to file a motion this week asking to move the trial away from Columbus.
That motion, however, would become moot if the 64-year-old man chooses to accept a plea deal defense attorneys say prosecutors have offered.
Columbus Public Defender Bob Wadkins said Monday that his motion for change of venue will hit the Muscogee County Superior Court Clerk’s Office no later than Thursday. The motion, which will ask Judge Doug Pullen to move the trial to another city, is in response to what Wadkins said was a case that’s received more media attention than any other in recent history.
“In my experience, I would expect that this motion would be granted,” Wadkins said.
District Attorney Julia Slater said if and when Wadkins files that motion, her office will respond.
Johnston is accused in the March 27, 2008, shooting deaths of Peter David Wright, 44; Leslie A. Harris, 44; and James Baker, 76. Johnston faces charges including murder, aggravated assault on a police officer, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of a crime.
A guilty plea would stop the case from proceeding to trial — a possibility put on the table in January, Wadkins has said. That offer, which Wadkins said Monday hadn’t changed, was for three consecutive life sentences.
In March, Slater said she would not seek the death penalty for Johnston.
Wadkins last spoke with the prosecutor, Senior Assistant District Attorney Wayne Jernigan, on Thursday, the defense attorney said. Their discussion was about the possibility of a plea, when the trial could occur and where it might happen.
Jernigan said he is restricted from talking about evidence in a pending case. On Monday, Slater said she couldn’t discuss negotiations about any case.
Wadkins, or one of his staff, speaks with Johnston on a regular basis, he said. Someone spoke with him last week about his background, including his mental condition.
“It has certainly been a topic of the conversations we’ve had, along with many, many other things,” Wadkins said. “We have talked about the whole gamut of the mental side of his case.”
A Columbus police detective testified at Johnston’s Columbus Recorder’s Court hearing that Johnston told her he shot the three men.
In April, the Ledger-Enquirer requested from the Columbus Police Department any video recording that may have been made of Johnston during or after his arrest. In a letter dated April 28, Sgt. D.E. Bedsole denied the request, saying the recordings are part of an active investigation.
Bedsole cites Georgia law, which states that releasing the information isn’t required if it’s part of a pending investigation or prosecution, excepting initial arrest and incident reports.
Jernigan said he couldn’t discuss specifics of the case.
“Prosecutors cannot make any comments on the case pre-trial,” Jernigan said.