High court lets murder convictions stand

ATLANTA, Ga. -- Two men convicted of malice murder in Albany must stay in jail on life sentences with no chance of parole, according to a Georgia Supreme Court ruling released Wednesday.

Appeals brought by Ricardel Hightower and Roderick Johnson in connection with their trial for murdering Travis Harris and pistol whipping Marvin Thurman in 2002 did not sway the court.

The convictions and sentences stand for the recidivist criminals, stated an opinion written by Justice P. Harris Hines.

Having filed opposition to the appeals, Greg Edwards, Dougherty Judicial Circuit district attorney, was happy with the court's decision.

"I am pleased with the court's upholding the justice of this rather long trial," Edwards said. "We felt we had presented sufficient evidence for a jury to find the defendants guilty."

Of Johnson's appeal, Hines wrote, "The evidence was sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Johnson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes of which he was convicted."

In the 18-page judgment, Hines said the court found the evidence and trial of Hightower also in order.

Three of the seven justices agreed with the majority, but stated that there was an error in the trial. An "opinion on an issue of fact" by a witness was allowed in testimony, stated a five-page opinion by Justice Harold Melton.

That opinion from a witness should not have been allowed, but it was "largely duplicative of other admitted testimony, rendering harmless the trial court's error regarding the opinion testimony," Melton wrote.

According to The Albany Herald reporting at the time of Hightower's arrest, the murder was motivated by gambling losses and revenge.

Jimmonique Rodgers, an attorney who appealed on behalf of Hightower, said that unless her client and Johnson find another way, perhaps by appealing to the federal courts, the state Supreme Court's rejection of their appeals is the final one they can realistically expect.

It would be the last time an attorney would be provided by the state, she said.

"I am extremely disappointed that a case with as little evidence as this case was upheld," said Rodgers, a public defender in Atlanta.