Dougherty murder conviction upheld

John Dodson, Jr.

John Dodson, Jr.

ATLANTA — A Dougherty County murder conviction from 2008 has been upheld by the Georgia Supreme Court.

John Dodson Jr. was tried by a Dougherty County jury and convicted of the murder of his 82-year-old neighbor, Willie Wright Sr. Dodson appealed the conviction, contending that the state failed to show at trial that Wright died as a result of Dodson assaulting him.

The initial incident occurred on Aug. 31, 2007. Dodson was indicted in connection to the crime on Dec. 12, 2007. On Oct. 10, 2008, a jury found him guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault and aggravated battery, and not guilty of armed robbery, court records show.

The evidence shows that Dodson was seen beating Wright in the head, face and chest with a stick, which was, an eyewitness thought, the handle of a hoe. That witness called out to her sister, saying that Dodson was killing Wright, and the sister called 911. The witness then saw Dodson going through Wright's pockets as he lay bloodied on the ground, the opinion issued Monday said.

The opinion goes on to say that, when police officers arrived, Dodson was still at the scene, and Wright, who was unable to speak, was taken to the hospital. A neurosurgeon who treated Wright testified that, as a result of the assault, Wright suffered severe head injuries and that his skull was broken "from one ear to the other." Since Wright was generally unresponsive, other than occasional moaning or flailing, his condition required the insertion of a feeding tube.

By Sept. 20, 2007 Wright still was generally unresponsive, but his vital signs had improved enough for him to be discharged to a nursing home. He later developed pneumonia, and was readmitted to the hospital on Sept. 29. After the pneumonia was successfully treated with antibiotics, Wright was sent back to the nursing home.

Around Oct. 16, the feeding tube was dislodged — but because Wright was unable to communicate about any problem with the feeding tube — it remained dislodged for as many as several days before the problem was discovered. Wright developed sepsis and died from the infection on Oct. 17, 2007, 47 days after he was attacked, court records show.

"Dodson claims that the State failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Wright died as a result of the assault and not from intervening circumstances that arose during the course of his treatment," the opinion states. "But it was for the jury to determine the cause of Wright's death, and the jury understandably resolved the issue of causation adversely to Dodson.

"...And while Dodson blames Wright's caregivers for failing to notice in a timely manner that Wright’s feeding tube had become dislodged, the evidence shows that it was because of the brain injuries inflicted upon Wright by Dodson that a feeding tube was required and that Wright was unable to inform anyone when the tube became dislodged. As a result, we find that the evidence is sufficient to enable a rational trier of fact to find Dodson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of felony murder."

All the justices with the state's high court concurred with the ruling.

Court records show the trial court denied Dodson's motion for new trial on April 20, 2012, and Dodson filed a notice of appeal on May 17, 2012. On Sept. 10, 2012, the state Supreme Court dismissed Dodson's appeal because the time period for filing a notice of appeal is not tolled by an untimely motion for a new trial.

On Sept. 12, 2012, the trial court entered an order allowing Dodson to file a motion for a new trial within 30 days, and Dodson filed such a motion on Oct. 10, 2012. The trial court denied the motion for new trial on Oct. 11, 2012. Dodson filed his notice of appeal on Oct. 23, 2012, and the case was docketed in the Georgia Supreme Court for the January 2013 term.