Tift County murder conviction from 2010 upnheld by Georgia Supreme Court

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life sentence of Floydzell Johnson of Tift County. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

The Georgia Supreme Court has upheld the murder conviction and life sentence of Floydzell Johnson of Tift County. (Georgia Department of Corrections)

ATLANTA — Decisions announced Monday by the Georgia Supreme Court included the affirmation of a 2010 Tift County murder conviction.

The high court upheld the murder conviction and life prison sentence for Floydzell Michael Johnson, while throwing out his conviction and sentence for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon because the justices determined that charge should have been merged with the murder count.

Johnson was convicted on June 11, 2010 of the shooting death of J.B. Melton IV on July 30, 2009. The opinion from the Georgia Supreme Court says that there was “bad blood” between the victim and Johnson’s girlfriend, who believed Melton had attacked and injured her son. On the day of the shooting, Johnson and his girlfriend allegedly came upon Melton while driving through town, stalked him and harassed him.

At one point, Johnson — a convicted felon — stopped to purchase a shotgun. An altercation later took place between Johnson’s girlfriend and Melton’s wife. Johnson’s girlfriend pulled a knife and Johnson retrieved the shotgun and fired a warning shot in the air. Johnson then fatally shot Melton in the chest and fled, documents show.

Johnson surrendered to authorities the next day, claiming self-defense, the documents say.

Johnson has contended through the appeals process that the trial court erred in denying his motion to challenge the array of the traverse jury on grounds the clerk of court exempted or deferred service for a number of jurors without requiring them to produce written documentation.

The opinion released Monday stated the record was devoid of a ruling by the court upon Johnson’s motion to challenge the array.

“However, even if the trial court denied the motion, we would find no reversible error because, unlike Yates v. State, 274 Ga. 312 (553 SE2d 563) (2001), upon which appellant relies, a written order authorizing the clerk to excuse potential jurors was in place and jurors who proffered medical excuses were not excused by the clerk indiscriminately,” the opinion says. “On the contrary, the clerk did not grant a potential juror’s request without making an inquiry into the nature of the juror’s problem; and not all jurors were excused or deferred.”

Johnson also asserted his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated because a number of potential jurors were questioned privately in chambers during voir dire, an argument in which which the high court found no merit. He also claimed his constitutional right to be present was violated when the trial court, prosecutor and defense counsel discussed a note sent by the jury asking about the manslaughter charge — which the state Supreme Court concluded was not a due process violation since the discussion pertained to legal matters to which Johnson could have not made a meaningful contribution.

Johnson further claimed that defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance for failing to object to the prosecutor’s opening statement, failing to interview the victim’s aunt before the trial and for failing to poll the jury after the return of the verdict. On the first two, court documents indicate that prejudice failed to be established.

Regarding the third claim, the opinion stated: “Our courts have ‘consistently rejected ineffective assistance claims based on the failure to conduct a poll.’”

All the justices concurred with the ruling.