Witness intimidation charge against grandmother of defendant in rape trial
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Feb 22, 2012 | 6753 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Calhoun County judge Tuesday suspended the fifth day of the trial of an Anniston man charged with multiple counts of rape, sodomy and kidnapping, after she was told about the arrest of the witness on the stand in relation to the case.

Prosecutors resumed entering evidence into Calhoun County court Tuesday in the trial of Ularius Johnson, who faces 27 indictments including two counts of rape, three counts of sodomy, five counts of burglary and six counts of kidnapping. All those crimes are alleged to have taken place in Calhoun County between 2007 and 2009.

The prosecution called Johnson’s grandmother, Barbara Johnson, to the stand as their last witness of the day, but Chief Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hammond asked only a few questions before the defense team called for a sidebar.

After a lengthy discussion with both sets of attorneys, Circuit Judge Debra Jones asked the jury to leave the courtroom and informed the court she learned Barbara Johnson had been an arrested for intimidating a witness in relation to the trial.

Jones explained to Barbara Johnson her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and said if she felt at any time she needed an attorney present she could ask the judge to suspend the trial.

Jones then asked Johnson to explain back to her what she said. Barbara Johnson remained silent, and Jones declared that she would need a court-appointed attorney to continue her testimony.

“We’re just going to have an abundance of caution,” Jones said. “The safest thing here, I’m bending over backwards to make sure you know your rights.”

An outburst from some of the spectators just prior to the jury’s re-entrance led District Attorney Brian McVeigh to ask Jones about possibly dismissing an audience from the courtroom for the remainder of the trial.

“This continues to be a problem,” McVeigh said. “I would ask the court to give some serious consideration to emptying this courtroom of everyone except the related parties.”

Jones said in the interest of a fair trial for the defendant and prosecutors, if interruptions from spectators in the court continued she would indeed ask everyone to leave.

The prosecution team spent the earlier portion of the day entering evidence. One by one, McVeigh and other prosecutors emptied four large white boxes with collected items from crime scenes – enough to cover the prosecution’s table. Over the course of the trial, more than 200 items have been entered into court.

McVeigh has not yet presented forensic evidence linking Johnson to any of the items.

Other than Barbara Johnson, the prosecution’s key witnesses Tuesday was William Harden.

In 2009, Harden attempted to pawn a ring at and a bracelet at Oxford Pawn and Jewelry. On the stand, William Harden said Ularius Johnson asked him to pawn the jewelry for Johnson because Johnson didn’t have an ID. Harden said that when asked, Johnson told him the jewelry wasn’t stolen.

Under cross-examination, Johnson’s attorney David Johnston called into question why Harden would pawn jewelry for a “known drug dealer” like Johnson, and asked why he told Sheriff’s deputies the jewelry belonged to a deceased relative.

Harden said he did not remember telling deputies the jewelry did not belong to Ularius Johnson.

Harden appeared in two videos presented for the jury. The first, from Oxford Jewelry and Pawn on Sept. 8, 2009, shows Harden entering the pawn shop after stepping out of the passenger side of what appears to be a blue Suzuki Forenza. After being turned away, Harden re-enters the passenger side of the vehicle and the car leaves the parking lot.

The other video, taken from later the same day, shows Harden entering a Chevron gas station in Coldwater to purchase gas and cigarettes.

Police arrested Johnson on Sept. 8, 2009 after the owner of Oxford Jewelry and Pawn called the Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office and reported the tag number of the vehicle. Sheriff’s deputies obtained a search warrant for the vehicle and recovered items alleged to have been stolen from victims who reported being sexually assaulted.

The trial resumes Wednesday at 8 a.m. Barbara Johnson is expected to take the stand and continue her testimony in the morning.

Star staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star

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