CHARLESTON - In a unanimous vote, the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the 2008 conviction of a Wood County man convicted of the death of his girlfriend's daughter.
William R. Johnson, 37, was found guilty in relation to the January 2007 death of 15-month-old Jada Whited.
In August 2008 his trial resulted in convictions on second-degree murder, a lesser included offense of the first-degree murder charge, and on the counts of murder of a child and death of a child by a guardian or custodian.
In the sentencing hearing in December 2008, Wood County Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Reed sentenced Johnson to consecutive terms of 40 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge, life in prison without possibility of parole on the charge of murder of a child by a guardian and 40 years in prison on the final charge, death of a child by a guardian or custodian.
Johnson, through his attorney Michele Rusen, filed the appeal alleging the court made errors in not directing a verdict of not guilty on the charge of death of a child by a guardian or custodian due to insufficient evidence, permitting the jury to find Johnson guilty of second-degree murder and murder of a child by failing to provide medical care as they are factually inconsistent, refusing to order a new trial because a witness received favorable treatment for his testimony and denying a mistrial motion following a spectator's outburst calling Johnson a liar as he testified.
Johnson's appeal stated his original attorney failed to address the mercy issue in a meaningful fashion and cumulative error, including evidentiary rulings, warranted reversal.
In its ruling on Oct. 25, the high court stated Johnson failed to meet the burden to prove the evidence was insufficient to sustain the conviction, there was not improper conduct by the prosecuting attorney that prejudiced Johnson or manifested injustice and the court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motion for a mistrial.
In regard to failing to address the mercy issue, the court declined to address the issue.