AJ Johnson

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Defendant pleads guilty before new judge in Hernando

By Billy Davis
A defendant in circuit court, whose actions reportedly caused problems in a Batesville courtroom, has pleaded guilty in Hernando.

Albert “A.J.” Johnson, 22, admitted guilt for two felony charges as he stood before Judge Robert Chamberlin on November 6.

Chamberlin, at the same hearing, also handed down the sentence: Johnson would serve four years in prison followed by 10 years of probation.

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Johnson was sentenced to prison for embezzlement at the McDonald’s in Batesville, where he was employed. Authorities alleged he stole $7,542 from a store safe and was caught on a security camera doing so.

The 10 years of probation stemmed from a second charge, drug possession, after police found a pill bottle containing crack cocaine beneath Johnson’s car. The pill bottle bore his name.

Johnson was facing a maximum 10 years in prison for embezzlement and a 16-year maximum for drug possession, Circuit Judge Andrew Baker had told the defendant at an October 21 hearing.  

Last week’s plea and sentencing came after Baker, at the October hearing, recused himself from Johnson’s lingering court case.

Baker announced his recusal toward the end of a hearing that was held to learn how Johnson wished to proceed with his criminal court case.

Judge Baker, five days earlier, had ordered Johnson be taken into custody after the defendant failed to describe his intentions, whether to plead guilty or to ask for a jury trial.

Baker also announced public defender David Walker was withdrawing as Johnson’s counsel. Clay Vanderburg, a second public defender, represented the defendant in Hernando.

Johnson’s court case was further muddled when his father, Michael Johnson, alleged that court officials had tried to coerce his son into a plea agreement, when the defendant was asking for a jury trial.

“My son deserves a jury before his peers,” the father told The Panolian, when he held a one-man protest outside the county courthouse in Batesville.

Michael Johnson also wrote a 1,000-word letter to the editor, published November 3, which accused the court system of incompetence. That letter spurred a rebuttal from Walker, the public defender, who had been singled out in the Johnson letter.

“I think A.J. did what was in his best interest,” said Walker of the plea agreement. “He was soft spoken and quiet. I wish him the best.”  

Michael Johnson was present last Friday but remained quiet during the court proceedings, said Assistant District Attorney Jay Hale.

“It was pretty uneventful,” Hale said of the plea and sentencing. “It was over in 10 minutes.”
Hale said Johnson’s four-year prison sentence was the same plea offer he had turned down weeks earlier.