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franklin county times

Johnson acquitted of manslaughter

The Franklin County man accused of assisting in the murder of a Tharptown man in August 2009 was acquitted of manslaughter charges on Friday.

Bobby Joe Johnson, 78, of 5684 Franklin 87, was found not guilty by a Franklin County jury after a two-day trial and over three hours of deliberation.

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said during the trial that the investigation showed Johnson was the person who provided Bobby Ray Jones, 52, with the sawed-off shotgun used to kill 32-year-old Mitchell Robbins on August 22, 2009, outside Johnson’s camper where Robbins sometimes stayed. Rushing said Johnson was also the one who told Jones to shoot Robbins.

However, defense attorney John McReynolds said his client wasn’t even at the scene during the time the shooting occurred so he shouldn’t be implicated in the crime.

Lovena Bolton Lee, who was also living on Johnson’s property at the time of the shooting, testified that she had been involved in intimate relationships with Johnson, Robbins and Jones at different times during a several-year time period and believed that contributed to hostilities between Johnson and Robbins.

“Bobby Johnson was also mad at Mitch because Mitch wrecked his new car and he had to get an old truck to replace it that didn’t work,” Lee said. “They got in fights and Bobby Johnson would make threats toward Mitch… He said ‘I don’t mind killing a [expletive]. I don’t mind going to prison. I done lived my life.’”

Lee said on the morning of the shooting, everyone at the residence including herself, Robbins and Jones, who was staying there for a short time to work on Johnson’s truck, were highly intoxicated.

“I was an alcoholic then,” Lee said. “I stayed drunk everyday.”

Even though she had been drinking heavily the night before and had already started drinking the morning of the shooting, Lee said she could remember what happened.

“I saw Bobby Johnson come inside the camper and get the gun,” Lee said. “I heard the shot and came outside and they were all standing there. I told them to call 911. I went to Mitch and told him to hold on to me and not die because I needed him. I loved him.”

Lee said she asked Johnson what had happened to Mitch and she testified that Johnson said, “I told you that I would shoot that [expletive].”

However, Lee said she didn’t actually see who shot Robbins.

Defense witnesses J.C. Borden and Johnny Borden, who both pleaded guilty earlier this year to giving false information to law enforcement in this case, testified that Johnson couldn’t have been the one to go in the camper and get the gun because he was at the grocery store with them.

“Mr. Johnson maintained all along that he was at the grocery store when this terrible crime occurred,” McReynolds said. “Our witnesses showed he was not there and I am just glad Mr. Johnson has been exonerated.”

Rushing said he knew the state faced an uphill battle since Johnson was charged as an accomplice in the case and not the actual shooter.

Jones pleaded guilty to manslaughter in February for being the one who actually shot Robbins. He was sentenced to 20 years in the state penitentiary, the maximum sentence allowed for manslaughter.

“Anytime you have a case based on the fact that the person charged is the accomplice and not the principal suspect, you’re bound to run into some issues,” Rushing said. “Our primary witness was admittedly highly intoxicated when the shooting happened and so were other on the scene so we knew this would be a tough case to try and win but we wanted to do all we could for the victim’s family who have been very proactive throughout all of these court proceedings for the past two years.

“We respect the jury’s decision and thank them for their hard work going over all the evidence before reaching a decision.”

“We also want to thank the jury for their time and efforts in this matter,” McReynolds added. “This was a terrible crime and my heartfelt condolences go out to the Robbins family on their tragic loss.”

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