Justices on the Georgia Supreme Court have upheld the original ruling in a case involving a 2010 murder and armed robbery at a Forsyth County grocery store.
In an opinion written by Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren, with the other eight justices concurring, affirmed the original ruling against Sharod Farran Johnson, a 26-year-old man who was accused and convicted in the murder of a security guard while robbing a local Ingles grocery store in 2010.
“Johnson does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence,” the report said. “Nevertheless, consistent with this Court’s general practice in murder cases, we have reviewed the record and conclude that, when viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to authorize a rational jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson was guilty of the crimes for which he was convicted.”
In August 2013, Johnson, then 21, was convicted of murder as a party to the crime, as well as armed robbery, aggravated assault and burglary. He received two life sentences plus 20 years, with the possibility of parole.
Johnson and others were tied to a string of robberies across 11 days in late August and early September 2010, including an incident on Sept. 5, 2010, where the suspects robbed the Ingles on Canton Highway, where Johnson worked and pretended to be a victim during the robbery, when David Casto, a 37-year-old security guard, was tied up in the store’s freezer and later shot in the head with his own gun by one of the individuals.
Tyrice Adside, Travarius Jackson and Nakitta Holmes, who reportedly shot Casto, were let in the store’s back door by Johnson.
According to information in the court opinion, Johnson told the others “the robbery would net ‘a lot of money’ … ‘and would be easy to accomplish’ and ‘that a security guard would be present,’ so the men devised a plan to ‘tie him up and put him in the freezer,’ and Holmes said that ‘if the guard tried to buck or anything, he was going to shoot him.’”
After Johnson let the others in the store, they hid in coolers until about 11 p.m. before coming out and pointing guns at the employees and putting tape on Casto’s eyes and wrists before removing his gun and bulletproof vest and leaving him in a freezer.
An assistant manager was forced at gunpoint to retrieve cash from the store’s safe and the self-checkout counters, and “as the money was being retrieved, Holmes went to the back of the store and shot Casto, who was still tied up in the freezer.”
In their trials, Holmes pleaded guilty to shooting Casto and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, while Adside and Jackson were sentenced to 20 and 25 years, respectively.
In the days prior, Johnson and others, including Darren Slayton, had robbed a local Waffle House and Chevron gas station.
Johnson’s legal team laid out challenges, including that the trial court should have the testimony of Slayton after he invoked the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to testify further at trial, that Johnson’s trial lawyer failed to obtain a proper ruling on his motion to strike, did not otherwise attempt to exclude Slayton’s testimony and did not attempt to cross-examine Slayton about the testimony he already had given and that information from his cell phone, home and vehicle was improperly accessed.
The justices did not support any of the issues brought up.
Per the report, while being questioned during Johnson’s trial, after giving some details, Slayton said, “I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I’m sorry, I can’t do this. I can’t — I plead the Fifth. I can’t talk anymore. I’m sorry,” and refused to give any other details.
The opinion stated that while, Johnson’s attorney unsuccessfully attempted to strike earlier statements and the attorney did not cross-examine Slayton, “but the record here does not clearly show that Slayton would have refused to answer questions on cross-examination about the testimony that he already had given.”
“That testimony dealt primarily with background information and did not delve into the crimes at issue, and there is no indication that Slayton would have refused to answer similar background questions posed by Johnson’s counsel,” the report said. “Thus, we cannot say that an attempt to cross-examine Slayton would have been futile.”
The report also stated that information from Johnson’s phone, home and vehicle was admissible in court.