Judge rejects plea deal for man convicted in 1976 slaying

Judge rejects plea deal for man convicted in 1976 slaying

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) – Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed to a plea deal that would have freed a Georgia man who was convicted in a murder case decades ago, but a judge disagreed with the terms, keeping the man behind bars.

Johnny Lee Gates, 63, was convicted of murder, rape and robbery in the 1976 slaying of Katharina Wright, 19, in an apartment in Columbus.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled Gates deserved a new trial after recent DNA tests cast “significant doubt” on his guilt.

Prosecutors said in court Monday that they crafted a deal to reduce the murder charge to voluntary manslaughter, dismiss the rape charge and retain the armed robbery charge, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer reported. The hearing was held online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The manslaughter and robbery charges would add up to 40 years in prison, so Gates would be released after getting credit for the 43 years he’s served.

Patrick Mulvaney, an attorney for Gates, said his client would agree to the terms but would maintain his innocence. Judge Bobby Peters didn’t approve.

“(T)hat’s not justice for anybody,” Peters said. “We want justice for the victim and justice for Mr. Gates, and usually a trial, it appears, is the best way to get to that point.”

A new trial for Gates has not begun since the Supreme Court’s ruling in March.

Peters said he would consider setting a bond for Gates and discuss with attorneys in the next few days, the newspaper reported.

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