Pubdate: Sat, 17 Jan 2009
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Copyright: 2009 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Author: Steve Visser
Bookmark: (Corruption - United States)
Bookmark: (Policing - United States - News)


Turf War Topples State's Sentence Cops Indictment Scrapped

District Attorney Paul Howard botched the prosecution of a former
Atlanta police officer because the crime was actually committed in
DeKalb County -- outside Howard's jurisdiction -- the former cop's
lawyer said Friday.

The Georgia Court of Appeals this week overturned Arthur Bruce
Tesler's five-year sentence for lying to the FBI to cover up his
narcotics squad's illegal 2006 raid that left an innocent 92-year-old
woman dead. The court said Howard didn't prove Fulton County had
jurisdiction in the case.

"The Court of Appeals did what the law required -- it's not rocket
science -- the FBI's office is in DeKalb," said Markel Hutchins, a
spokesman for the family of Kathryn Johnston, the victim.

"The family obviously had concerns about how the district attorney
could allow this to happen, and that was something I couldn't answer."

Fortunately, Hutchins said, he and the family had pressured federal
authorities to also prosecute Tesler. In October, the former cop, who
is now state prison, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to
violating Johnston's civil rights and faces a possible 10-year federal
stint when he is sentenced next month.

The state appeals court said Howard could retry Tesler by showing he
was in Fulton County when he lied to FBI agents. Johnston was killed
in Fulton County. Tesler's lawyer, Bill McKenney, said Friday that the
FBI interview was at the FBI's Century Center Parkway office.

In a statement Friday, Howard said he would wait until after the
federal sentencing to decide on any further legal action against Tesler.

McKenney said any retrial would need the blessing of the Georgia
Supreme Court, which would have to accept Howard's arguments that it
was irrelevant that the FBI interview occurred in DeKalb County.

Howard said the state conviction influenced Tesler to plead guilty in
federal court.

"Tesler steadfastly refused to accept responsibility," Howard said.
"It was only after his conviction in Fulton County that Tesler
ultimately did admit his guilt."

Howard indicted Tesler for lying to investigators, violating his oath
of office and false imprisonment. In May a jury acquitted Tesler of
the oath and imprisonment charges but convicted him of lying to the

Johnston was killed in a fusillade of police bullets after she fired a
shot when she heard men breaking down the door of her home in the
high-crime neighborhood on Neal Street -- without announcing they were

Tesler, guarding the back of Johnston's Vine City home, did not shoot
but participated in the coverup afterward.

McKenney said Howard botched the indictment because of his turf war
with federal authorities over who would prosecute Tesler and two
co-defendants, Gregg Junnier and Jason R. Smith, who later took plea

"There was a rush to indict and in doing so they lost sight of the
fact that the FBI interview took place in DeKalb County," McKenney

When McKenney raised the venue question at the May trial, prosecutors
Kellie Hill and Peter Odom persuaded Superior Court Judge Michael
Johnson that they had jurisdiction because Tesler's lie at the FBI
office was part of a conspiracy that began in Fulton County.

The appellate court, however, noted Tesler was convicted of the
specific crime of lying in an official investigation -- not of
conspiracy to lie -- and had to be tried where the crime was committed.

Howard, however, did not pursue a conspiracy charge.
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