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Johnson v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

March 30, 2017



          John H. Bradley, Chief Public Defender, for appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Valerie Glover Fortner, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          KAREN R. BAKER, Associate Justice

         On April 20, 2016, a Mississippi County Circuit Court jury convicted appellant, Daniel Curtis Johnson, of first-degree murder and found that he had used a firearm in the commission of that murder.[1] Johnson was sentenced to life imprisonment and fifteen years' imprisonment for the firearm enhancement to run consecutively. Johnson's conviction and sentences stem from the June 22, 2015 death of Vincent Stone at or near a basketball court in Williams Park in Blytheville, Arkansas. At trial, Blytheville Police Officer, Carl Lee Treadway, testified that on the day of the incident, he responded to a 911 call that shots had been fired at Williams Park. Officer Treadway testified that he had driven through the park minutes before receiving the call and estimated that approximately 80 people were present, enjoying the park and playing basketball. The State called Jimmy Aldridge, Jr., and Chardrick Mitchell as witnesses. Both men testified that they were playing basketball at the park with Stone on the day of the incident and a large group of people were at the park. Aldridge and Mitchell also testified that after they finished their game and were leaving the basketball court with Stone, two men came up from behind Stone and shot Stone multiple times. Aldridge and Mitchell both identified Johnson at trial as one of the assailants. Johnson was convicted and sentenced as described above.

         After the trial, pursuant to Rule 33.3(b) (2016), on May 11, 2016, Johnson filed a motion for new trial following the discovery of two Facebook posts created by Aldridge and Mitchell. On May 13, 2016, the circuit court conducted a hearing on the motion for new trial and on that same day denied the motion. From that order, Johnson appeals. Johnson does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence and presents one issue: whether the circuit court erred in denying his motion for new trial.

         I. Motion for New Trial

         For his sole point on appeal, Johnson asserts that the circuit court erred when it denied his motion for new trial.[2] "The decision whether to grant a new trial is left to the sound discretion of the trial court, and it is not reversed in the absence of an abuse of discretion or manifest prejudice to the complaining party." McIntosh v. State, 340 Ark. 34, 41, 8 S.W.3d 506, 510 (2000) (internal citations omitted). To prevail on a motion for new trial based on newly discovered evidence, the movant "must show that the new evidence would have impacted the outcome of his case, and that he used due diligence in trying to discover the evidence." Wilcox v. State, 342 Ark. 388, 394, 39 S.W.3d 434, 438 (2000). "A trial court's factual determination on a motion for a new trial will not be reversed unless clearly erroneous." State v. Cherry, 341 Ark. 924, 928, 20 S.W.3d 354, 357 (2000).

         We have recognized that newly discovered evidence is one of the least favored grounds to justify granting a new trial. Williams v. State, 252 Ark. 1289, 482 S.W.2d 810 (1972). A new trial will not be granted because of perjury on an immaterial issue, or on a collateral issue, nor generally where the false testimony may be eliminated without depriving the verdict of sufficient evidentiary support. Bennett v. State, 307 Ark. 400, 404, 821 S.W.2d 13, 15 (1991). Further, newly discovered evidence that relates only to the impeachment of a witness does not afford grounds for a new trial. Hayes v. State, 169 Ark. 883, 886, 277 S.W. 36, 37 (1925); Whittaker v. State, 173 Ark. 1172, 1176, 294 S.W. 397, 399 (1927) ("It is the general rule of practice in this court not to reverse the ruling of the trial court in refusing a new trial on the ground of newly discovered evidence where such evidence tends merely to impeach the credibility of witnesses."); Taylor v. State, 299 Ark. 123, 126, 771 S.W.2d 742, 744 (1989) ("Evidence which only attacks the credibility of other testimony is not grounds for a new trial. Williams v. State, 289 Ark. 69, 709 S.W.2d 80 (1986); Orsini v. State, 281 Ark. 348, 665 S.W.2d 245, cert. denied, 469 U.S. 847 (1984)"). Finally, "[t]he mere fact that the purported evidence would be contradictory to that offered at the trial by the State is insufficient. It must also be shown that, because of the proffered evidence, a different result upon a new trial is probable." Gross v. State, 242 Ark. 142, 147, 412 S.W.2d 279, 283 (1967) (internal citations omitted).

         With these standards in mind, we turn to Johnson's argument on appeal. At trial, Aldridge testified that he and Stone had been playing basketball, just lost their game, and were walking off the court when Johnson and another man approached them. Aldridge testified that in broad daylight, in a "packed" park, without saying anything, the two men walked up and both shot Stone:

Aldridge: We were just playing ball. . . . Me and Vincent [Stone] we were talking, talking to one another . . . Daniel [Johnson] popped up.
He had a blue hoodie on. . . . [He] was shooting, pointing [a] gun . . . at [Vincent Stone]. Came on the court, shot him. . . . Broad daylight.

         Aldridge went on to testify that Johnson wore dreads in his hair and had a black pistol and identified Johnson as the shooter.

The Prosecutor: And you said [Johnson] . . . had [a] hoodie on. How were you able to see who . . . [he] was?
Aldridge: Because, actually, you know, the hood, D'Nasty's hood -
The Prosecutor: You are talking about Daniel Johnson.
Aldridge: Yeah, Daniel Johnson. You know, his braids was in the way. That's how I actually - - his hood fell off too, you know what I'm saying? The hood fell off.

         Also at trial, Aldridge testified that immediately after the shooting he spoke with Officer Middlebrook of the Blytheville Police Department at the hospital and identified Johnson as the shooter. Aldridge further testified that on July 27, 2015, he provided a written statement to law enforcement wherein he also identified Johnson as the shooter. Finally, at trial, ...

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