A Glynn County jury deliberated for about four and a half hours Wednesday before finding Don Earl Johnson Jr. guilty on eight counts regarding the killing of 30-year-old Daniel Lee Gilliam. In the subsequent hearing, Superior Court Judge Roger Lane sentenced Johnson to two consecutive sentence of life in prison without parole, plus an additional five years.
After repeatedly denying his involvement in the homicide, Johnson admitted in a police interview in June 2019 that he did shoot and kill Gilliam, and further that it came during an armed robbery that was a year in the making.
The jury began its deliberations shortly before noon, and after court resumed following a lengthy lunch break, Lane informed prosecutors and the defense the jury had three questions — the first was whether or when they could be fed, the second was to watch the video of the June 2019 interview, and the third was if they could see evidence that Johnson’s mobile phone pinged off a wireless communications tower near Gilliam’s residence around the time of the incident.
Regarding the first question, the court reportedly sent out for pizza, and regarding the third question, the jurors were told they had to rely in evidence already in their possession. After the jurors ate, they came back into court to watch the video, then left again to continue their discussions.
Two hours later, they asked what happens if they can’t agree on two counts. The agreed position was they should keep working toward a verdict, but if they were ultimately unable to reach a verdict on those counts they should show so on the verdict form.
Ten minutes after they left, the jury sent another question, asking for a better definition of “malice” so jurors could better understand the concept of malice murder, the first count on which Johnson was charged. The court instructed them to follow the instructions given in the jury charge.
According to state law, “Express malice is that deliberate intention to unlawfully take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.”
At 4:30 p.m., the jury returned with guilty verdicts on the charge of malice murder, two counts of felony murder, three counts of possession of a firearm during commission of a felony and one count each of aggravated assault and armed robbery.
Because Count 9, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, could be prejudicial, the court severed the charge for separate prosecution. Following the first verdict, the jurors heard Assistant District Attorney Liberty Stewart present evidence of a certified conviction of Johnson for failure to register as a sex offender, which is a felony.
The jury took less than 30 minutes to convict on that count.
For sentencing, prosecutors announced they noticed Johnson as a recidivist, using as evidence convictions of entering an automobile in 1998, enticing a minor for indecent purposes in 2002, and failure to register as a sex offender in 2008 and 2011.
The recidivist law is one of the reasons Johnson received consecutive life sentences.
Donna Lane, Gilliam’s mother, took the stand before sentencing. She said, “This is the worst hurt that anybody could go through,” noting one thing that makes is worse is Gilliam was killed by someone he thought of as a friend, someone she invited into her home and fed.
Lane said her son wasn’t innocent, but he was good, and in this trial he received justice.