Remembering the Marketplace of the Midsouth

Please note - This site takes no position on this or any other crimes associated with the Mall of Memphis. We simply include details on all events associated with the Mall of Memphis for which public information is available to present a complete historical prespective.


Connie Johnson

A Case of Incompetent Defense, Prosecutorial Misconduct, and a Questionable Conviction

On December 9, 1984, the body of Connie Johnson was discovered in her van outside the Mall of Memphis. Soon after, Connieís husband, Donnie, was arrested for her murder, but there is considerable doubt as to what actually occurred the night before. According to the Tennessee Supreme Court, ďthere is no question but that appellant (Johnson) or one Ronnie McCoy murdered her.Ē Yet Ronnie McCoy, a work release prisoner at the time, was given early parole from the Penal Farm, where he was serving time for burglary and false reporting, while Donnie Johnson sits on Tennesseeís death row.

At its heart, Johnsonís case boils down to a finger-pointing contest. Both Johnson and McCoy claim that the other murdered Connie Johnson. There is no specific physical evidence linking Johnson to the crime and no other witnesses. Johnsonís trial, therefore, hinged on the creditability of McCoy, the prosecutionís star witness. Yet Johnsonís trial attorneys completely failed to impeach McCoyís testimony at trial. McCoy testified that he had received no deal from the prosecution in exchange for his testimony, yet, according to his own testimony, he helped Johnson dispose of Connieís body which would make him an accessory after the fact to first-degree murder, a crime which can carry a life term in prison. McCoy, however, was given early parole from the Penal Farm only two months after the murder, and was never charged with any crime. Several years later he was arrested for a string of aggravated assaults and admitted that he had received a deal from prosecutors to testify against Johnson. According to an affidavit filed by Leslie Fatowe, one of Johnsonís trial attorneys, ďit was common knowledge among Firm members that Mr. McCoy had worked out a deal for testimony the State wanted him to provide at Mr. Johnsonís trial.Ē Yet Johnsonís defense never challenged the prosecutionís assertion they knew of no reason McCoy would lie.

Part of this negligence on the part of Johnsonís defense team can be explained by the fact that just four months before Connie Johnsonís murder the same firm, and in fact the same lawyers, had defended McCoy and secured for him his work release term at the Penal Farm. This constitutes a clear conflict of interest for the Firm, since demonstrating Johnsonís innocence by impeaching McCoy would harm McCoy, who was also there client. Thus they failed to make any reasonable effort to discredit McCoy, although a plethora of evidence was available to them. For instance, McCoy testified that he clocked out work at 6:45pm. He then went out to perform a chore, came back to the office and found that Donnie Johnson had murdered his wife. He then helped Johnson carry Connieís body to her van, they cleaned the office, and the he followed in Donnieís truck, as Johnson drove his wifeís van to the Mall of Memphis. Then Johnson drove McCoy back to the penal farm. According to McCoy he checked in at the farm at 7:17, with only 32 minutes having elapsed. This series of events could have occurred in such a time frame. A woman named Janice Pugh saw a white man outside Connie Johnsonís van at the time it was abandoned. Mrs. Pugh picked a man resembling Ron McCoy out of a line-up, but this evidence was never brought forward by the defense. In fact, the D.A. said that a man matching Johnsonís description had been selected in order to obtain a search warrant for Donnie Johnsonís home.

In fact, the conduct of the prosecutor in Johnsonís case is extremely suspect. As previously demonstrated the prosecution presented false evidence in eliciting testimony from Mr. McCoy that no deal existed in exchange for his cooperation. The state presented false evidence in order to obtain a search warrant. Prosecutors also claimed that Donnie Johnsonís request to speak to a lawyer during his police interrogation and his choosing not to testify at the guilt stage demonstrated his guilt, despite the fact that Johnson was exercising his constitutional rights. The prosecution also withheld crucial evidence from the defense including: that police had initially begun to investigate Ron McCoy after questions were raised about the time of his return to the penal farm;

    * that another witness, Ms. McKee, had a financial stake in Johnsonís conviction since she hoped to receive a reward from Crime Stoppers in exchange for her testimony;
    * that Terry Dunn had seen Connie Johnsonís van driving in traffic two hours after McCoy reported it being abandoned;
    * that security personnel at the Mall of Memphis did not see Connie Johnsonís van until after 10:00 pm;
    * evidence that Connie Johnson was not carried to the car by two men (as McCoy testified) but instead was dragged;
    * evidence that police allowed Connie Johnsonís brother to enter Donnie Johnsonís trailer a half an hour before they searched it and found a bloody shirt;
    * testimony that Johnson was not wearing the shirt in question on the day of the murder.

All of this points to serious issues of prosecutorial misconduct.

Donnie Johnsonís conviction is a questionable one. No physical evidence was available to link Johnson to the crime, and the state presented no believable motive. Evidence was withheld from the defense, and false evidence was presented. The issue at the center of the case was whether Ron McCoy or Donnie Johnson committed the murder. Johnson had continually claimed his innocence, while McCoy took a deal to avoid prosecution and then lied about it under oath. With all the evidence in hand, can anyone honestly believe that not one of twelve jurors could have even had a reasonable doubt as to Johnsonís guilt? Yet, through no fault of his own, Johnson was denied the opportunity to produce all the relevant facts, so he now sits on death row while Ron McCoy suffers absolutely no legal consequences for his admitted role in Connie Johnsonís death. Such unreliable and disparate outcomes demonstrate the fundamental lack of fairness and justice in the Tennessee capital punishment system.

Case of Connie Johnson


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