CAIRO -- After two previous mistrials, Martha Johnson was found not guilty in Grady County Superior Court Tuesday on charges of murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of a crime, all felonies.

"We're certainly glad that justice prevailed," said Robert R. McLendon IV, Johnson's attorney. "We're certainly relieved it's finally over for her."

Johnson, a 61-year-old Cairo resident, was arrested on June 2, 2002, after she reported to police the death of James Edward Herring. Herring and several other men had been at Johnson's home that evening. They all had been drinking. Johnson said Herring had been hassling her that night and that she had asked him to leave. She later found him on the ground behind her mobile home, she said.

The cause of Herring's death was "sharp-force chest trauma." The item that caused the trauma, a small knife, was later found under a sofa cushion in Johnson's home. No fingerprints were found on the knife during the investigation. Herring's blood was found only on the knife. Clippings from Johnson's fingernails didn't turn up any evidence, and there were no eyewitnesses pointing fingers at her. One person testified that he had seen one of the men at Johnson's home hit Herring in the chest that night.

Juries heard the case in December and again in March. Both trials resulted in mistrials, but the 12 jurors found Johnson not guilty of all three charges Tuesday. The jury wanted to share the reason behind its verdict, said Joseph K. Mulholland, the assistant district attorney for the south Georgia circuit who represented the state, but was not allowed by the court to do so.

"That was the verdict (the jury) came up with," said Mulholland. "What they come up with, we're not going to question that."

Johnson was indicted for murder and convicted of voluntary manslaughter in 1980 for shooting and killing her then-boyfriend, Tonch Thornton Jr.

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