After more then four hours of deliberation in Calhoun County Circuit Court, a 6-man 6-woman jury found Ularius Johnson guilty on 27 indictments.
With hands in his pockets, Johnson, 24, looked forward, silent, avoiding eye contact with anyone else in the courtroom as Calhoun County Circuit Judge Debra Jones read off all the guilty charges. Earlier that day it took Jones close to a half an hour to read all the indictments to the jury.
Johnson’s charges include two counts of rape, four counts of sodomy, six counts of kidnapping, five counts of burglary, four counts of robbery, three counts of unauthorized use of a vehicle, two counts of receiving stolen property and assault.
Police arrested Johnson in September of 2009 after a pawnshop owner in Oxford alerted authorities that a man came into his store attempting to pawn jewelry previously reported as stolen. Police traced the vehicle the man pulled into the parking lot with back to Johnson and recovered other stolen items including firearms, jewelry and a key to a car recovered earlier that month after it was stolen from a Choccolocco woman.
Wednesday marked the 11th day of the trial which saw the state enter more then 300 items of evidence into court and call more then 50 witnesses to the stand. Throughout the proceedings, the prosecution argued recovered stolen property, witness testimony and identification as well as traces of DNA found on a glass pitcher at a sexual assault crime scene all pointed toward Johnson as the man responsible for several home invasions and rape cases in Calhoun County between 2007 and 2009.
Johnson’s attorneys argued forensic evidence didn’t link Johnson to any of the crimes, and he received stolen property from customers who bought drugs from the defendant.
In the state’s closing arguments earlier in the day, Calhoun County District Attorney Brian McVeigh called the defense’s arguments a cover-up and Johnson a liar.
“If you believe that story, let’s just shut the system down now,” McVeigh said. “I don’t even know what I’m doing here if that gets you out of trouble.”
Chief Assistant District Attorney Lynn Hammond called Johnson a “predator” and a “rapist” and said his drug-dealing story was an alibi without any evidence.
“He’s not a drug dealer, that’s a defensive convenience,” Hammond said. “Don’t be manipulated by fictitious stories and easy explanations.”
But Johnson’s attorney, Tim Burgess, said there were holes and inconsistencies in the evidence against Johnson, including differences in physical description among the victims and a lack of forensic evidence at the crime scenes. Burgess noted one victim’s positive identification in court was based on her memory, but the same victim, in her testimony, could not recall details of the mask her assailant wore.
Burgess also called into question a glass pitcher found at one of the crime scenes that forensics experts said contained a DNA mixture containing Johnson’s profile with a 1 in 75 probability. In the defense’s opening statement, attorney David Johnston called the evidence “statistically insignificant,” and “miles apart” from a conclusive match.
Burgess reiterated those statements to the jury Wednesday, and said 1 in 75 fell off the mark of a “1 in quintillions” positive DNA match found on a toothbrush Johnson had on him the day he was arrested.
“There’s 18 zeros in a quintillion,” Burgess said. “Maybe it’s not miles apart, but they are zeros apart.”
Burgess also said the DNA mixture on the glass pitcher, recovered in 2008, didn’t lead to Johnson’s arrest until 2009, meaning the evidence alone wasn’t proof of Johnson’s guilt.
“All I can tell you is it wasn’t enough to get a warrant, because they didn’t,” Burgess said.
Hammond said evidence presented throughout the trial and marked on a courtroom white board in a timeline of events was a “board of guilt,” and showed how Johnson changed his criminal patterns after police interrogated him, first moving his crimes to another location, then avoiding sexual assault to not leave behind DNA.
Before closing arguments, a spectator had to be removed from the courtroom for wearing a shirt with Johnson’s image and the words, “innocent until proven innocent,” repeating the word “innocent.”
The incident led Judge Jones to address the courtroom — a common occurrence throughout the trial after several incidents between the state’s witnesses and courtroom spectators — and quash comments about racism during the trial.
“Racism will not be tolerated,” Jones said. “It’s divided this city for too long. It has no place in our system of justice.”
Jones again warned the courtroom prior to reading the jury’s verdict that emotional outbursts would not be tolerated.
Johnson will face a sentencing hearing March 12 at 8:30 a.m.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star