JONESBORO, AR -- Less than 2 years out of prison, Westside Shooter Mitchell Johnson could be avoiding another jail term, this time for drug and weapons charges. He was arrested in Fayetteville on New Year's Day, but will he face jail time again?
The Washington County District Court appearance for Johnson was scheduled for Monday morning, but now things have changed. His case has now been turned over to the U.S. Attorney's Office and the charges, they are 'nol prossed' or temporarily dismissed; temporary unless they're brought back up. Otherwise, Johnson could possibly be off the hook again.
"About a week ago, I was notified by the prosecuting attorney that the state was going to dismiss the charges against Mitchell Johnson in that a federal grand jury might indict him," says Johnson's Attorney Doug Norwood on the phone with K8 News.
Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden shot and killed 4 students and 1 teacher at Westside Middle School in 1998 when they were just 13 and 11. There were found delinquent as juveniles and served time in prison until they reached the age of 21. Both Johnson and Golden now walk free, of both prison time and a criminal record.
"A nol pros order is where a judge decides that upon application by the prosecuting attorney that the case will be temporarily suspended and that means that the case can be re-filed later on," says Norwood.
There is a year time frame in which those charges can be re-filed, either federally or on the state level. If the fed's decide that they do not want to indict Johnson on federal charges, or a federal judge decides to drop the case, then the charges would go back to state court and it would then be up to the local prosecutor to re-file.
"I have never seen the feds try to go after anyone under these facts. I believe that what they're trying do is try to reach back and do what could not be done originally is put this boy in prison. I don't think that if he was anyone else that this case would not be in the situation that it is," says Norwood.
And as for Johnson's current attorney...
"My case technically is over with. If Mr. Johnson were to be indicted by the feds he would have to get a lawyer that specializes in federal criminal cases," says Norwood.
But regardless, Norwood feels Johnson still has a chance to win this case, either on the federal or state level. The books have since changed since Johnson and Golden were able to walk free from prison with a clean record, but nevertheless, that was the law then.
"I can imagine that there are very strong feelings against Mitchell and I understand that but at some point that case is over with legally and technically. But for people to try to keep reaching back to try to rehash that case on a current case, I think that may run some of the prosecutors into a little bit of difficulty with the judges," adds Norwood.