High Court Upholds Two Mississippi County Murder Convictions

MARCH 24, 2006 - Posted at 7:20 a.m. CST

LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Arkansas Supreme Court has upheld the verdicts and sentences of life in prison without parole for two people convicted of capital murder in separate cases in Mississippi County.

Cassandra Johnson was arrested in 2004 in Mississippi County for the murder of George Russell, whose body was found in his apartment.  Johnson gave police a statement three weeks after the body was found in which she denied the killing but acknowledged being at the scene.

On appeal, Johnson challenged her conviction on several grounds, including the sufficiency of evidence.  She also argued that she should get a new trial because her statement should not have been admitted.

The high court ruled there were no reversible errors in Johnson's case.

Meanwhile, Julius Yankaway appealed his conviction for a 2002 slaying, also in Mississippi County.  The opinion says Yankaway was one of three people who broke into the apartment of Lakitha Winda in Wilson.  Winda was shot to death and three other people were wounded.

Yankaway argued on appeal that the trial judge should have allowed the jury to be instructed on a second-degree murder verdict and that the judge was wrong to have not allowed Yankaway to present a surprise witness at trial.

The high court ruled that there was no harm by not including the additional jury instruction.  And the justices said that Yankaway did "not cite any legal authority" for his argument that the witness should have been allowed.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)