By Angie Thompson

angie.thompson@gaflnews.com



TIFTON -- The mother of 26-year-old Corey Lamar Dennard said she is relieved the man who shot her son to death Aug. 28 pleaded guilty Monday and there will be no trial.

But, since she can look out her kitchen window and see the spot where her son fell and died, she is constantly reminded of the event she said will always be painful.

"I was really praying that I wouldn't have to go through (a trial)," said Doris Smith.

Smith, who sat in the Law Enforcement Center's courtroom for almost three hours Monday afternoon, sobbed when Lorenzo Johnson, 39, of Tifton, entered the courtroom to enter his guilty plea to Tift's Chief Superior Court Judge Gary C. McCorvey.

McCorvey sentenced Johnson to serve a term of life in prison. Technically, he could be eligible for parole in 14 years but, according to McCorvey, the parole board doesn't normally parole those convicted of felony murder before they have served 20 years in prison.

Johnson turned himself in to law enforcement authorities a week after Dennard died of what prosecutors said Monday was multiple gunshot wounds -- one to the middle of his chest, another behind his right ear and another in the back as he was running away.

Johnson fled the scene of the Ermine Avenue and Alder Street murder in a Lexus that was believed at the time to be stolen. The car was located in the area shortly after Dennard died. Detectives also recovered the small caliber handgun believed to be the murder weapon.

The two men had apparently been arguing prior to the fatal shooting.

State prosecutors contended Monday that evidence presented in a jury trial would prove that Johnson shot Dennard again after he fell to the ground.

"I did shoot Mr. Dennard, but I did not shoot him on the ground," said Johnson to McCorvey Monday.

Johnson also said he didn't intend to kill Dennard.

"I turned myself in because I thought it was in self-defense at my own house," said Johnson.

Johnson was indicted on counts of murder, felony murder and aggravated assault by the grand jury.

McCorvey explained that the charge of murder must carry the element of malice of forethought, which is the deliberate intention to kill someone. A felony murder charge fits if the defendant did not intend for the victim to die, but in the process of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, the victim does die.

Assistant District Attorney Ronnie Wheeler, who gave the state's facts in the case, said that it was agreed that Johnson would enter a guilty plea to the charge of murder. The state did not seek the death penalty in the case.

McCorvey stated that he did not know the facts of the case. In a lengthy explanation of possible jury trial results, McCorvey said that the possibility existed that a jury could find Johnson guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Judges have the discretion of determining how many years a convicted person will serve without the possibility of parole. The maximum sentence for a voluntary manslaughter or aggravated assault conviction is 20 years.

McCorvey also explained that Johnson would face a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole if found guilty of murder or felony murder because the state intended to provide proof Johnson had been convicted of at least three prior felonies.

After a recess for Johnson to consult with his court-appointed attorney David Bryan, court resumed. Johnson was surprised that he was facing his sentence Monday.

"Are we sentencing today?" Johnson asked McCorvey. When McCorvey answered "yes," Johnson laughed nervously and shook his head.

McCorvey said he could not take a guilty plea from a person who said they shot another in self-defense but he could take the plea based on a precedent set by the N.C. vs. Alford case, which allowed a defendant to plead guilty "when it weighs the options and decides it would be in the best interest to plead guilty."

Johnson, who had been transferred to the Turner County Jail after his arrest, was immediately led away from the courtroom after sentencing.

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ith said she heard the shots the night Dennard died and ran to her son.

"It leaves a hole in your heart forever," said Smith. "I can look out my kitchen window and see the spot. I still see him lying there. I wouldn't want anyone to go through the pain. It can kill you."



To contact reporter Angie Thompson, call 382-4321, ext. 208.

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