The Commercial Appeal

Convicted murderer won’t get a new trial

Proof of guilt ‘overwhelmi­ng’

- By Lawrence Buser 901-529-2385

A Mississipp­i man convicted in the 1999 abduction and murder of a University of Memphis graduate student was properly represente­d and is not entitled to a new trial, an appeals court ruled Friday.

Leonard Jasper “Sonny” Young’s death sentence was overturned two years ago after a trial- court judge ruled defense attorneys did not properly defend him at that stage, but that judge — and now the appellate court — said those same attorneys adequately defended him in the guilt phase of his 2002 trial.

Young, 68, confessed to abducting and stabbing to death Hillary Johnson and then showed i nvestigato­rs where he disposed of her body.

The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals noted that one expert called t he proof of guilt “overwhelmi­ng” a nd sa id t he f acts of the case were “horrific.”

“Lead (defense) counsel met with ( Young), i nterviewed witnesses, f i led pretrial motions, cross- exa mined t he state’s witnesses, and presented argument to the jury,” Judge Norma McGee Ogle wrote for the three-judge appeals panel. “The (trial) court found that (Young) ‘ had little i n the way of viable defenses’ and that based upon the strength of the state’s proof, ‘ there was little to contest the state’s guilt phase case.’”

Young abducted Johnson in her car on Nov. 20, 1999, outside her apartment on McLean near Peabody in Midtown. He was arrested nine days later and eventually led Leonard Young authoritie­s to her body, which he left in a rural area near Eads by the Shelby- Fayette County line.

Johnson, 24, a native of Chicago who was working on a master’s in philosophy, died of a stab wound to the back.

Young was convicted of f irst- degree murder, especially aggravated kidnapping and theft of property over $1,000. He was sentenced to death plus 72 years.

In a 2011 ruling, Criminal Court Judge Paula Skahan upheld Young’s conviction­s but awarded him a new sentencing trial, saying defense lawyers should have informed jurors of Young’s abusive upbringing in a broken home, reform school and prison.

A new sentencing trial to determine life or death is pending.

Young had 1 3 prior felony conviction­s dating to 1974, including manslaught­er for the shooting death of his former brother-in-law.

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