ATLANTA - Two Atlanta police officers, one of them now retired, pleaded guilty Thursday to manslaughter and other charges in the death of a 92-year-old woman who was fatally shot during a drug raid.
Retired officer Gregg Junnier pleaded guilty to manslaughter, violation of oath, criminal solicitation and making false statements during a hearing before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Michael Johnson.
Officer J.R. Smith, pleaded guilty to the same four charges and to a fifth charge of perjury which was based on making untrue claims in a warrant.
The state asked the judge to withhold sentencing on Junnier and Smith until they have another hearing Thursday afternoon in federal court.
In federal court, Smith and Junnier were expected to plead guilty to related charges.
U.S. Attorney David Nahmias told The Associated Press the recommended federal sentence for Junnier will be 10 years and one month in prison.
Nahmias said the recommended federal sentence for Smith would be 12 years, seven months.
The state and federal sentences are expected to run concurrently for both men.
Remaining charges against both men will not be prosecuted, officials said.
The negotiated plea to manslaughter represents a reduced charge. Junnier and Smith faced up to life in prison had they been convicted of felony murder.
During a brief statement to the court, Smith said he regretted what happened.
His voice barely audible, he said, "I'm sorry."
Junnier did not make a statement to the court.
Junnier, 40, Smith, 35, and Officer Arthur Tesler, 40, were indicted Thursday morning on multiple state charges in the death of Kathryn Johnston, who died in a November shootout with police.
Plainclothes police officers with a no-knock warrant raided Johnston's home on Nov. 21 after an informant said he had bought drugs there, according to police. When the men burst in without warning, Johnston fired at them and they fired back, killing her. Three police officers were wounded.
In indictments that were unsealed Thursday morning, Junnier, and Smith were charged with felony murder, violation of oath by a public officer, criminal solicitation, burglary, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and making false statements.
Tesler was charged with violation of oath by a public officer, making false statements and false imprisonment under color of legal process.
During the state sentencing hearing, Fulton County prosecutor Peter Johnson disclosed new details. He said officers fired 39 shots into Johnston's home, striking her five or six times, including a fatal blow to the chest.
He said Johnston fired a single shot through her door, hitting none of officers.
That means the officers who were wounded were hit by friendly fire, the prosecutor said.
Junnier retired from the police department in January; Tesler and Smith are on administrative leave. All three are expected to face federal charges.
Tesler's attorney, William McKenney, said his client testified before the grand jury and expects to go to trial.
He is "very relieved" not to face murder charges, McKenney said, "but we're concerned about the three charges."
The raid was set up after narcotics officers said an informant had claimed there was cocaine in the home.
When the officers burst in without announcing their presence, police say Johnston fired a handgun and officers returned fire. An autopsy report revealed Johnston was shot five or six times in the chest, arms, legs and feet. Initially, the medical examiner's office said Johnston was 88, while her relatives insisted she was 92. Public officials now agree she was 92.
The case raised serious questions about no-knock warrants and whether the officers followed proper procedures.
Atlanta Police Chief Richard Pennington asked the FBI to lead a multi-agency probe into the shootout. He also announced policy changes to require the department to drug-test its nearly 1,800 officers and mandate that top supervisors sign off on narcotics operations and no-knock warrants.
To get the warrant, officers told a magistrate judge that an undercover informant had told them Johnston's home had surveillance cameras monitored carefully by a drug dealer named "Sam."
After the shooting, a man claiming to be the informant told a television station that he never purchased drugs there, prompting Pennington to admit he was uncertain whether the suspected drug dealer actually existed.
The Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights activist who serves as a spokesman for Johnston's family, said they were satisfied with Thursday's developments.
"The family is not only happy, but they're also satisfied with the charges and what the punishment might be," he said. "They have never sought vengeance. They have only sought justice."
Hutchins also said the family is exploring the possibility of taking civil action against the police department.
"I think what happened today makes it very clear that Ms. Johnston was violated, that her civil rights were violated," he said.