Johnny Lee Gates to plead guilty in new trial for 1976 rape and murder

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A Columbus man convicted and sentenced to death for the 1976 rape and murder of a Fort Benning soldier’s wife, and granted a new trial, is expected to enter a guilty plea Friday.

64-year old Johnny Lee Gates had been convicted of the malice murder, rape, and armed robbery of 19-year old Katharina Wright, but was recently granted a new trial by the Georgia Supreme court due to “significant doubt” as to Gates’ guilt.

Antonetta Lopes, Judicial Assistant to Judge Bobby Peters, who is presiding over the case, says the guilty plea will take place in a virtual hearing Friday, May 15 at 1:30 p.m.

News Three reached out to Gates’ attorney, Patrick Mulvaney, the managing attorney for capital litigation of the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta. We received a call from Hannah Riley, the communications director for SCHR. She tells News Three there will be no public comment prior to Friday’s hearing.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruling in March upheld a January 2019 decision by a lower court ordering a new trial for Gates, citing testing that showed Gates’ DNA was not on the fabric used to bind Wright. The judge also found that prosecutors purposely excluded black jurors in the trial, but said that evidence came too late for consideration as grounds for a new trial.

The state appealed that decision by Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen, arguing Judge Allen had “abused his discretion” by concluding the DNA evidence would likely have produced a different verdict.

During the trial, prosecutors produced two confessions from Gates as evidence, including one on videotape.

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