Appeal denied, woman still in state prison

Friday, November 18, 2011

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

A Lewisburg woman had her appeal denied by the Court of Criminal Appeals this month.

Tianje R. Johnson, 45, pled guilty in February 2010 to four counts of sale of crack cocaine, four counts of delivery of crack cocaine, and two counts of possession of crack cocaine with intent to sell or deliver. The quantity of crack involved in the possession charge was enough to make it a B Felony.

In May of that year, Circuit Court Judge Robert Crigler gave Johnson an effective sentence of 14 years, and she was incarcerated in the Tennessee Prison for Women. Between her arrest and sentencing Johnson - also known as Tianja R. Lanxter - was a resident in the Magdalene program in Nashville. She testified at the sentencing hearing this was the first rehabilitation program that was really helping her, possibly because it was a two-year program addressing both her bi-polar disorder and her drug addiction. At the time she was resident in Magdalene, Johnson was drug-free, had a job, went to church regularly, and was working on her GED. She testified, "I feel good about myself," and said she felt "hopeful," and had plans for the future and a strong support system in place.

Nevertheless, Crigler followed the law and declined to place Johnson on Community Corrections.

On appeal, Johnson's lawyer, Eugenia Grayer, argued that Crigler was wrong to deny alternative sentencing, and wrong to deny a motion to have the sentence reduced.

Giving the opinion of the Appeals Court, Judge Robert Wedemeyer wrote, "We conclude that the defendant's extensive history of criminal conduct, past failures at less restrictive measures than incarceration, and repeated attempts at rehabilitation followed by continued criminal behavior support the trial court's denial of a community corrections sentence. In support of its denial, the trial court noted the Defendant's four felony convictions, 10 misdemeanor convictions, her admission of over 20 additional drug sales for which she was not charged, and approximately 100 acts of prostitution."

According to the pre-sentence report prepared by Terese Frazier of the Board of Probation and Parole, Johnson's life has been full of unhappiness and misfortune. Both of her parents are bi-polar, and many of her family members are drug addicts. Johnson told Frazier she started using drugs at 12, and began using cocaine at 19, shoplifting to support her habit. According to the report, Johnson was molested by her stepfather when she was 13, was in several abusive relationships, and was raped three times. Johnson told Frazier she first engaged in prostitution at 15 in order to get money for food, since her mother spent all their money on drugs and gambling.

Johnson will be eligible for a parole hearing in January 2013, and her sentence ends in December 2023.