CLAYTON COUNTY, Ga. — Martha Ann Johnson, a mother convicted 30 years ago of killing her 11-year-old daughter based in part on an admission in which she also said she killed her son, could soon be released on parole.
A state parole board spokesperson said Tuesday that Johnson, 64, had received a tentative grant of release. The Clayton County District Attorney's Office also provided 11Alive with a letter it received last week from the state parole board, which said the board "has decided to proceed with this inmate's parole."
According to a 1991 Georgia Supreme Court decision denying her appeal of the murder conviction, Johnson's 11-year-old daughter Jenny Ann Wright died in 1982. The state crime lab determined she'd died of asphyxiation.
In the preceding years, between 1977-81, Johnson's three other children all died. They were all between the ages of three months and two years old, and their causes of death were listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, twice, and seizure disorder.
According to the Supreme Court decision, Johnson was considered a suspect in Jenny's death in 1982, but no action was ever taken against her. The case was reopened in 1988, after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation brought new attention on Johnson.
In an audio- and video-taped interview with Clayton County Police officers in July 1989, the court decision states, she admitted to killing Jenny and one of her sons, J.W. Taylor. She denied being responsible for the deaths of the other two children.
At trial she testified she did not commit the murder, but in 1990 she was convicted by a jury and sentenced to life in prison.
“She never once told anybody in that courtroom that she was sorry, never," Shane Wright, Jenny Ann Wright's half-brother, told 11Alive's Elwyn Lopez.
The Clayton Country District Attorney's Office sent an email to Lopez saying, "Tasha Mosley, the District Attorney of Clayton County, was notified of Johnson’s potential parole in October of 2019. Ms. Mosley authored a letter to the parole board, where she strenuously objected to Johnson’s parole based upon the fact that trial evidence demonstrated that Johnson killed four of her children. She confessed to killing two of them. Despite Ms. Mosley’s objections, the Board has notified the District Attorney’s Office that Johnson has tentatively been granted parole. We will continue to vigorously oppose Johnson’s parole."
As for the other children’s murders, the Clayton County District Attorney’s Office does not have jurisdiction. That charging decision sits squarely with District Attorney Paul L. Howard of Fulton County because those murders occurred in Fulton County.
She was suspected in all four deaths, and a 1994 11Alive report on parents who kill their children said she was believed to have killed one of her children every time her husband left her, in order to make him sympathetic and come back.
According to the state parole board spokesperson, Johnson has been denied parole five times previously. The board said a final release decision has not been made, and there is not yet a set release date.
"All board decisions are tentative and subject to change," a statement from the board said. "Should the board make a final release decision and set a release date, the agency will send a 72-hour notification to the presiding judge, the DA, sheriff and registered victims notifying these parties that the individual is being paroled with the effective release date."
Shane Wright says he thought life in prison meant she would never set foot outside again. “I want them to carry her body in a bag out of that prison, throw her in the woods and catch her on fire, I wouldn’t even waste the dirt," he told Lopez.