COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - A man convicted of a Columbus rape and murder more than forty years ago has pleaded guilty in a new trial.
Johnny Lee Gates, then 21, was arrested and charged with the murder, rape and armed robbery of 19-year-old Katharina Wright in Columbus in 1976.
Gates was convicted 1977 and sentenced to death. That conviction and sentence were upheld by the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1979.
In 2003, Gates was re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after the State agreed to remove the death penalty following a mistrial on the question of intellectual disability.
Gates’ attorneys located a bathrobe belt and four neckties that had been used to bind Wright in the office of the district attorney. These items were believed to have been destroyed following Gates’ trial. The items were then tested for DNA and results showed that the items had DNA on them, but not Gates’ DNA.
Gates was granted a new trial on the basis of this DNA evidence and the fact that the State’s case was predicated on Gates being barehanded when committing the crime by the Muscogee County courts in early 2019. That decision was upheld by the Supreme Court of Georgia granted Johnny Lee Gates a new trial in March 2020.
He has now pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and armed robbery.
Gates’ guilty plea earned him a sentence of 40 years in prison, 20 years for the charge of voluntary manslaughter and 20 years for the charge of armed robbery. His time served of 43 years will fulfill that sentence.
He was released from prison Friday evening.