Photo by Kathy Jefcoats
Convicted cop killer Johnathan Bun smirks as he listens to witnesses testify against him. With him is his defense attorney, Lloyd Matthews.
JONESBORO — Clayton County Superior Court Chief Judge Deborah Benefield denounced a Riverdale teenager Thursday as a remorseless and evil cop killer who resisted for years every effort from authorities to turn him away from a life of crime.
Testimony showed Johnathan Bun, 18, was already a danger and menace to society when he shot and killed Clayton sheriff's Deputy Rick Daly during a traffic stop last summer.
Following the recommendation for the maximum sentence from Daly's family and the District Attorney's Office, Benefield sent Bun to life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 70 years.
Bun didn't qualify for the death penalty because he was under 18 at the time of the killing.
"He's never shown any remorse, never, not even up to this moment," said Benefield of Bun. "Even today, he looked toward a news photographer and smiled."
Bun was convicted of murder in May. Sentencing was delayed because the U.S. Supreme Court was weighing ruling on whether youthful offenders should be punished by life without the possibility of parole. The final decision leaves it to the discretion of trial judges.
Clayton Chief Assistant District Attorney Erman Tanjuatco said Bun is the "uncommon" exception deserving of the most severe punishment.
"He doesn't deserve to breathe the same air as we do," said Tanjuatco. "This is what the U.S. Supreme Court was talking about. This is an uncommon case. Make sure he never walks free and breathes the same air as we do. He will die in prison and that's a good sentence."
Tanjuatco scoffed at defense attorney Lloyd Matthews' expert witness who asserted that Bun was capable of being rehabilitated. Matthews fought for life with the possibility of parole but Tanjuatco disagreed.
"It wasn't the system that failed the defendant," said Tanjuatco. "The defendant failed the system. He didn't want rehabilitation. He didn't want supervision."
The state's key witness was District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson. Lawson was a Clayton Juvenile Court judge for 13 years before stepping down in 2008 to run for office. It was she who saw Bun for the first time in a courtroom. He was 10.
"He began his criminal career in Clayton County at only 10 years old," she said. "He was carrying a knife on school property."
Because of his age, he was admonished and counseled to stay out of trouble. Lawson said that tactic usually works on young children. It is "rare" to see a child that young in Clayton Juvenile Court, she said.
"I would say less than 1 percent is less than 10 years old," Lawson said.
Less than two years later, Bun was back in court on a criminal trespass complaint. Two months later, he was facing a burglary charge. A few months after, he ran away from home and was gone an "extensive" amount of time, said Lawson.
"His father and uncle found him in his old neighborhood," she said. "He had marijuana and tobacco and threatened to shoot his uncle."
Bun was removed from the community several times and was placed in a treatment facility for seven months. Lawson said each time he was released, he went right back to committing crimes.
"His whole family was afraid of him," she said. "He would yell and beat up his brothers and sisters. He couldn't be left alone with them. He started sneaking out of his house at age 10, he was failing all his classes, missed more than 30 days of school, was suspended for 30 more. This was unusual behavior at such a young age, and it is a precursor to criminal behavior as an adult."
Bun was already smoking marijuana, using methamphetamine and drinking alcohol before he was a teenager, she said.
"I was afraid of him at that time, so afraid for the community, I recommended out of home placement," said Lawson. "That's very, very unusual. He had everyone concerned at a very, very young age."
Bun racked up 10 juvenile violations before graduating to armed robberies at 16.
"I know how hard we tried, we tried everything in the universe to change him," she said. "You can't change this young man, I'm convinced of that. Nothing worked."
Lawson said the shooting that killed Daly was not a "one-time isolated case."
"If they start at age 10 and every six months keep coming back into court constantly, that's indicative that he's a danger and menace to society," she said.
In making his argument for life without parole, Tanjuatco showed the judge photos of Bun's cell phone texts written just a few hours before he killed Daly.
"At 1:21 p.m., he's planning another armed robbery," said Tanjuatco. "That's just an hour and a half before the murder. Three hours before, he was arranging a drug deal."
Tanjuatco urged Benefield to look at how Bun lived his life, not his age.
"Drugs and guns, money and bullets, those were the things that were important to this defendant," he said.
Daly's only daughter, Amber Wright, and widow, Cheryl Daly, gave victim impact statements. Daly said her husband's death has been difficult and devastating.
"We were married 37 years and he was very loving, very giving, a wonderful man," she said. "He should get life without parole because he took my husband's life and he should pay with his life."
Wright had no sympathy for Bun's young age.
"No matter his age, he doesn't deserve to walk free," she said. "He killed my dad and he deserves to pay, to stay in jail. This wasn't a random crime, he actually took a life."
Benefield had the last word, praising Daly and all the men and women in law enforcement.
"Light must shine in the darkness and Rick Daly's light shines on," she said. "It can't and won't be extinguished. That bloody pay stub in his pocket shows that good doesn't pay well but you can be sure he's already heard the words, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.'"