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Johnson gets life

Justin Jermaine Johnson was sentenced Thursday afternoon to spend the rest of his life in prison after jurors found him guilty of shooting and killing his 9-month-old son Jayden and the boy's 59-year-old grandmother, Maxine Caraway, on April 6, 2011. Johnson, 24, was given three natural life sentences for two counts of murder and a charge of first degree burglary. Third Circuit Court Judge Jeffrey Young also levied a consecutive 30-year sentence for a kidnapping charge in connection with Johnson forcefully removing Kaisha Caraway -- his ex-girlfriend and the boy's mother -- from Maxine Caraway's Carissa Lane home. A 5-year sentence on a weapons charge will run concurrent, Young said. Jurors found Johnson not guilty on a charge of attempted murder for what prosecutors said was a gunshot wound that Kaisha Caraway suffered to her shoulder. Jurors took a little more than two hours to reach their verdict following a two-week trial. Johnson was given a  fair trial, Judge Young said, and jurors carefully weighed the evidence against him. While acknowledging that Johnson's family was asking for mercy, Young said the Third Circuit Solicitor's office showed mercy by not seeking the death penalty. "And today is your day for justice," Young said, explaining that he intended to give Johnson the same mercy shown for Jayden and Mrs. Caraway. It's ingrained in society to protect the elderly and children, Young said, and what Johnson did "shocks the conscience," so Young gave Johnson "absolute justice." "Society will not have to live with you," Young added before handing down his sentence. He also said it was his intention to give a maximum sentence. "And I have done it." Before sentencing, Maxine Caraway's sister Renelle Conyers addressed the court, and told Young her sister was a "loving person who was always there" for family members. "She never did anybody any harm." Conyers said her sister liked to help people, liked to laugh and care for her many cats. "She loved everyone," Conyers said. Mary Whitfield, Caraway's daughter, thanked Solicitor Ernest "Chip" Finney III and Assistant Solicitor Chris Durant and reminded the audience that there were no winners or losers. Her mother was her best friend, she said, her voice cracking, as she pointed out that Mrs. Johnson still has her son. "But the dreams she had for him may not come true," she said. Whitfield said her heart went out to "the Justin I know" because her mother told her not to hold grudges. "Mom always said let God handle it," she said.

Johnson's mother apologized to the Caraway family and said if she could change the hands of time, she would. She started to address Kaisha but Judge Young stopped her and told her to address him. "I am so sorry for everything and I just throw my mercy on the court," she said. Public Defender Scott Robinson told Young that the community lost good citizens, whether alive or deceased. "This act was not the Justin Johnson that everybody knew," Robinson said. "This is an isolated, rare, uncharacteristic event." There's still a great deal of love and respect between the Johnson and Caraway families, he said, and he hoped they could move beyond this. Johnson, who was 21 at the time of the shootings, was a leader in his school and church and active in ROTC. Before the shootings, Johnson was a helicopter mechanic at McEntire Joint National Guard Base. "We don't have a why answer," Robinson said, noting that a mental evaluation of his client showed no mental defects and that he's not a "serial killer." Johnson probably "just snapped" that day, Robinson said. "Just a tragic waste of life." Robinson asked for a minimum sentence. Johnson didn't address the court, and simply shook his head back and forth when asked if he would speak. Robinson was granted 10 days by Young to file post trial motions.    


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