Gun violence can touch a family more than once, as too many families in Philadelphia already know.
Such is the family of Charles Andre Johnson and Stephen Johnson; two young men who were victimized by gun violence sparked by arguments. Arrests have been made in both cases; Sean Jones and Troy Thornton are now being tried in connection with the murder of Charles Johnson, who was killed on Jan 12, 2011. Lawrence Jeffries is awaiting his turn in court for the murder of Stephen Johnson, who was killed January 1, 2013.
“These young men don’t grasp the consequences of what they do when they kill someone,” said Movita Johnson-Harrell, mother of Charles. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t cry over my son. But he’s not the only victim; what about the young men who killed him? The prisons are full of our children. Before they started jury selection I said to the families of defendants that we all must join hands and pray because this violence touches us all.”
Jones and Thornton are accused of shooting Johnson to death because of an ongoing neighborhood dispute involving local girls who were supposedly cheating on their boyfriends. The arguments escalated to beatdowns, which led to threats of deadly violence, which led to gunfire. When the smoke cleared, Johnson, who investigators believe had nothing to do with the dispute, was dead.
On the night of Jan. 12, 2011 Johnson was shot several times while in his car, which was parked near a residence in the 500 block of East Washington Lane. Based on what investigators allege, Johnson was waiting to pick up his sister with some friends when the defendants started shooting, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian Zarallo. Zarallo argues that the shooting was in retaliation for threats against a friend of theirs named Sean Jenkins and Jenkins’ family.
But defense attorneys Shaka Johnson and Patrick Link say their clients didn’t do it and moreover, imply that someone else pulled the trigger in the tragic case. Jenkins, who very reluctantly testified in the case on Wednesday, recanted portions of his testimony taken during the preliminary hearing and the statement he gave to police. Allegedly, Jenkins contacted a friend named Michael Cole for backup. Under cross-examination, Jenkins indicated that he didn’t remember who exactly was at his house, exactly what they talked about or exactly what transpired between Thornton, Jones and the young men outside his house. He couldn’t recall what was said when they returned after gunfire had reverberated through the neighborhood.
“I misspoke,” Jenkins said. “I don’t remember saying that…I don’t remember who was there…I don’t remember who left…I misspoke.”
Testimony in the case will continue for the next few days.
Stephen Johnson, 23, was a Temple University student who was at a party in the 1700 block of Venango Street at 3:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day 2013. Investigators say that Lawrence Jeffries, 22, was looking for his sister when he allegedly opened fired on three men in response to an argument. Johnson was set to graduate from Temple’s Fox Business School and had plans to pursue a U.S. Navy commission.
Two of the alleged killers in the case, Jones and Thornton, have a history of arrests and past incarcerations. Jeffries had no record of previous arrests.
“I’m an original member of Men United for a Better Philadelphia,” said Yancy Harrell, father of Charles Johnson. Harrell has put his time in with several community groups - all working to bring hope and positive change to the Black community. “The truth is that many of these young men have never even been out of the city. They don’t know what it’s like to have a family that teaches them love and respect. Much of the violence is self-perpetuating; it starts with a few angry words and before you know it someone is dead – in this case my son. We can and we must do better than this.”