Shirlene Hill, mother of murder victim Jamail Johnson, is comforted by her husband Sydney Hill as she makes a
tearful impact statement to the court during the sentencing of her son’s killer, Columbus Jones Jr. Mr. Hill held
Jamail’s diploma from Youngstown State University, which was awarded posthumously.
By John W. Goodwin Jr.
Shirlene Hill, mother of murdered Youngstown State University senior Jamail Johnson, and three others tearfully asked a judge for a lengthy prison sentence for Johnson’s killer, and the judge complied.
Columbus Jones Jr., 23, will spend the next 92 years to life in prison for shooting into a house near YSU, killing Johnson, 25, and wounding 11 others.
Jones appeared before Judge John M. Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court for sentencing Thursday looking much different than he has over the course of his two-week trial. Gone were the dress slacks and crisp shirts, replaced by the orange jumpsuit issued by the county.
A jury of five men and seven women found Jones guilty of murder, 10 counts of felonious assault and shooting into a habitation after deliberating for two days.
Hill addressed the court before sentencing professing her faith in God and the legal system, and admonishing Jones for what she called a total lack of remorse or respect during the trial.
“I believe in God Almighty, and he is in control of all things. ... I stand here today believing that the justice system has prevailed for my son,” she said. “I watched [Jones’] obvious disregard for Jamail’s family, friends who sat through and saw horrific pictures of Jamail’s last minutes on this earth.”
Hill also said it was insulting to watch Jones’ interaction with family during the trial, knowing she cannot see or interact with her son again.
“My heart ached as I heard his mother call him ‘Boo.’ This pained me because I can no longer hear my son call his father Daddy or hear him call me Mommy,” she said. “You had no right to take life you did not nor could not have given. ... Your senseless act has cost me countless sleepless nights. Columbus, you robbed me of a precious treasure that night.”
It was Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 6, 2011, when YSU students and many nonstudents attended a party at a house on Indiana Avenue near campus. At some point, the party erupted into chaos with gunfire, fighting, screams and many partygoers running for safety.
When the smoke cleared, 11 people attending that party were wounded and Johnson, a fraternity member who took time to tutor children, was dead.
Police say Johnson was gunned down while trying to usher a group of partygoers away from the gunfire and out of harm’s way.
In addition to Hill, three other people — Joyce Owens, guardian of shooting victim Shavai Owens; Carl Davidson, Johnson’s close friend who was at the party the night of the shooting; and Lynn Johnson, Johnson’s aunt — also addressed the judge and pleaded for a lengthy sentence. Jones sat stone-faced during each of the impact statements, staring at the backs of those speaking to Judge Durkin. He, on the advice of his attorney Lou DeFabio, elected to say nothing when asked for comment by the judge.
DeFabio said he and Jones are limited to what comments can be made because the case will be appealed. The defense lawyer did say there was no testimony that his client ever intended to hurt anyone at the party, and he does not believe his client showed any disrespect to the family of the victims during the trial.
Judge Durkin said it is tragic to think that what would have ended in, at worst, a fist fight years ago, ended with gunfire and loss of life.
“Above all else, it was an act of God that more people were not killed that night,” the judge said just before handing down consecutive sentences totaling 92 years to life.
Several others also are charged in the shootings. Jones’ brother, Mark Jones, and Jamelle Jackson are scheduled to be tried separately on the same charges as Jones Jr.
Demetrius Wright is charged with carrying a concealed weapon, tampering with evidence and obstructing justice. Brandon Carter is charged with obstructing justice.
Another defendant, Braylon Rogers, has pleaded guilty to illegal gun possession, and prosecutors recommended he get probation in exchange for his testimony in the other cases. He will be sentenced later by Judge Maureen A. Sweeney.