Jamail Johnson's family is yearning for justice and closure

By John W. Goodwin Jr.



Jamail Johnson Remembered

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One year after YSU student Jamail Johnson was killed, his mother remembers the impact his life and death had on the community.

Next week will mark one year since Youngstown State University senior Jamail Johnson was gunned down at a house party not far from campus.

His killing leaves his family to mourn and seek justice against the men charged with his murder.

It was Super Bowl Sunday on Feb. 6, 2011, when YSU students and a considerable number of 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 lay wounded and 25-year-old Johnson, a fraternity member who took time to tutor kids, was dead.

Police say Jamail was gunned down while trying to usher a group of partygoers away from the gunfire and out of harm’s way.

Since that time, Shirlene and Sidney Hill, Jamail’s mother and stepfather, say they have relied on the help and prayers of family, friends and the community.

“I have never gone through anything as difficult as I am going through now,” said Shirlene Hill. “The only way I am dealing with this is God. My faith is strong and I know I will see Jamail again.”

Sidney Hill said Thanksgiving and Christmas were difficult.

The Hills normally would decorate three Christmas trees in various parts of the family’s Liberty home. This year, there were no Christmas trees, and Shirlene Hill said she has yet to open any Christmas cards.

Youngstown police responded to the Feb. 6 shooting quickly. Within days, six men — Jamelle Jackson, 18; Brandon Carter, 22; Mark Jones, 20; his brother, Columbus Jones Jr., 22; Braylon Rogers, 19; and Demetrius Wright, 19 — were in custody charged with a list of crimes connected to the shooting. Rogers pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm in a plea agreement with prosecutors Feb. 14 but has not been sentenced.

Shirlene Hill is happy to see the men suspected of killing her son in custody and awaiting trial but was disappointed when the first of the trials — for Columbus Jones scheduled for last Monday — was postponed for at least 30 days so the defense can hire a ballistics specialist.

“This is just ridiculous. I am a mother whose son was taken and I think I am going to get closure with this trial, and that is taken away because of ballistics,” she said. “I am Jamail’s voice, and I want justice to be served, and I am waiting for that day. That was my baby, and they did not have a right to take him.”

Prosecutor Paul J. Gains said he could not comment on the specifics of the case because it is set for trial.

“This is a true tragedy, and we will do all we can to make sure justice is done,” Gains said.

Columbus Jones and his four co-defendants have not avoided trial. All five defendants are scheduled for another pretrial hearing Feb. 26 before Judge John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

The Hills plan to attend the February pretrial hearing and any other court hearings involving the case. The family has attended almost every hearing over the last year, and Shirlene Hill said it has been painful watching the defendants in court smiling, mouthing words and blowing kisses at family members.

Shirlene Hill said she knows nothing will bring Jamail back, but she wants to see justice done for his murder, whenever the defendants are brought to trial.

Justice for the Hills would be nothing short of a life sentence for all the men charged in the shooting.

“I don’t want them to ever walk on these streets again. I see no remorse here,” she said. “I don’t ever want another mother to go through what I have gone through.”

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