Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Note From Johnny (Q&A)

Feel free to submit questions for Ben. People have posted questions in some of the comments sections and in private emails. I will collect them and mail them to Ben. I'm not sure how long it will take for his reply.

Hopefully, I will get the rest of the narrative up soon.

God Bless,
Johnny

Monday, March 25, 2013

Guilty


     The days dragged by as I trudged my way through the court process.  There was very little to do in the cell. I listened to the radio, read novels and worried about what would come next. I had plenty of time to go over every regret in life. My life consisted of waiting for the next court hearing to arrive until early 1996, when my trial date finally came.  I was taken to the court house and the ever present reporters were there waiting.  The week before, my public defender told me he had spoken to the district attorney and my trial would be postponed.  There were some motions that had not been heard yet.  Since I believed the trial would not begin, I had called my family and told them not to come.

     Inside, I was the first person to go before the judge.  The public defender asked for the postponement as planned, but the district attorney objected and asked that jury selection begin at once.  The judge agreed.  I was shell shocked.  I would be going to trail that day, and knew I was about to get, not only the book, but the entire library thrown at me.  My public defender tried to explain to the judge he had already arranged for a postponement with the prosecution and he was not prepared to go to trial.  The D.A. denied he had agreed to anything.  The judge called all the lawyers into his chambers, and a few minutes later, the public defender came back and told me what had happened.

     According to him, he said he had been led to believe the district attorney was going to agree to a postponement.  The D.A. denied it which led to the two of them trading punches in the judges chambers.  After they were separated, the judge decided the trial would go forward. The judge also sent me a personal message.  I was to plead guilty and agree to testify against Sarah in exchange for a thirty-five year sentence.  If I refused, I would be found guilty and given the maximum sentence of ninety-nine years.  Had I any legal knowledge and not been in a state of such, I may have realized this was highly unusual.
I balked.  The enormity of the sentence scared me to my very core.  I knew I could receive a life sentence in Mississippi, but that was still distant and seemingly far away.  This was here and now and all too real.  My lawyer kept pressing me to accept it, telling me I had no chance to win in a trial.  He was right because my defense team was unprepared and not ready to go to trial.  Finally, I caved in.  The only thing appealing about the deal was the chance to testify against Sarah and pay her back for turning me in for the Mississippi murder.

     Before I accepted, I asked if I could call my mother for advice.  He left to get permission and returned a few moments later to lead me to a break room where a phone was.  I called and my mother picked up the phone.  I explained to her the situation and asked what I should do.  She still wanted to believe there was some way they would just let me go even though she knew it was impossible.   Despite everything, she still wanted to believe I was innocent. Finally, after many tears, she told me to take the deal.  In truth, there was no other option. Later that day, I stood before the judge and pled guilty.  Sentencing would take place after Sarah's trial.  I would have to wait in the parish jail until then.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Another Brick in the Wall


     One day in August of 1995, a trustee who cleaned the walkway in front of my cell told me he had seen Sarah talking with some people who had come from Mississippi.

     My heart sank.  In the back of my mind I had always suspected they would show up eventually, but it was still a shock when they actually came.  A few days later, I found out through the same trustee that Sarah had taken a lie detector test, and I knew I could look forward to new charges in the near future.  I didn't learn the full details about what was going on until my mother sent me an article from the Muskogee newspaper.  Sarah had confided to her lawyers about the Mississippi murder, and they advised her to work with the authorities if they could get her immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony against me.  Eventually, he spoke with the district attorney from Mississippi and secured the deal.
The night I found this out, I made plans to kill Sarah and then myself.  I didn't see the point of going on, knowing the severity of the crime in Mississippi. This was the plan. The sheriff’s deputies usually brought us to and from the court house together because reporters always waited for us outside like swarms of bees around honey.  Normally, male and female prisoners were always kept apart, but it was easier for them to keep us together and made for a good clip on the news.  The next time we were placed together, I planned to strangle her with the waist chains wrapped around us while we were locked in the back of one of the transportation vans.  Thanks to my slim and flexible wrists I could slip my hands out of the handcuffs whenever I wished and strangle Sarah before the officers would be able to stop the van and pull me off of her.

     Someone must have been looking over her, though.  From that day on, we never rode together in the van again.  I never told anyone my plans, so I know no one told on me.  Eventually, my rage towards her lessened and the plan for her death was abandoned. Still, I hated her intensely.

     Once when I saw her pass near my cell, I screamed at her through the Plexiglas until I lost my voice and bloodied my knuckles pounding on the walls.  The guards rushed to my cell to find out what was going on and found me red-faced at the door of my cell.

     The funny thing was, even with all the rage that would serge through me when I thought about her, I still had moments when I only wanted to be loved by her again. It was confusing and made the situation all the hard for me to process.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Process (Part 2)

     Jail is a horrible place to live, but after awhile, you get used to it. As the days passed, I became accustomed to the noise and lack of privacy. Everyday passed almost unchanged from one to the next. All the inmates usually end up doing nearly the exact same thing each day because of lack of opportunities to do anything different. After time it becomes a necessity leading to an effect known as "instutionalization." A person becomes dependent on the daily routine and any disruption to it can cause distress. This is not as strange as it may seem at first, because a change in the routine is usually from some form of violence taking place. Excitement is a bad thing in jails and prisons nine times out of tem. Inmates who have spent long stretches of time in prison loosen their ties to the outside world and can become unable to cope with life outside of prison or change within the prison. Once released, this crutch of the routine the prisoner has relied on for years is no longer there, and it is no surprise when they quickly return to prison again.

     Because of the media attention, the other inmates knew who I was. Sometimes I would hear people pass by my cell and say, "That's him." From time to time, I'd get hate mail or a letter from some unkown person telling me they were praying for me. A preacher from the town where the shooting happened came to see me after seeing the coverage on the news. I didn't care much for religion, but it gave me a chance to get out of my cell. I agreed to see him just to pass the time. The preacher, Jonnie Hernandez, turned out to be a pretty nice man and not at all what I imagined a preacher to be like. He didn't preach a sermon to me or tell me how much of a rotten sinner I was. There was no Bible thumping or guilt trips. He just told me he understood I was a long way from home and I could probably use a friend. He was right.

     He continued to come each week for nearly the entire time I was in Louisiana. During our visits, he would tell me of his life and carefully weave in little bits about Jesus Christ and how his life had changed since he was saved. I really didn't know what he meant by "saved" but it sounded interesting. He explained that Jesus had died for me so I could be forgiven for my sins. I said a sinner's prayer with him that day but my heart wasn't in it. I did it just to please him. I couldn't believe. Deep inside, I knew I was beyond redemption and love. I had crossed too many lines and gone too far, I believed, even for even God to fix.

     When I was back in my cell, I really started to reflect on the words the preacher had said. He had told me that despite my past, God loved me and sent His son Jesus to pay the penalty for my sins. While I didn't completely understand what he was talking about, I knew one thing. It sounded too good to be true, but I wanted to believe it anyway. I hated the way my life had turned out, and everyday was abject misery. Even
before prison, each day was something to be endured. I had never accomplished anything in my life. I had quit school, never had a job, and never even had a driver's license. I was the ultimate failure and it hurt. It wasn't a physical pain but something inside me hurt none the less. I was missing something in my life and never felt complete. I had thought I had found the thing missing when I had met Sarah, but as soon as she was gone it had come back. Reflecting back, I saw I was always attaching myself to others in order to feel complete. I probably would have given my life to this Jesus right then and there, but one thing was holding me back-the murder in Mississippi.

     The word confession and repentance kept coming up in my visits with Johnny. I didn't think I could honestly confess and repent for my sins to God, including the murder, while trying
to hide it from the authorities. I wasn't ready to admit to something like that then and couldn't imagine a situation where I would.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Process (Part 1)

Later, the guards woke me up and told me to pack my stuff up. They were moving me into a protective custody cell due to all the publicly.

The "holding cell" as they called it, was small. There was just barely enough room for the other inmate and myself to fit. The only other things in the cell were an iron bunk bed, a stainless steel toilet with a sink attached to it, and a small metal table bolted to the wall. This was my new home. Already in the cell was a black guy in his early 20’s watching me enter the cell. I hesitated at the door not sure what to do. Was I supposed to introduce myself? It is a strange feeling to suddenly find yourself living in a close quarters with a complete stranger.

He must have sensed my unease and said, “Don’t worry. I don’t worry I’m not looking for any trouble.”

While I unpacked my few belongings and made up my bed we talked a little bit. His nickname was Little Tick-his father being Big Tick. He had been in the jail for a few weeks for killing his girlfriend. The only problem was he didn’t do it. Of course, most of the people in jail and prison will claim they are innocent of the charges against them. Most of them are in fact guilty, but Little Tick was actually telling the truth. A few months after I first walked into that cell, he was released. It turned out his girlfriend had tried to stab him while both were having a drug and alcohol induced spat. She missed and stabbed herself in a major artery in her leg and died. Little Tick had blacked out and had no memory of that night. He honestly didn’t know what had happened but he felt pretty confident that he wouldn’t have stabbed her.

I tried to say as little as possible about myself. I was still a bit shell shocked from all the madness of the day. Tick did ask what I was in jail for and as soon as I said I was from Oklahoma he said, “Oh, you’re the ones everybody is talking about.”

I was called to court a few days later for a bond hearing. Again the cameras were waiting outside of the courthouse to film me walking into court with shackles on. I was hoping I might find a glimmer of hope at the bond hearing. If it was set low enough, I would be able to get out soon. Since the crime I was charged with was only accessory to armed robbery. I thought I had a pretty good chance at being free again, but at the hearing I learned my charges had been upgraded. Now I was charged with principal to armed robbery, which is basically the same as armed robbery. As before, the prosecutor stressed how brutal the crime had been. The woman, who was a mother of five, had been shot in the neck and paralyzed from the shoulders down. Bond was set at $500,000. At that point, I knew I would not be able to get out anytime soon.

Later, at my arraignment hearing, I would plead not guilty and wait to see what would
happen.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Note from Johnny

I have not heard from Ben in some time. I think he has been moved to a
different unit. I will post more of the story as soon as possible.
Sorry for the delay.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Arrest (part 3)

Twenty days after our arrest, June 22, 1995, Sarah and I were flown to the New Orleans International Airport escorted by five detectives from the parish where the shootings happened.  During the flight I overheard them saying they might need to put bulletproof vests on us “just in case.”  I had expected some reporters, but the possibility of someone actually trying to shoot us had never crossed my mind.  Needless to say, I was very apprehensive about arriving in Louisianan.
We landed in New Orleans later in the afternoon.  Neither Sarah nor I were given the vests, and I wasn't sure if that was a good sign or not.  The section of the airport we entered at was completely empty.  We had been taken to a different entrance than the other passengers, so it was just the detectives and the two of us walking the desolate hallway.  At the door, we were met by more cops and plainclothes detectives.  I noticed the tension in the air and the feeling they were all getting ready for something.  They boxed Sarah and I in separately, and we started down a long, vacant hallway.  As soon as we turned a corner, I understood what they had readied themselves for.  In front of us was a wall of reporters.
I couldn't believe there were so many people waiting for us.  Apparently, we were big news in Louisiana as well.  There were even tourists mixed among the reporters snapping picture as well.  Most likely, they had mistakenly thought a celebrity would be coming through the terminal when they saw all the television reporters waiting.  As if on cue, they all surged towards us.  A wave of reporters crashed against us and the chaos erupted.  Everywhere I looked there was a camera stuck in my face and questions shouted at me.  I looked over at Sarah and noticed she had started crying.  The reporters were asking her questions like, “How does it feel to shoot somebody’s mother?” just trying to get a reaction out of her.  The detectives slowly plowed through the mass of people and made their way through the airport.
Outside, at the front of the airport, we were placed in separate cars and sped away.  The local television vans followed inches behind, it seemed, from our bumper.  I couldn't believe how hard they were pursuing us, and worried what the reception at the jail would be like.
            I was driven to the Tangipahoa Parish Jail at Amite, Louisiana.  On the way there, the car I was in got tied up in traffic, and I lost sight of the car Sarah was in.  By the time I reached the jail, she had already been booked in; and, after a few minutes of waiting, I was led to a dorm.  The dorms were open area with no individual cells like you would see on TV. Each dorm housed 16 inmates each.  I was given sheets and a blanket and some other personal hygiene products and led inside.  I made up my bed and went to sleep.  Just as I was about to drift off, I saw Sarah and myself walking through the airport on the television attached to the dorm’s wall.  I closed my eye wishing it was all just a dream, but I knew it was all too real.