Can Jesus save Jordan Johnson? His mother thinks he can and told Leflore County Circuit Judge Margaret Carey-McCray as much during a sentencing hearing Monday. And Johnson’s latest victim says he concurs.
But is faith enough to offset a record that includes violent crimes, failure to obey rules once incarcerated and an armed robbery that an experienced lawyer finds hard to shake?
Johnson was charged with four felonies for the January 2018 holdup of Greenwood lawyer Hiram C. Eastland Jr. at his Cotton Street offices. Eastland was working late when he dashed outside after hearing gunshots from in front of his building. He found Johnson, who pointed a handgun in his face and demanded money.
After Eastland eventually handed over his wallet, Johnson ran away but was caught by Greenwood police officers as he was hiding in a dumpster outside Davis Elementary School. Next to him were Eastland’s wallet and a gun.
Johnson, 21, was charged with armed robbery, burglary other than a dwelling, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of a stolen firearm. He received four more charges — for possession of contraband — when he was found with three cellphones and a phone charger inside the Leflore County Jail.
He has pleaded guilty to all seven counts. All that’s left now is the sentencing.
It’s not the first time Johnson has faced prison. In Georgia in 2014, Leflore County prosecutors said in court, he was convicted of aggravated assault, family violence, terroristic threats, violence against a child and possession of a controlled substance. When the Georgia Department of Corrections cut him loose, he decided to move in with his brother in Mississippi.
Carey-McCray told Johnson the seven charges against him, coupled with the crimes he committed in Georgia, could result in his being declared a violent habitual offender, meaning he could be seen as a perpetual menace to society and sentenced to spend his natural life in prison.
But Johnson’s sentencing hearing Monday turned at that moment and went another way, with the judge ordering his assessment by psychologists for his “propensity for violence” and whether he suffers mental-health issues related to his upbringing. After the assessment is done, Carey-McCray will decide if Johnson’s sentence should be softer than life in custody.
When she decides, the judge will also have input from Tanya Turner of Hendersonville, Tennessee, who identified herself as “Jordan’s biological mother.” She took the stand to tell the court her story of Johnson.
Turner said Johnson is “broken-hearted” because she and his father divorced when Johnson was in elementary school. Johnson was left with his father, who remarried to a woman who abused Johnson, according to Turner.
“Jordan has deep mental issues,” she said. “He lashes out because he came from a broken home.” She said while she left the area, remarried and started to live “a Christian life,” her ex-husband became involved with a series of women and “dragged Jordan along with him.” She said Johnson’s life was unstable and he became involved with gangs “because he thought the gangs loved him.”
Tucker said she has told her son she wanted him to become a Christian and spend the rest of his life outside of prison as a father, husband, businessman or using his artistic talents. When he left prison in Georgia and came to Mississippi to live with his brother, “he was starting his life over,” she said.
“He’s a young man. He made a lot of bad choices,” she said. “ ... I just want him to have the opportunity to see the daylight again, and to have a better life.”
Eastland was seated in the courtroom behind Turner and asked to speak with her when the case was continued. In the hallway, accompanied by his son, Hiram C. Eastland III, the elder Eastland talked and even held hands with Turner for a few minutes to console her.
Eastland said he has spent significant time since the robbery considering what happened and what should happen to Johnson.
“I look forward to addressing this at sentencing,” he said. “I want to let him know I’m pulling for him and he can turn his life around through Jesus Christ.”
Eastland talks candidly about the impact of the crime, how Johnson was wearing a hoodie when he pulled the gun on the attorney, and how Eastland had to work to overcome his sudden fear each time he saw a young black man in a hooded sweatshirt. He can describe in detail shots being fired, glass breaking and the sound of Johnson’s feet crunching the glass as he ran after him, demanding money.
He also deals with the irony that his professional career in Greenwood has been helping young black men such as Johnson get out of legal trouble, only to become a victim himself.
“I’ve spent most of my adult life working with young black men trying to get their lives together,” he said.
Johnson’s lawyer, DeShandra L. Ross, is hoping to bring Johnson’s grandmother from Atlanta to address the court at the next hearing, along with Johnson’s two brothers in the military. She said his father had been asked to attend “but couldn’t make it.”
•Contact Gavin Maliska at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.