February 29, 1996 in Nation/World

Teen Gets Maximum For Firing At Youths Bullet Missed Target But Judge Gives Defendant 30 Years And Sends Message Violence Won’t Be Tolerated

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Jeremy Johnson doesn’t know why he was so easily seduced by gangs and guns.

A Spokane County judge on Wednesday gave him 30 years to think about it.

Johnson, 18, was sentenced Wednesday for firing one shot at a car full of teenagers in the Spokane Valley last summer.

The bullet missed its target, but Johnson pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder and first-degree assault, in exchange for the dismissal of four other attempted murder charges.

Superior Court Judge Neal Rielly imposed the maximum possible sentence, saying he wanted to send a message “that we won’t tolerate this kind of violence.”

“Jeremy’s acts seem so intentional to me,” Rielly said as the defendant sobbed. “He’s caused a lifetime of suffering for the (victims’) families.”

The Aug. 20 shooting was sparked by an argument between Johnson and Torrey Lowery, 19, who was driving a car with four passengers. Johnson was alone in his car.

He waved a 9mm handgun at the teens and drove away “to find some homeboys to help him out,” deputy prosecutor Dave Hearrean said.

With two friends in tow, Johnson went looking for Lowery again, although he said he didn’t know what they intended to do once they found him.

When they spotted Lowery’s car near the Albertson’s store on Argonne Road, fellow gang member Jose Mendoza started shooting, Johnson said.

A dozen bullets peppered the car, hitting three of the youths inside. Johnson fired one bullet before his gun jammed.

Heidi Hughes and Sabrina Lewin were each shot three times - one in the knee, hip and neck and the other in the leg, wrist and finger. Lowery was shot in the chest.

The three wounded youths, two other passengers in Lowery’s car and all their parents demanded harsh punishment Wednesday for Johnson.

“I am very, very sorry,” Johnson said quietly. “I wish I could get a second chance to start my life over.”

His victims were unmoved.

“I don’t care if he’s sorry,” said Lowery, who was preparing to join the Army before the shooting. Now his left hand is paralyzed and he’s learning to write and dress himself again.

“I’ve been taught that you have to be personally responsible for your actions,” Lowery told the judge. “(Johnson) should be.”

Defense attorney Carl Maxey asked Rielly to “look at the entire Jeremy Johnson” - the young boy who set fires in fits of anger, who watched his father beat up his mother, who was abused.

When he quit his job and dropped out of West Valley High School last spring, Johnson’s life tumbled out of control, Maxey said. He left home and moved in with a drug dealer who put Johnson straight to work delivering marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine.

Soon, Johnson was sharing the drug business with his new landlord, who gave him unrestricted access to cars, guns and drugs.

“He was doing perfectly well until he got caught up in this trap,” Maxey said. “This isn’t an excuse for the conduct, judge. It’s an explanation.”

But Rielly said Johnson chose that kind of life, despite his mother’s repeated efforts to bring him home.

“I admire what his mother did,” Rielly said of Rhonda Smith, who consulted counselors, a lawyer and even police for help on getting her son back. “She fought so hard.”

The sentence satisfied the victims, although several wished for an even longer term.

Sabrina Lewin, 17, told the judge recovering from the shooting has been so difficult she sometimes wishes she were dead.

“I just wish he could feel what I feel,” said Lewin, whose arm was crippled by a bullet. “I wanted him to go away forever.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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