Postscript: Mercy at sentencing helps two families with healing process

Movita Johnson and Vernique Cottom held each other in a tearful embrace. Neither woman uttered a word.

On February 4th, 2013, two men were on trial for murdering Johnson’s son Charles when she chose to embark on a relationship with Cottom, who is married to one of the defendants, Sean Jones.

Movita Johnson, left, stands with her husband Yancy at a Good Friday vigil to end gun violence, outside Benjamin Franklin High School in the Spring Garden section of Philadelphia last March. Their 18-year-old son, Charles Johnson, was fatally shot on January 13, 2011 at Washington Lane and Musgrave Street in the East Germantown section of Philadelphia. Photograph for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

Movita Johnson, center, stands with her husband Yancy at a Good Friday vigil to end gun violence, outside Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia last March. Photograph for the Gun Crisis Reporting Project by Joseph Kaczmarek.

Jones was convicted but when Johnson spoke at his sentencing, she asked the judge for mercy, an act which led to a reduced sentence but also to a relationship of understanding and forgiveness, which loved ones from both families now agree has helped the healing process.

Johnson and Cottom are both women of strong Islamic faith. Both express the importance of Allah, God’s mercy and forgiveness.

While reflecting on why she asked for mercy for Jones, Johnson remembers feeling that Jones could not advocate for himself when the judge asked if he had anything to say. She remembers thinking that Jones was scared and unable to convey his role in the incident, recalling later that: “He could not even talk for himself”.

Johnson remembers asking for mercy because she felt that Jones was a product of what she described as a “fatherless drug culture,” believing that he had known nothing else.

Cottom agrees that Jones came from an environment lacking structure and support, while noting that “the streets were there for him.”

As we previously reported, two gun charges were dropped and the murder sentence was reduced to 12-to-24 years, according to Johnson, who says that the judge attributed the lighter sentence to her statement.

Cottom now says that the relationship with Johnson and experience with her mercy has taught Jones to “grow and respect life.” Cottom says that she tells Jones “This is not your sentence forever; this is the mercy from Movita”.

“The only way to be better is to do better,” Cottom says, while explaining how she and her family have learned the importance of forgiveness and repenting.

Cottom keeps in touch with Johnson and recently sent a picture of her own son, who is close in age to Charles Johnson’s son. Khalif Johnson was born twenty-six days after his father’s death.

Jones wants to show Johnson how he has changed, according to Cottom, who says that her husband has already completed his GED and a money management course while serving his sentence.

Cottom speaks proudly of Jones’ effort towards repentance and speaks passionately about violence in Philadelphia, asking “What are we doing as a prevention?”

Jones now aspires to start a Big Brother organization when he is released, according to Cottom.

Editor’s note: This is an addendum to our previous report: One mother’s mercy leads to reduced sentence after her son’s death.

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One thought

  1. There isn’t a gun crisis, there is a gangster black culture crisis. Broken families that don’t have a father, because he is serving a decade for marijuana possession. It’s horrible.

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