MANATEE -- A Bradenton man was found guilty Friday of killing a pregnant woman almost three years ago and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
A jury of eight women and four men deliberated for about three hours after a trial that lasted four days. Gregory Kennon was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed burglary.
“In Manatee County today, justice was served,” said Susan Moore, the victim’s mother.
On July 12, 2009, Kennon was among the gunmen who barged and fired into an apartment at DeSoto Village on Fifth Street East. They fatally struck Crystal Johnson, 19, who was six months pregnant.
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Johnson and her daughter, Lariah, delivered in an emergency C-section, died the same day.
While the jury deliberated, Johnson’s family prayed outside the courtroom. Earlier in the day, Brittany Johnson, Crystal’s sister, said she and her mother prayed as they held on to a prayer card depicting Jesus Christ that belonged to Crystal.
Before the verdict was read, loved ones from both families filed into the courtroom as about a dozen deputies watched the crowds. After the verdict, the families were escorted at separate times through different exits of the courthouse.
Judge Janette Dunnigan told both families that she didn’t want any “visible or audible response to the verdict.”
“Keep your thoughts to yourself,” she said. “Keep your emotions to yourself.”
As the verdict was read, several of Kennon’s loved ones left the courtroom.
Kennon declined to address Johnson’s family.
But three of Johnson’s loved ones spoke to the full courtroom.
Moore said that since the fatal shooting, she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. “I still see the flashes of guns,” Moore later said. She often wakes up between 1 a.m. and 1:30 a.m., the same time when gunmen shot her daughter.
“I hope that he has the chance of missing his son as much as I have missed my daughter,” Moore said. “I just hope that his life is as much hell as mine.”
James Lee, Crystal’s godfather, said he spoke in honor of Lariah.
“She’s never going to be spoiled by her grandmother or great-grandmother,” he said. “She’s never going to taste cotton candy.”
Robin Isom, Crystal’s cousin, said the family often visits Johnson’s grave.
“We go to the cemetery. We decorate,” she said.
But it’s not enough, Isom said.
“We can’t love her. We’ll never have the chance to hold her.”
Isom told the attorneys that life in prison for Kennon was not enough.
“I think the death penalty will be a much better punishment than life in prison,” she said. “We can’t hug, we can’t visit, we can’t touch, we can’t feel, but he’ll be allowed to do that.”
Outside the courthouse, Isom said Crystal was a “bubbly” girl who always matched her clothes. Crystal had bought baby items in the months leading up to Lariah’s birth.
“It was like she owned her own store,” Isom said. “She was so excited about becoming a mother.”
Mary Moore, Crystal’s grandmother, was in tears.
“I’m so happy,” she said. “He’ll never hurt anybody else again.”
Her daughter, Susan, said she hopes anyone with information in her daughter’s slaying will come forward to authorities.
“There’s other people out there that are involved in the case,” she said.
In the days after the fatal shooting, Kennon and another man, Everrick Houston, were arrested. Murder charges against Houston were dropped in November 2010 after a judge ruled that Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies illegally obtained his blood from his clothes at Manatee Memorial Hospital.
But Art Brown, prosecutor in the case, said murder charges against Houston will be filed again.
Since her daughter’s death, Moore said she doesn’t celebrate any holidays. “No Christmas trees anymore,” she said.
But at her daughter’s grave, Moore said, “that’s where my celebration is.”
She and other loved ones headed there after the verdict was read.
“I miss my daughter dearly,” Moore said. “And there’s nothing I can do.”