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Published: Wednesday, 3/14/2012

Toledo man gets 17 years for his role in robbery, death

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Thomas Johnson becomes emotional after receiving a sentence of 17 years in prison for his role in the slaying of Charles Harris, 71. Thomas Johnson becomes emotional after receiving a sentence of 17 years in prison for his role in the slaying of Charles Harris, 71.
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After an emotional hearing in Lucas County Common Pleas Court that resulted in several outbursts and two arrests, a Toledo man was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in the April, 2010, shooting death of an elderly man.

Thomas Johnson, 22, of 3265 Glenwood Ave. pleaded guilty Tuesday to voluntary manslaughter with a gun specification, aggravated robbery, and tampering with evidence.

He was convicted of providing a gun to co-defendant Kenneth Anderson, who used it to rob Charles Harris, Jr., during which the 71-year-old man was shot and killed.

Mr. Harris' daughter, Karen Harris, said that she came to court alone because she alone among her family has been able to forgive her father's killers.

She sobbed as she told of her love for her deceased father and the hope that everyone involved will one day find peace.

"I do forgive Thomas and Kenneth, for my dad on April 13 was going to die anyway, that was God's plan," she said. "[God] said, 'I need you to get two of my children who are thugs off the street.' "

Assistant County Prosecutor Tim Braun said Johnson initially encountered Mr. Harris in an alley off Nebraska Avenue, where he saw the older man dumping yard waste into a neighbor's yard.

Mr. Harris gave Johnson $5 and Johnson saw that he had more money in his wallet.

Soon after leaving Mr. Harris, Johnson met up with Anderson, who spoke of needing money for repairs to his car. Johnson told him of Mr. Harris and gave Anderson a gun, Mr. Braun said.

"Kenneth Anderson confronts Charles Harris and asks for a light. When he got close, he pulled out a pistol and demanded money," Mr. Braun said.

But instead of handing over money, Mr. Harris grabbed a large wrench and began swinging it at Anderson. He hit him, breaking his arm, and Anderson responded by firing shots.

Mr. Harris died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds.

Mr. Braun said Johnson shared the stolen money and then got rid of the gun by throwing it into the river.

Johnson was originally charged with aggravated murder, murder, aggravated robbery, and tampering with evidence. The plea was the result of the facts of the case, Mr. Braun said.

"He was not the shooter," Mr. Braun said. "At the same time, he set in motion some things that ultimately led to a man's death and two young men in prison."

In October, Anderson was sentenced to 21 years to life in prison after pleading guilty to aggravated murder with a one-year gun specification for the April 13 shooting.

He admitted he intended to rob Mr. Harris as the older man worked in his garage, but shot him when the older man fought back.

During Johnson's hearing Tuesday, several disruptions stopped the proceedings and led to the arrest of two of his family members on misdemeanor charges.

Responding to Johnson's facial expressions -- including smirks and rolling eyes -- Assistant Prosecutor Rob Miller abruptly asked if Johnson wanted to withdraw the plea and go to trial. The interruption prompted outbursts from those seated in the courtroom gallery as well as words from an agitated Johnson, whose ankles and wrists were shackled.

Arrested were Antonio Davis, 33, and Kenneth Johnson, 19, both on misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct with persistence and obstructing justice. Mr. Johnson was also charged with resisting arrest.

Judge Stacy Cook restored order to the courtroom, telling Johnson she also noticed his expressions and asked him to conduct himself in an appropriate manner similar to the way he had in the past.

She further addressed his family, reminding them that Johnson has accepted responsibility for his actions.

Before being sentenced, Johnson apologized for his outburst, to Mr. Harris' family and to his own. He said he hoped the entire Harris family one day would accept his apology.

"I never meant for them to lose a loved one or to put their loved one in harm's way," he said.

"I'm going to take [prison] as a life-[changing] experience to get myself together, get my mind on the right track, and be the man I know I can be."

Judge Cook challenged Johnson to live up to that statement and asked him to remember Ms. Harris' words of forgiveness when confronting possible bad decisions in prison.

She then sentenced him to nine years in prison for the voluntary manslaughter charge, six years for aggravated robbery, and one year each for tampering and the gun specification, all to be served consecutively.

As part of the agreement, Johnson agreed not to pursue early release when eligible.

After the hearing, Ms. Harris said she was relieved it was finally over.

"It's over for me and I can hear my dad say, 'Well done,' " she said. "Now my dad can finally rest in peace and I hope both of our families can move on."

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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