Two convicted of child abuse
By LISE FISHER
The Gainesville Sun
GAINESVILLE - After close to five hours of deliberation, jurors returned a guilty verdict Monday evening in the case of two Gainesville women accused of abusing children who were already the victims of neglect and abuse.
Courtroom spectators were mostly restrained as court officials read the verdict that Nellie Jasper Johnson, 60, was guilty of most of the charges of child abuse brought against her. Her adopted daughter Colony Latrisa Johnson, 30, was found guilty of some of the charges.
The pair had been charged with multiple counts of child abuse stemming from the mistreatment of 11 children who lived at their Gainesville home.
The jury of four women and two men found Nellie Johnson guilty on 14 counts of aggravated child abuse, 12 counts of child abuse, three counts of tampering with a witness or victim and two counts of child neglect. Colony Johnson was found guilty on three counts of aggravated child abuse and three counts of child abuse.
The judge will set a sentencing date within 30 days.
Maximum sentences for the various charges against Nellie and Colony Johnson range from five years to 30 years.
More than 25 children, many of them brothers and sisters, had been placed with Nellie Johnson over more than a decade. Many were adopted. But when one child came forward with abuse allegations, officials removed 17 children from her home in 2001.
As the verdicts were read, one of the former foster children cried quietly as a Department of Children & Families supervisor held her.
Outside the child said, "She deserved it."
The Johnson family had no comment. Kourtney Kennedy, an intern with the State Attorney's Office, said, "These children are finally free, thanks to DCF."
During the trial, which began about two weeks ago at the Alachua County Courthouse, prosecutors questioned the children who lived with the Johnsons. They portrayed the home as a house of horrors where they were routinely beaten with a board or PVC pipe, force-fed until they vomited and made to fight one another.
Defense witnesses, on the other hand, told of a kind woman who took in needy children.
Both women on trial took the stand in their own defense, saying events described by the children are lies.
"The mother and daughter were a beacon of light to the community.
The defendants were nothing less than the guardian angels of these children," the Johnsons' attorney, Frederic Kaufman, told jurors Monday.
With the state's case hinging on the children's testimony, Kaufman attacked their credibility and the motive of investigators and prosecutors who brought the case to court.
But Assistant State Attorney Kim Kinsell reminded the jury of the children's allegations. She talked about one child who, it is alleged, was held down on the floor and hit more than 20 times with a pipe for getting in trouble at school and another who was so afraid she would be beaten that she stood against a heater to keep away from the pipe, resulting in a burn on her leg.
Acknowledging that much of the case centered on Nellie Johnson, Kinsell said that the children did describe some instances where Colony Johnson took part in the abuse.
"She should have stepped in and said, TNo more.U They were her brothers and her sisters. She did absolutely nothing," she said.
Breaking down herself and crying, Kinsell told the jury, "Think of the despair and fear that must have been in the hearts of these children.
"They told you what happened, and what they told you is the truth."