Angela Howard says her sister Elania Johnson’s death has been hard on every member of their family.
Howard’s mother still cries every time it rains, remembering that night, she said. Johnson’s granddaughter doesn’t remember her, Howard said, recalling how the child kept asking who was pictured in several photographs in her home.
“It hurt my heart because she loved that baby so, so much,” Howard said.
Howard addressed Jeffrey Mickens, the man responsible for her sister’s death, on Tuesday, minutes after he received an 80-year sentence in the case from 123rd District Judge LeAnn Rafferty.
Officials had accused Mickens of fatally shooting Elania Johnson, 44, of Longview, shooting Johnson’s daughter Raven Dotrey, 21, kidnapping Dotrey’s daughter and firing at a Panola County Sheriff’s Office deputy before embarking on a 10-hour standoff around his Holland’s Quarters home in February 2018.
Rafferty gave Mickens 80 years in prison on each of the first-degree felony charges of murder, attempted capital murder of a peace officer and two counts of aggravated kidnapping he faced. She also sentenced him to 20 years on a second-degree felony charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
The sentences will run concurrently, meaning at the same time. He was given credit for time served. Mickens is not eligible for probation.
Mickens has the right to appeal his sentence and indicated to Rafferty Tuesday he would do so.
“I do appreciate you taking responsibility for these heinous crimes and waiving your right to a jury trial,” Rafferty said before handing down her sentence.
Mickens had previously pleaded guilty to his charges on June 6, waiving his right to a jury trial and asking Rafferty to decide on a sentencing. The sentencing hearing took a little more than a week, spread out to allow Mickens’ defense attorney time to get a psychological evaluation of Mickens.
Law enforcement officials, forensics experts and Johnson’s family all testified during the sentencing hearing. But after Mickens received his sentence, it was two of Johnson’s sisters who came forward to give victim impact statements, saying they wanted to impress upon Mickens how his actions have affected their family.
Lathese Scott, the baby sister of Johnson’s family, told Mickens her sons miss having a relationship with her sister — a person Scott described as “a light.”
“I remember when it happened, and it was the hardest thing to get them to understand that they would never see her again,” she said. “If we continue and continue to love each other as a family, I know we can get through this. But I think it was a coward act because a lot of different things could have happened other than what he did. I want him to breathe and remember every day that you took something from my family that only God was only supposed to be able to take.”
Howard recalled speaking with Johnson the night she died, pleading with her not to drive Mickens home because it was pouring rain. She ended the call by telling Johnson she loved her and asking Johnson to text her when they got home.
Not long after that, Howard said she got a hysterical call from Dotrey about what happened. She drove to Carthage and Longview, trying to find her sister. It was only then she learned Johnson was dead — and that she would have to tell her mother what happened.
“She looked through me like she didn’t hear me, she didn’t understand me,” Howard recalled Johnson’s mother reacting as she heard the news. “She kept saying ‘Well I need to see my baby. Where’s Elania?’ I said ‘Momma, Elania’s dead.’”
Howard also had to call her sister Debbie Howard, who lives in Dallas.
“I was worried about her because that means she was going to have to drive two hours with the worst news of her life by herself,” Angela Howard said. “That was the beginning of the worst day of my life.”
Angela Howard recalled a cruise she went on with Johnson to celebrate and relax after Dotrey got through high school — it was the first time Johnson could take time for herself, Howard said, after working nonstop at two jobs to support her children as they grew up.
“She smiled on that cruise every picture that I took,” Angela Howard said. “Even when the visible camera was not in her face, she had a smile on her face. I mean she smiled when I was nauseated and could not get up to go to some show or play some game. ‘Well I’m out! I’ll see you later!’ Even if it meant she would go by herself. She was so happy and she had so much energy.
“...She fought hard for her kids, and she was ready to do her because she felt like she raised all of them, they were old enough to take care of themselves and it was time for her to live her life,” Howard said.