Darryl "Reese" Johnson was sentenced Friday to eight terms of life in prison after the mother of a murder victim told a federal judge how Johnson and his gang "hunted" her son for more than two years.
A prosecutor called Johnson the "most dangerous criminal in the history of Buffalo," but it was the emotion-packed words of Christine E. Mitchell, 45, that clearly moved U.S. District Judge John T. Curtin.
Ms. Mitchell gave the judge a more than 100-page scrapbook detailing the life and 1992 murder of her only son, Deleon Alford, 22. She burst into tears while telling the judge the difficulties that Alford's children are having growing up without him.
"He had three young children. Now they will not be able to enjoy his love, because of Darryl 'Reese' Johnson's decision to sentence him to death," Ms. Mitchell said. "His daughter is in foster care, which breaks my heart."
She called Johnson a "ruthless, heartless monster," but Ms. Mitchell said she is glad the former LA Boys gang enforcer is not getting the death penalty.
"I am a strong opponent of the death penalty. The taking of another life will not bring my son back," Ms. Mitchell said.
Johnson, 32, looked down, looking disheartened, during Ms. Mitchell's statement. He declined to speak when Curtin asked him if he had anything to say in his behalf.
Although he claims he was the victim of lying FBI witnesses, Johnson in January took a plea deal, admitting to three murders, 17 attempted murders, cocaine dealing, kidnapping, extortion and other crimes.
He has also been linked by the FBI to five other unsolved murders, but has not admitted to those crimes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul Jr., who formerly prosecuted drug gangs in Washington, said Johnson is the most violent and remorseless criminal he has encountered.
"Never before have I seen a man so willing to kill people, for no reason at all," Hochul said. "Not one word of remorse for the victims. Not one word of remorse for their families."
Hochul described the February 1992 murder of Alford as a chilling example of the violence the LA Boys gang wrought on the city's East Side. Alford
was gunned down by three men who chased him into a Jefferson Avenue restaurant.
"They were after Alford because he had witnessed another murder in 1989, committed by one of Reese Johnson's associates," Hochul said.
The last two years of her son's life were spent in constant fear and paranoia, Ms. Mitchell told Curtin.
"Deleon was haunted and hunted by these hoodlums," she said in a letter to the judge. "This young man dodged bullets, hid under cars and looked over his shoulder everywhere he went."
She said her son hid for a while in Mississippi but missed Buffalo and returned home in 1991. On the day he was killed, he had knelt at the altar of the church the family attends and wept.
Later that day, he was at her house and told her he was going out for a while.
"This was the last time I would see my only son alive," Ms. Mitchell recalled.
Curtin called Ms. Mitchell's speech one of the most moving moments he has ever witnessed as a federal judge. Sobbing outside the courtroom, Ms. Mitchell said it was difficult for her to stand up and point the finger at a man like Johnson.
"It was for my baby," Ms. Mitchell said.
After the murder, Ms. Mitchell helped organize a Buffalo chapter of the Families and Friends of Murdered Children and Victims of Violence, a crime victims support group.
Johnson's attorney, Alan D. Goldstein, said police have been quick to pin a wide variety of unsolved crimes on Johnson, whether he did them or not. He complained to Curtin about the large number of " 'get-out-of-jail-free' cards" that he feels were given to violent felons who informed against Johnson.
"Darryl Johnson has been in jail for a long time, but you still have a lot of murders going on in the city of Buffalo," Goldstein said.
Thirty-one associates of the LA Boys gang have now either been convicted or taken felony guilty pleas, Hochul said. Court officials said Johnson's sentence -- eight life terms, plus 10 years -- is believed to be the longest jail sentence ever handed down in a Western New York courtroom.
The latest to plea, David "Dave Dog" Williams, 33, of Buffalo, pleaded guilty Friday to a narcotics conspiracy charge. He could face up to 20 months in prison.
"We indicted 32 people in this case, back in 1992. Thirty-one have taken felonies, and one defendant (Jose Lopez) has been on the lam for the past three years," Hochul said.
Hochul credited FBI Agents Thomas Thurston and Glen Reukauf, in addition to the Buffalo Police, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Cheektowaga Police, Amherst Police, Erie County Sheriff's Department, State Police, the state Department of Corrections and the Memphis, Tenn. Police for their work in the probe.
Stephen Kelly, an organized crime prosecutor from Washington, was at Friday's sentencing. He said U.S. Justice Department officials considers the LA Boys investigation one of the most successful drug-gang actions ever undertaken by the federal government.