‘She’s wicked and evil’: How Mi­ami mother of 11 be­came mur­der sus­pect

Miami Herald (Sunday) - - Local & State - BY DAVID OVALLE dovalle@mi­ami­her­ald.com

Her ex-boyfriend, the fa­ther of some of her many chil­dren, wound up shot dead at the hands of her new lover. A few months later, po­lice say, she and a teen son stormed a South Mi­ami-Dade home where state child-wel­fare work­ers had placed two of her other kids — a break-in that left an el­derly foster mother gravely wounded from gun­shots.

Candi Johnson didn’t pull the trig­ger ei­ther time. But po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors be­lieve she pulled the strings that led to both shoot­ings. The ac­cu­sa­tions hardly came as a sur­prise to some of her own weary rel­a­tives, who have clashed with her for years.

“Candi Johnson is evil,” said her

niece, Ar­lene Byrd Johnson, 56. “She’s wicked and evil.”

Johnson is now in a Mi­ami-Dade County jail await­ing trial for at­tempted mur­der, kid­nap­ping with a weapon, armed bur­glary and in­ter­fer­ing with child cus­tody. Her teenage son, Christo­pher Ed­wards, 17, is charged along­side her and is ac­cused of re­peat­edly shoot­ing 77-year-old foster mother Wendy Ed­mond dur­ing the Aug. 31 home in­va­sion.

That shoot­ing is just the lat­est trou­ble in a long his­tory of con­flict and crime in­volv­ing Johnson, a 34-year-old who po­lice say has sev­eral aliases, in­clud­ing “Ann Prince.” “Sexy Red” is tat­tooed on her left leg.

Johnson once served five years in prison for child abuse and flee­ing po­lice, then got ar­rested again af­ter cops say she threat­ened a child-wel­fare worker and roamed the eastern se­aboard with her kids hid­den in the back of a rental van. At one time or an­other, rel­a­tives say, ev­ery one of her nine chil­dren has wound up be­ing taken away by the state for their own pro­tec­tion.

Rel­a­tives also have bat­tled with her over con­trol of a real-es­tate busi­ness once run by her Alzheimer’s-stricken half brother, say­ing Johnson drained his for­tune while let­ting his health de­cline to the point he is now hos­pi­tal­ized.

One nephew told po­lice: “She’s self­ish. She’s all about her­self. If she’s not the cen­ter of at­ten­tion, then her world is in chaos.”

Candi Johnson is one of sev­eral daugh­ters born to Con­ley Johnson Sr., a Mi­ami busi­ness­man who was 68 when she was born. As a teen, her fam­ily says, she grew up in Opa-locka and fell in with a bad crowd. She first got pregnant at age 12.

There are few de­tails avail­able about Candi Johnson’s youth. Her full sis­ter, one of her few sup­port­ers , de­clined to speak to the Mi­ami Her­ald. Her de­fense lawyer, Mar­lene Montaner, said she is still re­view­ing the ev­i­dence in the lat­est case but that her “client is in­no­cent un­til proven guilty” and the foster sys­tem that cared for her chil­dren leaves “long last­ing scars.”

Montaner said Johnson has not been per­ma­nently stripped of her parental rights and wants them back. “She is fight­ing for them.” Montaner said of on­go­ing pro­ceed­ings in fam­ily court.

Records show Johnson’s first ma­jor con­vic­tion came in in 2006, when she led deputies on a chase through Madi­son and Jef­fer­son coun­ties, with chil­dren in the car. She pleaded guilty to flee­ing and elud­ing po­lice and was put on pro­ba­tion. But Johnson kept vi­o­lat­ing pro­ba­tion — in­clud­ing for ditch­ing a woman’s shel­ter with­out per­mis­sion — and she was even­tu­ally sent to prison to com­plete a fiveyear prison term.

When she got out, Johnson re­turned to Mi­ami, where she met James “Cow­boy” Lawrence, of Opa-locka, who was 20 years her se­nior. They would have five chil­dren to­gether in a re­la­tion­ship marked by al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic abuse on both sides.

By 2016, Johnson was liv­ing in cheap mo­tels with her young chil­dren. That’s when a rel­a­tive, Natasha Johnson, of­fered to move her into one of an apart­ment owned by her fa­ther, for just $500 a month.

“I felt sorry for her and the kids,” said Natasha Johnson, whose fa­ther is Candi’s Johnson’s half­brother, Con­ley Johnson Jr.

Con­ley Johnson Jr., who once was a long­shore­man, has build up a small real em­pire, re­mod­el­ing and also buy­ing. He lived in a sprawl­ing house in Mi­ami’s Lit­tle River neigh­bor­hood, a home he built with his own hands over years.

“He worked on docks and this was some­thing he did on the side and it just blos­somed,” said one of his son’s, Erick Johnson, of Chicago. “He made a very good liv­ing off of it. He be­came a self-made mil­lion­aire with prop­er­ties all over Dade and Broward.”

But by the time Candi Johnson en­tered the pic­ture, Con­ley Johnson Jr. was suf­fer­ing from Alz- heimer’s Dis­ease, suf­fer­ing bouts of con­fu­sion and para­noia. Be­cause of his con­di­tion, he gave his daugh­ter Natasha “power of at­tor­ney” over his af­fairs — a le­gal des­ig­na­tion al­low­ing her to col­lect rent from ten­ants, man­age his busi­ness af­fairs and over­see his health care.

All that changed on April 1, 2016, when Con­ley Jr. was at North Shore Med­i­cal Cen­ter. In a bout of para­noia, Natasha Johnson said, he charged at her and she asked hos­pi­tal staff to help sub­due her fa­ther.

Later, Natasha Johnson said, Candi Johnson ar­rived and spoke pri­vately with Con­ley Jr. Soon, Mi­ami-Dade po­lice came and ar­rested Natasha on al­le­ga­tions that she punched her own fa­ther. “She brain­washed my dad into think­ing I struck him at the hos­pi­tal,” Natasha said. “I never touched him.”

It got worse from there, Natasha said. As part of the crim­i­nal case, which was even­tu­ally dropped, a judge or­dered Natasha stay away from her own fa­ther. And she be­lieves her fa­ther was quickly coaxed into switch­ing al­le­giance and sign­ing over power of at­tor­ney to Candi Johnson. Later, she said, Johnson had her evicted from a Fort Laud­erdale prop­erty she rented from her fa­ther.

Over the en­su­ing months, ac­cord­ing to her rel­a­tives, Johnson pil­fered from Con­ley’s sav­ings, ne­glected to pay taxes on prop­er­ties and failed to care for the el­derly man — who had a stroke and two brain surg­eries and is now in hospice.

A year later, a Mi­amiDade judge or­dered her stripped of her power of at­tor­ney. “In the end, the judge was ask­ing her about his fi­nances and she couldn’t ac­count for the money that was be­ing spent,” said her niece, Ar­lene Johnson Byrd.

His fam­ily mem­bers say they com­plained re­peat­edly to the Florida De­part­ment of Chil­dren and Fam­i­lies about the poor care for Con­ley Jr., to no avail. De­spite re­peated re­quests from the Her­ald, DCF re­peat­edly re­fused to com­ment on the agency’s han­dling of Candi Johnson’s many cases.

Johnson and her chil­dren were clearly on DCF’s radar ear­lier this year, but ex­actly why re­main un­known be­cause of pri­vacy laws.

But this is known: On March 9, two DCF in­ves­ti­ga­tors vis­ited her house to re­move the chil­dren from her care. Ac­cord­ing to Mi­ami-Dade po­lice, she threat­ened the DCF work­ers and drove off with the chil­dren. One po­lice re­port said she duct­taped the kids’ mouths. “She said she had a gun,” ac­cord­ing to DCF spokesman David Frady.

The next day, a court is­sued a re­moval or­der for the chil­dren, while DCF con­tacted Mi­ami-Dade’s miss­ing-per­sons bureau, which turned to the U.S. Mar­shals Ser­vice to help find the kids.

Weeks later, on March 24, a tip led mar­shals to Martin County, where au­thor­i­ties said Johnson was speed­ing down In­ter­state 95 in a rented van. Of­fi­cers found three of her young chil­dren, with no seat belts on, in the back cargo hold. “The rear van door was also able to be opened from the in­side, with the door han­dle eas­ily reach­able by any small child,” ac­cord­ing to a Martin County Sher­iff’s re­port.

Deputies ar­rested Johnson on four counts of child ne­glect. She was not, how­ever, charged for her con­fronta­tion with DCF.

The rea­son: It wasn’t con­sid­ered kid­nap­ping be­cause DCF had not yet se­cured a court or­der to re­move the chil­dren. And no one ac­tu­ally saw Johnson with a gun when she threat­ened the in­ves­ti­ga­tors. She likely could have been charged with a mis­de­meanor as­sault.

“The [DCF] in­ves­ti­ga­tor did not wish to pur­sue charges of ver­bal threats against the sub­ject,” Mi­ami-Dade Po­lice Maj. Chris Carothers, of the spe­cial vic­tims unit, said in a state­ment.

The Mi­ami-Dade case from March was closed. But things were about to get messier and more vi­o­lent. One of her fa­ther’s ten­ants soon re­ported her to po­lice af­ter claim­ing Johnson sucker-punched her out­side a North Mi­ami-Dade li­brary; cops de­clined to ar­rest Johnson, say­ing there wasn’t enough ev­i­dence.

Court records show Johnson of­ten ac­cused her lovers of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, al­though ef­forts to get re­strain­ing or­ders ended be­cause she never showed up for court hear­ings. One of those men was Ter­rance Byrd, whom she married af­ter her ear­lier re­la­tion­ship with Lawrence ended.

On April 5, both Byrd and Johnson showed up to Mi­ami-Dade’s fam­ily court to file for re­strain­ing or­ders — against each other.

She claimed Byrd threat­ened to hit her with a glass fig­urine, and said he “falsely ac­cused” her of hav­ing a gun and ne­glect­ing her chil­dren. He said Johnson beat him up, bit him on the hand and even tried to run him over.

Then, the next day, Byrd showed up at the West Lit­tle River house in a rage, Mi­ami-Dade po­lice said. She told po­lice Byrd kicked down the door, “hit­ting and stomp­ing her,” ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest war­rant. Lawrence, her ex-lover, hap­pened to be at the house to change the locks, Johnson later told po­lice. The con­fronta­tion be­tween the men went bad. As Lawrence ran to his car to es­cape, Byrd be­gan shoot­ing, hit­ting Lawrence twice and killing him.

Mi­ami-Dade po­lice de­tec­tives ar­rested Byrd on a charge of sec­ond-de­gree mur­der. But even though she did not pull the trig­ger, Johnson soon came un­der sus­pi­cion of mas­ter­mind­ing the fa­tal encounter.

She gave cops con­flict­ing and ram­bling ac­counts of the shoot­ing. Her rel­a­tives in Syra­cuse, N.Y., told homi­cide de­tec­tives that Byrd had openly talked about killing Lawrence in front of Johnson.

“She 4 wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily pull the trig­ger, but she would al­low some­one else the op­por­tu­nity to do it,” her nephew told de­tec­tives in a recorded state­ment, adding. “Me per­son­ally, I be­lieve she called [Lawrence] over there and plot­ted on killing him.”

Byrd’s de­fense lawyer, James Demiles, sug­gested his client acted in self­de­fense — thanks to Johnson.

“There is no ques­tion she’s an ex­tremely ma­nip­u­la­tive per­son and she played a role in plac­ing Ter­rence in fear for his life,” Demiles said.

For now, Johnson is listed only as a wit­ness in the case against Byrd. She is not fac­ing any charges in the mur­der of her exlover. But the shoot­ing of the foster mother could put her away for a long time.

It was early on Aug. 31, po­lice say, that she and her 17-year-old son, Ed­wards, knocked on the door of the Rich­mond Heights home of the woman en­trusted by the state to care for two of Johnson’s mi­nor chil­dren. The foster mother, Ed­mond, had no idea who she was and the two pushed their way into the house, ac­cord­ing to an ar­rest war­rant.

When Ed­mond tried stop­ping them from tak­ing the chil­dren, Ed­wards shot the foster mother, po­lice said. She crum­pled to the floor and Ed­ward “stood over the vic­tim and shot her mul­ti­ple times while she laid on the floor,” the war­rant said.

With a cou­ple days, po­lice found the kids with Johnson, and she was ar­rested. Ed­wards was ar­rested soon af­ter­ward.

Ed­mond, who suf­fered a shat­tered fe­mur in the shoot­ing, is home re­cov­er­ing. She had surgery to in­sert a rod into her leg.

“My head is a lit­tle foggy,” Ed­mond told Mi­ami Her­ald news part­ner WFOR-CBS4 this week. “I am not in pain un­less I try to walk around and then I am in pain.

“I am con­fined to my wheel­chair and my walker to get around. But I have to tell you that I love be­ing a foster mother. I al­ways want kids to be safer and bet­ter. I want to con­tinue be­ing a foster mother be­cause kids have to have a safe place to go to and some­one who they can talk to.”

DE­FENSE LAWYER MAR­LENE MONTANER SAID JOHNSON HAS NOT BEEN PER­MA­NENTLY STRIPPED OF HER PARENTAL RIGHTS AND WANTS THEM BACK.

JOSE A. IGLESIAS jigle­sias@el­nuevo­her­ald.com

Candi Johnson sits in court in Septem­ber wait­ing to be ar­raigned in Judge Fine’s court­room at the Mi­ami-Dade County Court.

- Fam­ily pho­tos

Rel­a­tives have bat­tled over con­trol of the fi­nances of Con­ley Johnson Jr., a well-to-do Mi­ami prop­erty owner. He is pic­tured here in health­ier times, and in the hos­pi­tal since his health has fal­tered.

- Mi­ami-Dade Cor­rec­tions

Christo­pher Ed­wards

- Mi­ami-Dade Cor­rec­tions

Ter­rance Byrd

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