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An act of grace



Donyell Johnson and grandaughter Sache, 3. Photo by David Day
Donyell Johnson and grandaughter Sache, age 3. Photo by David Day.

Donyell Johnson lost her son, Christopher Johnson, in July of 2020 to a gunshot from his ex, Talisha Butler.

The two have been in a turbulent relationship for several years and Butler had cut it off a few months prior to the shooting. Butler claimed Johnson stalked her, caused damage to her property and, in general, made her life a living hell.

The family of Christopher Johnson said he was getting help and had not seen Talisha for several weeks prior to the day he was shot.

July 2020, behind Boston Fish Supreme

On that day a fight happened between Johnson and his sister, reportedly over Butler. Johnson showed up at the parking lot behind Boston Fish Supreme on Clay Street. He was there to fight his sister, but when he pulled up on the lot Talisha Butler was there as well. Butler had a restraining order on Johnson. The judge had also put a restraining order on Butler, but Butler was at that location first. Johnson and his sister fought and at one point, according to Butler, Johnson looked at her, and Butler felt threatened.

The scene of the shooting, July 15, 2020. Photo by David Day

The scene of the shooting, July 15, 2020. Photo by David Day

Here is where it gets legal.

Butler had a gun. A gun she says she had obtained specifically to protect herself from Johnson. When Johnson, while fighting his sister, turned towards Butler she pulled the trigger. But the gun did not fire. The magazine wasn’t properly loaded into the gun and there was not a bullet chambered. To make it worse, the magazine dropped onto the parking lot. Butler had to bend down to get the magazine and load it into the gun. She then had to chamber a bullet and pull the trigger.

The time from when she first pulled the trigger to the time that she shot the bullet is why this case came to trial. Butler had time to realize the threat wasn’t imminent, but Butler was also coming out of what she claims was an abusive relationship. An abused person does not always respond rationally to a threat, perceived or real, from their abuser.

A trial and sentencing

The jury found Butler guilty of “heat of passion” manslaughter. The judge could sentence Butler anywhere from 1 to 20 years for the finding.

Talisha Butler turned to her family and said, "It's okay. It's okay. It is better I walk out of here than they carry me out in a box." Photo by David Day

Talisha Butler turned to her family and said, “It’s okay. It’s okay. It is better I walk out of here than they carry me out in a box.” Photo by David Day

At the sentencing hearing on Friday, Butler’s sister and mother addressed the judge. They asked the court to consider the specifics of the case and especially the impact on the life of the 3-year-old Sache, daughter of Christopher Johnson and Talisha Butler.

Then Donyell Johnson, mother of the deceased, Christopher Johnson, addressed the court from the podium. Donyell Johnson spoke harshly to Butler’s defense attorney for the things said about her son during the trial. She didn’t like the tone or the words he used and she defended her son because “…he isn’t here to defend himself and I’m going to ask you to respect my son.” After that, Donyell Johnson looked toward Judge Chaney and, fighting through tears, told the judge, “As far as my granddaughter, it has always been my number one thing, is for her not to be bothered by this trial. And she does ask for her mom, and I tell her mom is at work and she’ll be back. But she knows, she’s smart, she knows her mom is not at work. She asks for her mom all the time.”

The scene on Friday, July 22,2022. Photo by David Day

The scene in the courtroom on Friday, July, 22, 2022. Photo by David Day

“But, I’ll bend over backward and it’s all for my granddaughter, so I am asking for leniency to her momma.” Talisha Butler can be heard crying in the background while Johnson is speaking. “I’m asking for leniency because Sache deserves it. I’ll do what I have to do to look after the girl, so I am asking for leniency for her momma.”

Talisha Butler, through tears, says “Thank you! Thank you!”

Prosecutor Branan Southerland immediately addressed the court and said, “Twelve jurors convicted her of manslaughter. Originally we were going to ask for a heavier sentence. After meeting with Mrs. Johnson, she’s asked that I recommend 20 years with 5 to serve. Based on that, she will probably do a couple of years and be out with her daughter.”

Judge Chaney, who will bury his father on Saturday, deftly summed up the case by saying, “I understand. This is a tragic case.” He sentenced Butler to 20 years with 5 to serve.

Amazing grace

Talisha Butler would be spending a lot more time in jail if not for the kindness and forgiveness of Donyell Johnson. Donyell Johnson loves and misses her son, but she also has enough love to show Talisha Butler amazing grace.

Donyell Johnson hugs Talisha Butler as she leaves the courtoom. Phtot by David Day

Donyell Johnson hugs Talisha Butler as she leaves the courtroom. Photo by David Day.




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