A very sad Mother’s Day for two families

Posted Sunday, May. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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sanders It was a day I remember well because I don’t think I’d ever seen my barber happier.

As I took my seat in the swivel chair — before he draped me with the cape — Geno showed me a picture of himself holding a baby girl. It was his new child, and the pride showed on his face, particularly in his wide eyes.

I was glad for him because on occasion he had talked about his “relationship problems” with a longtime girlfriend. Perhaps this new state of joy and contentment would be long-lasting.

But it was not to be.

This past week I’ve thought a lot about that little girl who, this Mother’s Day, has neither her mother nor her father.

When I entered the barber shop one afternoon in December 2011, the woman who now cuts my hair asked in a soft voice, “Well, I guess you heard what happened to Geno?”

Shocked by the question, I responded that I had not heard. Then she told me that the man who had been cutting my hair for three or four years had been charged with killing his girlfriend, Jennifer Johnson, and wounding her mother. I had read a news story of the tragic incident, but I didn’t make the connection because I didn’t know Geno’s full name, Eugene Esters.

Geno, 48, went on trial for the murder last week in state District Judge Robb Catalano’s court. Testimony showed that he had slept in his vehicle outside the girlfriend’s townhouse that Sunday night and that they got into an argument the next morning as he was moving his belongings from the home.

That afternoon, while Jennifer’s mother, Della Johnson, was helping her daughter jump-start her car, Geno blocked their cars with his Suburban, got out and started firing a 9mm handgun, hitting his girlfriend four times and shooting her mom, testimony showed.

He then held the gun to his chin and pulled the trigger. There were no more bullets in weapon.

“If I hadn’t run out of bullets, we wouldn’t be here,” he told a police investigator later.

When I saw him in the courtroom, he appeared gaunt and listless, peering into space and refusing to make eye contact with anyone, especially Jennifer’s family, which included her mother and her famous brother, Chris Johnson, a cornerback for the Baltimore Ravens.

Once, while being escorted from the holding cell to his seat at the defendant’s table, he acknowledged an uncle in the courtroom by raising his eyebrows but he quickly returned to that dazed stare. Except for the trademark long dreadlocks, he looked quite different from the lively, humorous and intellectual person who could easily debate about sports, music and world events.

I realized that I knew little about Geno, except that he had been raised in California and had a grandmother here whom he loved dearly.

The uncle, Williams Esters, testified during the punishment phase of the trial. Afterward, he gave me a little more of Geno’s history.

He said Geno never knew his father, who was a “gang-banger” in and out of prison and died behind bars when Geno was 5 or 6 years old. His mother, who had given birth to him when she was 16, died when her oldest child was 11 or 12, leaving Geno and his younger brother to be raised by their maternal grandmother, the uncle said.

Williams Esters said his nephew has an older daughter in San Antonio who had recently become a mom, making Geno a grandfather. He and Geno were scheduled to go see her the weekend before the shooting, and the uncle feels the tragedy would not have happened if they had made that trip.

Geno has been sentenced to life in prison.

My heart pains for both families, as there are no winners here. If any good has come of it, it’s that Geno’s child is now being raised by her uncle and his wife, who have the means and the will to care for her.

This is a sad Mother’s Day for a lot of people, I’m sure.

But it’s particularly sad this year for a little girl who lost her mom to violence, a mother who lost a daughter that December day and a 91-year-old grandmother who probably will never see again that grandson she raised after the death of his own mom.

Bob Ray Sanders’ column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7775 Twitter: @BobRaySanders

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