NFL player takes on domestic violence after sister’s slaying

Posted Wednesday, May. 15, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Those who wish to contact the Showtime37 Foundation or Pretty Smart Girls Foundation can visit the web sites at www.ChrisJohnson37.com or www.PrettySmartGirls.org

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Raised with two sisters by a single mom, Chris Johnson heard all about the violence that often surrounds women while he was growing up.

But he says he never thought much about it until his sister was struck down by multiple gunshot wounds to her chest and head by a man who said he loved her.

As a result, Johnson, who plays cornerback with the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, started Showtime 37, a nonprofit organization that helps connect victims of domestic violence with resources that can help them break free from their abusers.

“I just wanted to be one of the voices that showed a way out,” Johnson said. “You see too many cases of men killing women just like what happened to my sister. A real man doesn’t like to see another man put his hands on a woman.”

Eugene Esters, 48, the man convicted last week of murdering Johnson’s sister, is in Tarrant County jail awaiting transfer to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility where he will serve a life prison sentence.

Chris Johnson’s wife, Mioshi, also joined the cause to break the cycle of violence after her sister-in-law’s death.

“Girls need to know what they should not stand for,” said Mioshi Johnson, who started an organization called Pretty Smart Girls to help young women make good decisions about relationships.

Jennifer Johnson and her mother, Della Johnson, were shot in the parking lot of the La Plaza apartment complex off Woodhaven Boulevard in east Fort Worth on the afternoon of Dec. 5, 2011. Esters had been living with Johnson at La Plaza, but she had told him to move out, according to a police report.

Esters told police he slept in his car the night before the shooting. When Della Johnson, 53, arrived at her daughter’s home the next day to help jump-start her car, Esters and Jennifer Johnson began to argue. Esters shot both women, according to the report.

The knowledge that his sister’s killer will likely never leave prison has not made anything easier, Johnson said, although the family is relieved that the trial is over.

Johnson quit the Oakland Raider football team after his sister was murdered and moved Jennifer’s two daughters to Aledo to live with him and his wife and their three children. Jennifer’s girls are being raised with Della Johnson’s help.

“We were already a pretty close-knit family,” Johnson said. “My mother-in-law moved closer to us and that helped. Some kind of way, through God, it works. The only missing component in everyone’s life is Jennifer, who was taken away from us.”

Relatives said they tried to give Jennifer Johnson’s killer a good upbringing. Eugene Esters was raised by his grandparents in Merced, Calif., according to William Esters, his uncle. Esters’ father was in and out of jail while he was growing up and his mom died when he was 11 or 12, William Esters said.

“He was very confused about growing up without knowing who his father was,” William Esters said during a telephone interview on Tuesday. “He still wants to be able to see relatives from his dad’s side of the family. They are as deeply shocked about this as anyone.”

Eugene was taken to church every Sunday and had special teachers to help him overcome his learning difficulties, Mittie Esters Brewer, his 91-year-old grandmother, said. Eugene wasn’t raised to harm people, she said.

“He had one of his tantrums,” Brewer said about the murder. “He went berserk. We know what the Bible says, but we don’t always do what Mom and Dad say. You have to hold your temper. You have to do the right thing.”

As a young man living in Gladewater, Johnson said his life also was on a destructive track, one that included selling drugs and forging checks. Early criminal history included a week-long stint in a juvenile detention center and later, two days in Gregg County jail. Johnson said he had a relationship with his father, but they did not live together.

“You have to be better than your situation,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people who didn’t grow up with a father or mother who are successful and sought after.”

The birth of his first daughter when he was a senior in high school gave Johnson an incentive to turn his life around.

“I made a promise to her to not get into trouble from that point on,” Johnson said.

In April, Johnson and his wife took their message to more than 200 students who participated in the sixth annual Irving Youth Summit hosted and sponsored by the Believing in God and Depending on God’s Strength (BIG DOGS) Foundation, said A.D. Jenkins, Big Dogs’ president.

At the Irving Youth Summit, Johnson talked about his career in the National Football League and how very few people believed he would ever play professional football while he was in high school. Johnson said he uses his past experiences when he talks with young people.

“Some might be going through the same thing I did and they don’t think they can break out of it,” Johnson said. “Just because you got into trouble, doesn’t mean it’s the end of your life.”

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752 Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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