Victim in Duluth Lakewalk beating forgives attackers
Walfrid David Ashlie Johnson told the court Monday that he is "commonly known as 'Dash,' '' but there's nothing common about him or his story.
The popular University of Minnesota Duluth student was found unconscious and bleeding from his head along the Lakewalk after being attacked by four teenagers just before 1 a.m. on May 20. He was robbed of his wallet and cell phone as he walked alone between the Fitger's complex and Leif Erikson Park.
Three of those teenagers were sentenced in St. Louis County District Court on Monday and a fourth admitted to his role in the beating.
Outside the courtroom, accompanied by his parents, Wally and Ruth Johnson of Arden Hills, Minn., Johnson said he forgave his attackers, hoped they used their time behind bars to better themselves and he thanked members of the defendants' families for apologizing to him for what their loved ones had done to him.
Inside the courtroom, Johnson told Judge John DeSanto how rough the road to recovery has been.
Johnson, 21, said he has no memory of the assault and the first three weeks of hospitalization. He was beaten and stomped so severely that one relative said his face was unrecognizable. He spent five days in intensive care and four weeks in the brain injury unit of a Twin Cities hospital.
He said that he was told by his physicians that he needed constant supervision, could not drive, could not work and twice a week needed to attend outpatient speech therapy for his brain injury.
He dedicated himself to getting better. He passed a three-hour driving assessment in August and returned to UMD this fall. He's taking a reduced academic load because of his brain injury, with two classes in his major field of communications and a jazz studies class.
He now thinks he will need a fifth year to graduate.
Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Angie Shambour prosecuted the four defendants who were involved in the Johnson assault and robbery.
Myron Ellis Clark, 17, pleaded guilty to first-
degree assault and first-
degree aggravated robbery. He was sentenced Monday to eight years, seven months in prison for the first-degree assault and 68 months in prison for the aggravated robbery to be served at the same time.
Julie Ann Isham, 18, pleaded guilty to first-
degree aggravated robbery in Johnson's beating and was sentenced Monday to 41 months in prison. In a separate case, Isham pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a teenage girl and was sentenced to another 41 months in prison for that crime a total of nearly eight years.
The grandmother of the teenage girl Isham sexually assaulted presented a victim impact statement to the court and addressed the defendant. "My only hope for you while you are doing your time is that a transformation of wellness will come upon your cruel heart and mind, for the well-being of all mankind,'' the grandmother said.
Marcus Lee St. Clair, 16, was handled in juvenile court. He admitted to first-degree assault and was adjudicated delinquent. He will undergo juvenile programming at the Minnesota Correctional Facility in Red Wing.
A 14-year-old boy admitted in juvenile court Monday that he participated in a first-degree assault. He will receive juvenile sanctions. His name is not public information because of his age.
"I think they definitely deserve what they got, but hopefully they can learn from it,'' Johnson said outside the courtroom. "It's in the past. Nothing I say will change what happened in the past so I just hope for them to become better.
"I want them to improve themselves. I don't want them to just go there to serve the time. I want them to take something from it. I want them to turn their lives around.''
Isham's father approached Johnson outside the courtroom. He extended his hand and said he was sorry. Johnson shook his hand. In a separate sentencing hearing Monday, Clark's mother sobbed throughout the sentencing of her son. After the hearing she approached Johnson and they hugged.
"I want to say thanks to all of the families that apologized to me afterward; that was great,'' Johnson said.
Johnson's parents said they were especially proud Monday of the graciousness their son displayed toward the families of the teenagers who took part in his beating.
"Several family members approached him and I thought he handled them graciously and I was very proud of him,'' Ruth Johnson said. "We were particularly proud of the way he handled himself today with the other families.''