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Posted November 20, 2009 | 10 Comments
Mother of slain teen won't rest on her conviction that the killer's punishment didn't fit the crime
By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
STRASBURG -- The bullet that ripped through her son's skull also broke Janeen Johannsen's heart and spirit.
"The trick is I don't sleep; I'm driven out of my bed," Johannsen says of how she's managed to get up each day since Jan. 6 -- the day Jody Lynn Bradley, of 189 Wakemans Grove Road, Edinburg, shot and killed her son, 16-year-old Brendon Manning Barker.
Johannsen talked about those terrors, and how her life has changed since the slaying, on Wednesday afternoon, just a few hours after Bradley was sentenced to 12 years in prison, a term she says is far too lenient for the crime.
Sitting in her Strasburg home, she said the grief over her son has made sleep elusive.
"I have a lot of night terrors," Johannsen says. "For the first nine, 10 months, you can't even call what I did sleeping. And, I would take quite a cocktail of prescription drugs."
On top of the anti-depressant, anti-anxiety and barbiturate medications, she would sometimes take an antihistamine and "pray that it would knock you out."
"I would fall asleep for about three hours -- unconscious more than sleep -- and then I would wake up in this panic," Johannsen says as she stands in her Strasburg home with the three photo boards that were displayed at Barker's memorial.
Suicide became "a welcome idea," so she sought counseling, but thought the therapist could not relate to the experience of having a child murdered. After a few months, Johannsen stopped taking the anti-depressant "because in a large way I want to be able to take the time to feel this fully."
"As a mother losing your child, there is nothing that can prepare you for this kind of grief," she says. "It destroys your life. How do you find the strength and the courage to pick yourself up and begin a new life? I know firsthand that you reject any possibility because you don't want to imagine a life without your child."
In many of the pictures on the photo boards, Barker is holding animals -- kittens, full-grown cats, a raccoon, dogs. Like his mother, he was heavily involved in animal rescue. Other pictures show him as a curly-haired infant with big blue eyes. He wanted to be a biologist, his mother says, and he was humble and peaceful.
Johannsen says her son's presence with her is "palpable."
Barker's family is angry that Bradley's defense attorney, Gene Hart, portrayed the boy as a drug pusher during the trial. Bradley's daughter, Sarah, was dating Barker, and she has said Barker had actually tried to get her to cut down on her marijuana use.
Her son may have occasionally smoked marijuana, Johannsen says, but toxicology reports showed there were no drugs in his system at the time of his slaying. She is upset that fact was never brought up by prosecutors during the trial because it would counter Hart's assertions.
Bradley was abusive to his daughter, according to Johannsen, and Barker was always worried about her, but prosecutor Ken Alger did not want to bring in Bradley's history.
"This is what he said, 'There's enough evidence, clear-cut evidence, that this is a first-degree murder case,'" Johannsen says. "How wrong could he have been?"
Instead, the jury convicted Bradley of second-degree murder and recommended a sentence of nine years in prison, with three more years tacked on for using a gun.
Before the case went to trial, prosecutors offered Bradley a deal that would let him plead guilty to second-degree murder, a deal that was against her wishes, Johannsen says. Bradley turned it down.
"I said I really feel it's important to fight for my son," she says.
Last November, after Bradley found Barker in his home, he called Johannsen and told her he would shoot her son if he caught him there again. It was a threat she and her husband took seriously, and they made Barker promise not to return.
Johannsen later found out one of Sarah's counselors and an assistant principal at Central High School heard Bradley make the same threats. A magistrate told her filing a complaint about the threat would do little good.
When she found out her son had gone back to the Bradley home, Johannsen grounded him and took his car keys. She later learned that the night before he was killed, a deputy found Barker at Bradley's house, but did not tell his parents because he did not want the boy to get in trouble.
"There would've been no way I would've let Brendon out of the house the next day," Johannsen says. "His keys would've been taken back. That's just added to this tremendous amount of guilt that I will carry until I pass away because I couldn't save my son. I don't care what other people think [regarding] whether I parented him correctly or not. I know the truth of that matter. I wasn't even given the chance to protect my son, and that's a hell that I live with every day."
To her, Bradley is a "coward," and "morally bankrupt."
She worries about the moment Barker realized what was about to happen to him.
"This is something that tortures me -- I don't know how many seconds just before he pulled the trigger," Johannsen says. "The feelings that my son must have experienced. And then I get a very vivid and clear picture of -- and having worked in the animal medical field -- I know exactly what these types of injuries do. So, I'm left with visions of my son with his skull fractured and his brain matter."
The idea of her son's autopsy horrifies her, too.
"If you can imagine, your child, cold, dead, and having done [animal] autopsies, removing his organs and trying to piece back together the parts that have been fractured," Johannsen says.
At the funeral home, three people spent 12 hours on her son's body.
"[They] reconstructed his head so that I could see him for closure," Johannsen says. "His body had deteriorated and been cut so extensively, that I couldn't even hold his hand one last time. I couldn't see him."
After the trial, Johannsen got a call on her cell phone warning her to watch her back. She thinks it came from a Bradley relative.
In the future, Johannsen hopes to work on programs to change attitudes in the region.
"This idea of I can shoot whoever I want [if they're on my property] is ingrained," she says. "These children are learning it from their parents."
Johannsen also hopes to help change the legal system. She thinks there was jury misconduct during the trial.
People used to tease Johannsen and Barker for their long goodbyes and closeness.
"That day, he came to me once, walked to the door," she says. "He gave me this look, forlorn and sad, and walked back to me and gave me another big hug, gave me a kiss and said, 'I love you, Mom.'
"He walked out the door and I never saw my son again."