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Updated: 7:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 | Posted: 10:32 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013

DeKalb man gets life plus 80 years in killing of boy

By Marcus K. Garner

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Willie Kelsey killed a 7-year-old with 11 shots, and put five bullets in the child’s teenaged sister for only $100 and a show of loyalty to a friend.

His goal was to kill or intimidate witnesses to a brutal 2006 home invasion as part of his loose affiliation with a violent robbing crew that bullied DeKalb County homeowners, businesses and drug dealers for three years.

But Thursday, Kelsey wept when he owned up to his crimes and faced the dead child’s parents in court.

“How do you plead to the charge of murder?” DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Anna Green Cross asked Kelsey.

“Guilty,” he said, as his head dropped and he wiped tears from his face.

Later, he tried through tears to apologize to LaMonica and Timothy Johnson, Sr.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “If I could just bring him back … that’s all I can offer. I’m sorry.”

Kelsey accepted a negotiated plea deal that would give him life with the possibility of parole plus 80 years in prison, as opposed to the death sentence prosecutors initially sought when he was indicted in 2007.

Prosecutors said Kelsey’s mafia-style murder attempt was carried out as a means of eliminating witnesses to a violent break-in and robbery attempt nearly a year earlier.

On that earlier invasion, four men broke into the home of Timothy’s family on the night of June 10, 2006, brandishing guns and rifles, binding Timothy’s parents and his sister Alexus Sheppard amid threats of death, and repeatedly beating Timothy Johnson, Sr., with, among other things, brass knuckles … all with the hope of finding drugs and cash.

The bandits didn’t find what they were looking for, and were eventually arrested.

Kelsey’s friend Johnny Travitt was one of those arrested and along with Darren Batteast, Curtis Frezell and ring-leader Michael Baine, facing life in prison for the attack.

Travitt, who was out of jail on bond leading up to his trial, gave his friend money to sneak into the Toney Drive home where the family was staying and kill them, prosecutors said.

The day before Alexus and her parents LaMonica and Timothy Johnson Sr., were to testify against the four men responsible for the break-in, Kelsey broke into the home where the family was staying and opened fire in one of the bedrooms.

The trial was postponed until last year, and Travitt, along with two of his co-defendants, pleaded guilty to charges from the 2006 home invasion ranging from aggravated assault to kidnapping, and testified against Blaine.

Each of those co-defendants, along with the remaining members of the robbing crew, are in prison serving varying sentences.

Blaine eventually was convicted of the same charges and for an unrelated murder. He is serving out a dozen life prison terms.

DeKalb County District Attorney Robert James said his office agreed to the plea deal because the nearly-seven-year-old case presented challenges for prosecution and an ongoing emotional drain on Timothy’s family.

“After we looked at the case, we asked, what was best for this family?” James told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We take into consideration … their need to move on. We ask ourselves has the case gotten better or worse because of the amount of time that has transpired in this case.”

According to Georgia statute, prisoners serving life sentences are eligible for parole after 30 years, and DeKalb County Superior Judge Linda W. Hunter said Kelsey, 35, could get credit for time spent in jail since his December 2007 arrest.

It is unclear, however, whether parole eligibility will come before or after he served a portion of the additional 80 years tacked on tjhe life sentence.

James said Timothy shouldn’t have had to die.

“It’s almost like these people were acting like there were no consequences,” he said after Thursday’s plea hearing. “Why shoot a child? We’ll never know what his promise was.”

During the hearing Thursday, LaMonica Johnson’s words were lost in sobs as she looked at Kelsey.

“You took something from us that we can never get back,” she said before embracing her equally emotional husband.

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