St. Paul murder sentencing: ‘He is a coward,’ victim’s sister says of man who shot through window of home

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Lashonda Nix had so much going for her and to look forward to.

The 40-year-old mother of four was expecting her second grandchild and was to soon graduate from her studies in medical billing and coding.

Lashonda Nix (Courtesy of the family)

But then Curtrez Darale Johnson showed up at her St. Paul home last December carrying a gun and grudge. He knocked on the door of the Payne-Phalen home, where his son was shot and injured six days earlier.

When Nix peeked through a curtain of her interior porch door, Johnson fired once, shooting her in the head and killing her.

“A person like the defendant doesn’t deserve to see the light of day,” Nix’s younger sister, Sharonda Nix, said Wednesday before Johnson, of St. Paul, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for the Dec. 16 killing. “He is a coward.”

Jurors found Johnson, 41, guilty of second-degree intentional murder on Sept. 11, following five days of testimony and about six hours in deliberation. Johnson, who denied being the shooter, was also convicted of possessing a firearm after conviction of a crime of violence.

Johnson’s attorney, Kristian Oyen, asked Judge Laura Nelson on Wednesday to follow a pre-sentence investigation, which recommended a 30½-year prison term.

Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Maureen Cleary, while noting Nix was murdered in front of her children, argued that 36½ years — the top end of state sentencing guidelines — would be appropriate.

“That is a trauma that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Cleary said. “They had to watch her die. They had to be taken down to the police station to recount everything that they had just experienced. And I think her sister just explained to the court just how devastating this loss has been to the family.”

Cleary added that Johnson “has not shown any remorse” and refused to participate in the court-ordered pre-sentence investigation.

Johnson declined to say anything to the court before receiving his sentence.

Loud knocks, then a shot

Lashonda Nix’s 19-year-old son witnessed his mother being shot. There were three loud knocks on the interior front door of the home in the 600 block of East Cook Avenue.

Curtrez Darale Johnson (Courtesy of the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office)

Nix asked, “Who is it?” but no one responded and the knocking continued, the criminal complaint said. Nix peeked through a curtain, and her son heard a gunshot and saw her fall to the floor.

Six days earlier, on Dec. 13, officers were called to the home after Johnson’s 18-year-old son was shot in the face.

After Nix was killed, a 16-year-old told police that he believed the 18-year-old’s father, later identified as Johnson, had shot Nix when she looked out the window. The 16-year-old said he saw someone get into a white truck in the street, which he’d seen Johnson driving in the past.

The 16-year-old also said Johnson was upset that his son had been shot while at the Cook Avenue address and had knocked on the door a few days earlier, but Nix told him not to answer and he didn’t.

They had the outer door locked when Johnson showed up previously, but it wasn’t locked Dec. 19 and the shooter went onto the porch.

Analysis of Johnson’s cellphone data showed he was in the area of the Cook Avenue residence twice on Dec. 14, twice the next day and at the time that Nix was shot.

In an interview with homicide investigators, Johnson said that “he knew what this was about” and “the mother of the kid who shot (his son) was ‘injured,’” according to the complaint.

He told police that he drove past the spot where his son was shot every day. He said he wouldn’t hurt anyone, but “if he were going to retaliate it would be against the person who did something” to his son, the complaint said.

Grandchild born on victim’s birthday

Sharonda Nix told the court Wednesday that she was supposed to go over to his sister’s house the night she was killed. Because it was snowing, she decided to call her through FaceTime video instead.

“She showed me that (her grandson) was there,” Nix said. “And we laughed. … I told her that I loved her and that we would talk later, thinking that we had time, not knowing that would be the last time I would hear her voice or see her smile.”

Lashonda’s father, Tarlyn Sanders, told the judge he cannot understand how a man could shoot an innocent woman.

“For what reason?” Sanders said. “Did she do something personal to him? And then to find out that it was something dumb about his son, who is still walking around.”

Watching Lashonda’s teenage children “try so hard to be strong, to have to live without their mom is so painful,” said her mother, Mary Nix. “She had absolutely nothing to do with the man that these teenagers got themselves into, nothing at all. If anything, she tried to help.”

On July 3, Lashonda’s birthday, her second grandchild, a granddaughter, was born.

“(Johnson) took the time that my sister would have had to watch her kids create their future, spoiling her grandkids,” Sharonda Nix said. “He took away the safe space that she created for her children. But what he didn’t know, or what he didn’t think about, was that he also took that same time from himself. Justice can be done, or given to us, by giving him time.”

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