A Lynchburg man will serve 55 years in prison for murdering the mother of his child.
Monday morning, Cordell Lionel Carter, 50, appeared for sentencing in Amherst Circuit Court after a jury convicted him in September of 30-year-old Jennifer Johnson’s death.
Johnson’s father, David Harper, took the stand as one of two witnesses for the prosecution.
When asked how Johnson’s death affected him, he sighed and set a pair of reading glasses atop his nose to read from his prepared notes.
“There is a family that has been broken up. Jennifer’s laughter and smile will be missed on the holidays,” Harper said. “My only concern is justice for Jennifer.”
At Carter’s two-day jury trial in September, prosecutors said Carter went to Johnson’s house on South Amherst Highway the afternoon of Jan. 14.
Johnson’s two sons, the younger of whom was fathered by Carter, sat in the living room playing video games as Carter went into the bedroom and shut the door behind him, according to the prosecution.
Johnson’s oldest son testified at the trial that he heard arguing and then a loud thud. Afterward, Carter rushed from the house.
Throughout the trial, Carter’s attorney, Joseph Sanzone, argued Johnson had a history of violence. He told jurors Johnson and Carter fought over the gun after she pointed it at him.
Monday morning, Harper said the defense inaccurately described his daughter as “a monster.”
“She was a very loving and caring woman,” Harper said. “Jennifer was to graduate from Liberty [University] four months after her murder.”
Prosecutors argued in September that Carter killed Johnson after she threatened to blackmail him by exposing sex tapes. A digital-forensics expert with the Lynchburg Police Department said videos showed a black man engaging in sex acts with Johnson’s mother and sister in separate videos.
That sister, Jamie Harper, awaits a trial in January on a misdemeanor charge of accessory after the fact. The Amherst County Sheriff’s Office has said Harper drove Carter around after her sister’s murder, as deputies searched for him.
Carter initially was charged with first-degree murder and use of a firearm in commission of murder.
A new charge was brought against him Monday morning. He pleaded not guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Neither the prosecution nor the defense presented arguments on the new charge.
“The evidence would have been the same in this case,” Sanzone told Judge J. Michael Gamble. The new charge added two years to the 53 years recommended by the jury.
Before sentencing, Commonwealth’s Attorney Stephanie Maddox argued while Carter’s family may visit him in prison, Johnson’s family will never see her again.
“Jennifer’s family only has their memories of her,” Maddox said. “We are here today for justice for Jennifer.”
David Harper told the court Monday that Johnson’s youngest son now lives with her younger sister, Carrie Tomlin.
“She has to answer questions about what happened to his mother and his father,” Maddox said. “They have to grow up without her.”
Sanzone highlighted how the case also has rocked the Carter family.
“You have grieving people on both sides,” the defense attorney said.
Carter’s family filled the seats of the gallery Monday, waiting for Gamble to hand down the sentence.
A probation officer testified Monday morning that Carter admitted to having 12 children.
Given the opportunity to speak, Carter simply shook his head indicating he did not wish to address the court.
Sanzone has said he intends to appeal Carter’s case. Monday morning, Sanzone told the court “an avalanche of information” has surfaced.
After sentencing, the defense has 30 days to file a notice of appeal with the Virginia Court of Appeals in Richmond.