Crime

‘Candi Johnson is evil.’ The story of a Miami mom suspected of engineering two shootings

Candi Johnson, a mom suspected of engineering two shootings

Candi Johnson is a Miami mom suspected of engineering two shootings Her ex-boyfriend and her teenage son's foster mom were shot. And although she didn’t pull the trigger, she’s been charged for both incidents.
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Candi Johnson is a Miami mom suspected of engineering two shootings Her ex-boyfriend and her teenage son's foster mom were shot. And although she didn’t pull the trigger, she’s been charged for both incidents.

Her ex-boyfriend, the father of some of her many children, wound up shot dead at the hands of her new lover. A few months later, police say she and a teen son stormed a South Miami-Dade home where state child-welfare workers had placed two of her other kids — a break-in that left an elderly foster mother gravely wounded from gunshots.

Candi Johnson didn’t pull the trigger either time. But police and prosecutors believe she pulled the strings that led to both shootings. The accusations hardly came as a surprise to some of her own weary relatives, who have clashed with her for years.

“Candi Johnson is evil,” said her niece, Arlene Byrd Johnson, 56. “She’s wicked and evil.”

Johnson is now in a Miami-Dade County jail awaiting trial for attempted murder, kidnapping with a weapon, armed burglary and interfering with child custody. Her teenage son, Christopher Edwards, 17, is charged alongside her and is accused of repeatedly shooting 77-year-old foster mother Wendy Edmond during the Aug. 31 home invasion.

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That shooting is just the latest trouble in a long history of conflict and crime involving Johnson, a 34-year-old who police say has several aliases, including “Ann Prince.” “Sexy Red” is tattooed on her left leg.

Johnson once served five years in prison for child abuse and fleeing police, then got arrested again after cops say she threatened a child-welfare worker and roamed the eastern seaboard with her kids hidden in the back of a rental van. At one time or another, relatives say, every one of her nine children has wound up being taken away by the state for their own protection.

Relatives also have battled with her over control of a real-estate business once run by her Alzheimer’s-stricken half brother, saying Johnson drained his fortune while letting his health decline to the point he is now hospitalized.

One nephew told police: “She’s selfish. She’s all about herself. If she’s not the center of attention, then her world is in chaos.”

Candi Johnson is one of several daughters born to Conley Johnson Sr., a Miami businessman who was 68 when she was born. As a teen, her family says, she grew up in Opa-locka and fell in with a bad crowd. She first got pregnant at age 12.

There are few details available about Candi Johnson’s youth. Her full sister, one of her few supporters , declined to speak to the Miami Herald. Her defense lawyer, Marlene Montaner, said she is still reviewing the evidence in the latest case but that her “client is innocent until proven guilty” and the foster system that cared for her children leaves “long lasting scars.”

Montaner said Johnson has not been permanently stripped of her parental rights and wants them back. “She is fighting for them.” Montaner said of ongoing proceedings in family court.

Records show Johnson’s first major conviction came in in 2006, when she led deputies on a chase through Madison and Jefferson counties, with children in the car. She pleaded guilty to fleeing and eluding police and was put on probation. But Johnson kept violating probation — including for ditching a woman’s shelter without permission — and she was eventually sent to prison to complete a five-year prison term.

When she got out, Johnson returned to Miami, where she met James “Cowboy” Lawrence, of Opa-locka, who was 20 years her senior. They would have five children together in a relationship marked by allegations of domestic abuse on both sides.

By 2016, Johnson was living in cheap motels with her young children. That’s when a relative, Natasha Johnson, offered to move her into one of an apartment owned by her father, for just $500 a month.

“I felt sorry for her and the kids,” said Natasha Johnson, whose father is Candi’s Johnson’s half-brother, Conley Johnson Jr.

Conley Johnson Jr., who once was a longshoreman, has build up a small real empire, remodeling and also buying. He lived in a sprawling house in Miami’s Little River neighborhood, a home he built with his own hands over years.

“He worked on docks and this was something he did on the side and it just blossomed,” said one of his son’s, Erick Johnson, of Chicago. “He made a very good living off of it. He became a self-made millionaire with properties all over Dade and Broward.”

But by the time Candi Johnson entered the picture, Conley Johnson Jr. was suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, suffering bouts of confusion and paranoia. Because of his condition, he gave his daughter Natasha “power of attorney” over his affairs — a legal designation allowing her to collect rent from tenants, manage his business affairs and oversee his health care.

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Relatives have battled over control of the finances of Conley Johnson Jr., a well-to-do Miami property owner. He is pictured here in healthier times, and in the hospital since his health has faltered. - Family photos

All that changed on April 1, 2016, when Conley Jr. was at North Shore Medical Center. In a bout of paranoia, Natasha Johnson said, he charged at her and she asked hospital staff to help subdue her father.

Later, Natasha Johnson said, Candi Johnson arrived and spoke privately with Conley Jr. Soon, Miami-Dade police came and arrested Natasha on allegations that she punched her own father. “She brainwashed my dad into thinking I struck him at the hospital,” Natasha said. “I never touched him.”

It got worse from there, Natasha said. As part of the criminal case, which was eventually dropped, a judge ordered Natasha stay away from her own father. And she believes her father was quickly coaxed into switching allegiance and signing over power of attorney to Candi Johnson. Later, she said, Johnson had her evicted from a Fort Lauderdale property she rented from her father.

Over the ensuing months, according to her relatives, Johnson pilfered from Conley’s savings, neglected to pay taxes on properties and failed to care for the elderly man — who had a stroke and two brain surgeries and is now in hospice.

A year later, a Miami-Dade judge ordered her stripped of her power of attorney. “In the end, the judge was asking her about his finances and she couldn’t account for the money that was being spent,” said her niece, Arlene Johnson Byrd.

His family members say they complained repeatedly to the Florida Department of Children and Families about the poor care for Conley Jr., to no avail. Despite repeated requests from the Herald, DCF repeatedly refused to comment on the agency’s handling of Candi Johnson’s many cases.

Johnson and her children were clearly on DCF’s radar earlier this year, but exactly why remain unknown because of privacy laws.

But this is known: On March 9, two DCF investigators visited her house to remove the children from her care. According to Miami-Dade police, she threatened the DCF workers and drove off with the children. One police report said she duct-taped the kids’ mouths. “She said she had a gun,” according to DCF spokesman David Frady.

The next day, a court issued a removal order for the children, while DCF contacted Miami-Dade’s missing-persons bureau, which turned to the U.S. Marshals Service to help find the kids.

Weeks later, on March 24, a tip led marshals to Martin County, where authorities said Johnson was speeding down Interstate 95 in a rented van. Officers found three of her young children, with no seat belts on, in the back cargo hold. “The rear van door was also able to be opened from the inside, with the door handle easily reachable by any small child,” according to a Martin County Sheriff’s report.

Deputies arrested Johnson on four counts of child neglect. She was not, however, charged for her confrontation with DCF.

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The reason: It wasn’t considered kidnapping because DCF had not yet secured a court order to remove the children. And no one actually saw Johnson with a gun when she threatened the investigators. She likely could have been charged with a misdemeanor assault.

“The [DCF] investigator did not wish to pursue charges of verbal threats against the subject,” Miami-Dade Police Maj. Chris Carothers, of the special victims unit, said in a statement.

The Miami-Dade case from March was closed. But things were about to get messier and more violent. One of her father’s tenants soon reported her to police after claiming Johnson sucker-punched her outside a North Miami-Dade library; cops declined to arrest Johnson, saying there wasn’t enough evidence.

Court records show Johnson often accused her lovers of domestic violence, although efforts to get restraining orders ended because she never showed up for court hearings. One of those men was Terrance Byrd, whom she married after her earlier relationship with Lawrence ended.

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Terrance Byrd - Miami-Dade Corrections

On April 5, both Byrd and Johnson showed up to Miami-Dade’s family court to file for restraining orders — against each other.

She claimed Byrd threatened to hit her with a glass figurine, and said he “falsely accused” her of having a gun and neglecting her children. He said Johnson beat him up, bit him on the hand and even tried to run him over.

Then, the next day, Byrd showed up at the West Little River house in a rage, Miami-Dade police said. She told police Byrd kicked down the door, “hitting and stomping her,” according to an arrest warrant. Lawrence, her ex-lover, happened to be at the house to change the locks, Johnson later told police. The confrontation between the men went bad. As Lawrence ran to his car to escape, Byrd began shooting, hitting Lawrence twice and killing him.

Miami-Dade police detectives arrested Byrd on a charge of second-degree murder. But even though she did not pull the trigger, Johnson soon came under suspicion of masterminding the fatal encounter.

She gave cops conflicting and rambling accounts of the shooting. Her relatives in Syracuse, N.Y., told homicide detectives that Byrd had openly talked about killing Lawrence in front of Johnson.

“She wasn’t necessarily pull the trigger, but she would allow someone else the opportunity to do it,” her nephew told detectives in a recorded statement, adding. “Me personally, I believe she called [Lawrence] over there and plotted on killing him.”

Byrd’s defense lawyer, James Demiles, suggested his client acted in self-defense — thanks to Johnson.

“There is no question she’s an extremely manipulative person and she played a role in placing Terrence in fear for his life,” Demiles said.

For now, Johnson is listed only as a witness in the case against Byrd. She is not facing any charges in the murder of her ex-lover. But the shooting of the foster mother could put her away for a long time.

It was early on Aug. 31, police say, that she and her 17-year-old son, Edwards, knocked on the door of the Richmond Heights home of the woman entrusted by the state to care for two of Johnson’s minor children. The foster mother, Edmond, had no idea who she was and the two pushed their way into the house, according to an arrest warrant.

When Edmond tried stopping them from taking the children, Edwards shot the foster mother, police said. She crumpled to the floor and Edward “stood over the victim and shot her multiple times while she laid on the floor,” the warrant said.

With a couple days, police found the kids with Johnson, and she was arrested. Edwards was arrested soon afterward.

Edmond, who suffered a shattered femur in the shooting, is home recovering. She had surgery to insert a rod into her leg.

“My head is a little foggy,” Edmond told Miami Herald news partner WFOR-CBS4 this week. “I am not in pain unless I try to walk around and then I am in pain. I am confined to my wheelchair and my walker to get around. But I have to tell you that I love being a foster mother. I always want kids to be safer and better. I want to continue being a foster mother because kids have to have a safe place to go to and someone who they can talk to.”

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