Marshall High School football star’s killer gets 100 years

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When Antonio Johnson learned his ailing grandmother needed a kidney, he was ready to donate.

But Antonio’s football coach at Marshall Metro High School told his mother he had what it took to make it to the National Football League and she didn’t want him to jeopardize a chance at a sports career.

“It really bothered him, because I didn’t let him do it,” Annette Johnson said sadly Wednesday.

Several months later, Antonio, 15, got his wish to help his grandmother. But the teenager never got to see how his kidney prolonged and enhanced her life.

The star high school linebacker and honor roll student was shot in the head Sept. 25, 2011, while helping his mother unload groceries outside their West Side home.

Keith Talbert, the gunman, was sentenced to 100 years in prison Wednesday. Talbert was aiming for Antonio’s older brother — Anthony Johnson — because he refused to join the drug trade.

Annette Johnson, who often called 911 to report criminal activity in her neighborhood and had her house set on fire for her outspokenness, was wounded in the right arm that day. Anthony Johnson was not injured.

Cook County Judge James Linn said it was “beyond horrific” that Annette Johnson and her family lost Antonio for doing the right thing.

The judge said the case was the most “haunting” he had heard during his career at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse.

Talbert, 30, maintained his innocence before he was sentenced.

“I feel sorry for Antonio. … But I’m innocent,” he said.

While Annette Johnson she was “happy” that Talbert would be behind bars for a long time, she said, “I can’t honestly believe he had the audacity to say they’re convicting the wrong guy.”

She has since moved out of state with her daughter, Ashley Wardlow, partly, she said, because she and her eldest son, now 26, were being harassed by some of Talbert’s relatives.

“No parent should have to bury a child because they won’t get into the lifestyle of the neighborhood,” Annette Johnson, 42, said after the sentencing hearing.

Annette Johnson, mother of Antonio Johnson, talks after a sentencing hearing for her son’s killer. | Rummana Hussain/Sun-Times

In court, she spoke of how Antonio’s other organs went to others outside the family. His “beautiful brown eyes” went a girl who lost her sight in a shooting in New York and his heart was used to save the life of another 15-year-old boy.

Antonio was a good student who got A’s and B’s, liked to make people laugh, enjoyed playing “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” and made sure all lights and electronics were off to save money when the family was going through a financial crisis, Annette Johnson said in a victim-impact statement read by Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Murphy.

Annette Johnson said due to the injuries she received in the shooting, in the 700 block of North Springfield, she can no longer perform simple tasks such as peeling a potato and combing her hair.

“Although you still breathe, Antonio is gone,” she said in her statement.

Wardlow, who was not in court Wednesday, also wrote a victim-impact statement.

“The loss of my little brother devastated me so much that I could not stand to live in the same city anymore,” said Wardlow, who was nearly hit by a stray bullet in the shooting as she removed nail polish from her toes inside the house.

She told Talbert he permanently “broke the bond” she had with Antonio.

“Think about the fear Antonio felt as someone told him ‘Don’t move, you’ve been shot,'” Wardlow wrote.

“Think about how the mixture of sadness and fear struck him as his brain began to die out.”

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