Three years after Lake Shore Drive death, woman’s family hopes for justice at trial
Early on Memorial Day in 2016, Pamela Johnson was killed on Lake Shore Drive while fleeing an attempted robbery. After several delays, her family hopes for justice in a trial now underway.
Last time we caught up with Anganet Johnson, it was the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s death, and her grandson, about to graduate eighth grade, was missing his mom.
That was Memorial Day weekend 2017.
Pamela Johnson, 32, had been killed a year earlier, struck by a truck after running onto Lake Shore Drive while fleeing an armed robbery. The death, occurring on Chicago’s Gold Coast on May 29, 2016, grabbed headlines.
Eventually, Devonte M. Dodd, 22, and Semaj Waters, 20, were charged with first-degree murder in her daughter’s death.
Their trial started May 16. Anganet Johnson, 55, talked to the Chicago Sun-Times the day before the trial began.
“As the trial date approaches, I’m feeling very nervous,” she said. “I have tried preparing myself for what I might see or hear that devastatingly scared my daughter to her death. Something frightened her to the point of running out into traffic.”
Waters is accused of brandishing a gun — Dodd, of announcing the robbery to Pamela Johnson and her boyfriend, Eugene Jackson, as the couple strolled along the lake in the 600 block of North Lake Shore Drive.
Police said the couple was approached by seven or eight men, and they chased the scared young mother onto Lake Shore Drive.
“There is not one day that goes by that I don’t think about Pam. I have lots of good days and great memories, but bad days pop up, unexpectedly. Once the trial is over, I hope to close this chapter in my life,” said the South Chicago woman, who is raising the 15-year-old son her daughter left behind.
When we’d visited them in 2017, the grandmother had just lost her job after taking extended bereavement time for grief counseling for both herself and Daveion. She had also been going back and forth to court, faithfully attending every hearing in the case.
Nearly three years after the incident, she was finally given a date for a bench trial: March 20. She spent weeks mentally preparing. But the date came and went. The trial was rescheduled and began five days after her daughter’s May 11 birthday.
That’s always a difficult day, falling as it does around Mother’s Day every year.
“She would have turned 35 years old this year,” her mother said.
During the trial, Anganet Johnson, her other daughter, Ashley, a 20-year-old senior at Alabama State University, along with a couple of dozen relatives and friends, have crowded into the courtroom of Cook County Criminal Court Judge Joseph Claps.
Each day, she would brace herself.
“I went in with butterflies, and I left with butterflies,” Anganet Johnson said last week, after Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Lisa Morrison made her closing arguments. Judge Claps then continued the case to June 27 for defense rebuttal.
“I never really knew what killed her. Listening to the medical examiner’s report was pretty hard, but at least they said she didn’t suffer. It was also hard listening to all the evidence about what happened,” she said.
Eugene Jackson broke down on the stand and sobbed.
“It was really hard for him, having to relive that night all over again. I felt like I was right back there on that Memorial Day. Getting that call. Going to the hospital. Calling someone to come bring her son to say goodbye. When he came, he didn’t want to go in. I respected that.”
Daveion struggled after it all. His grades fell to Ds.
But with his grandmother’s dedication, and after receiving critical counseling, he was on track to graduate on the honor roll at Arnold Mireles Academy a year after his mother’s death.
Today, he’s just completed his sophomore year of high school. He plans to study mechanical engineering in college.
“My only purpose for going through this trial is to pray that there is justice for Pam,” Anganet Johnson said.
“Pam’s son is our inspiration. He has not missed a beat. We’re going to have this pain for the rest of our lives. I hope they get all the time that they deserve for what they did. But even if it does not work out the way I think it should, I know they will still have to answer to God.”