|A Mother's Tenacity Cracks Son's Murder|
|By TINA CHEN||Sep 25, 2013, 5:40 PM|
It took eight years and a mother's intuition and determination, but this week Florida police arrested Jason Gailey and charged him with the 2005 murder of Ronald Johnson.
Judy Weaver, Johnson's mother, did everything except put the cuffs on Gailey despite years of resistance by police who classified Johnson's death as a bicycle accident.
"It was really all my mom," said Deborah Murray who helped her mother crack the case.
Johnson was 34 when he died on a rainy June 27, 2005. Eyewitness accounts that are now considered to be false claimed Johnson was doing tricks on his bike when he slipped and hit his head on a curb.
The story struck Weaver as false, particularly after she inspected the bike and saw that there were no scratches or any damage to the bike, and that there was no curb in the area that her son could have slammed his head against, she told ABC News.
"The family could not and would not accept that Johnson's death was an accident," said Detective Michael Kispert of the Orange County Sherriff's Office.
"I'm just kind of numb. I'm very much relieved," Weaver told ABC News days after Gailey's arrest. "I feel relieved that Jason isn't out there running the streets, and he is going to have to be accountable.... The world is a safer place without him in it."
"I think he thought he'd get away with it. But as long as he is alive, people don't just get away with that stuff," she said.
Weaver's suspicions led her to lure a suspect out even while her son was clinging to life in a coma.
Weaver and her daughter spread the word that "Ronnie was doing fine," recovering, and giving details about what actually happened, that he was "just a little headachy."
"This is how we got people to talk... Ronnie didn't actually speak to anybody." In fact, Johnson was taken off life support nine days later, passing away on July 6, 2005.
The ploy worked, however, and Weaver said she got a partial confession from Gailey, who said that he had "accidentally hit Ronnie with his fist," and that "Ronnie was getting back up to beat him up, so he ran."
"I think he was trying to deflect," said Murray, "pinning all fault on the others."
Weaver went to the authorities with that information, but wasn't enough to convince them her son had been killed. The mother-daughter team carried on their own investigation for the next eight years, keeping meticulous notes.
"We worked good as a team," said Weaver. "I had already done all the leg work, I just needed to know names, numbers, and locations, and my daughter helped me find all of that."
Weaver credits divine intervention and the guiding hand of her son for the break they needed.
It came in June 2012 when Lt. Paul "Spike" Hopkins came into the Chik-fil-A restaurant where Weaver was working. She was unaware that Hopkins was a detective when her son died and had worked on the case, but she spouted off about her son's case to the officer.
What she said stirred Hopkins' interest in the case and it was reopened.
"I've always believed that he was leading us in the right direction," Weaver says in reference to her son.
"I knew if we got the right people, eventually it would be solved. It's getting the right person and eight years later, we got that right person," Weaver told ABC News. "I never gave up."
During a fresh investigation police determined that witnesses changed their stories, Kispert said.
Mom Spends Eight Years Tracking Down Son's Alleged Killer
One critical witness who had suffered a stroke "felt compelled after his life's circumstances had changed that he owed it to himself and his family to come forward with the truth," Kispert said.
What has emerged from multiple witness accounts is that there was a fight between Gailey and another man identified as Harry "Cowboy" Taylor and Johnson was trying to stop it when he received a blow to his head with a handgun that made him fall to the ground and hit the concrete, Kispert said.
"My son was a good Samaritan and he lost his life," Weaver said.
"If he had to lose his life, I'm proud he lost his life doing a good thing," she said. "I think he is looking down on us and just so proud that we never gave up, that we got to the bottom of this. I feel him around me, and when I see him again, we will rejoice."
Weaver said that these past eight years have helped her get through the grieving process.
"It kept me busy," she said. "And our story shows that there is light at the end of the tunnel... Anger doesn't really help you. Hate doesn't guide you. I don't hate Jason. I don't think he deliberately tried to kill Ronnie, but we got to own what we do."
Gailey has been charged with second degree murder. He has yet to be arraigned and has not entered a plea. Court documents said he would be assigned a public defender.