Monday, November 23, 2009

"I know he had a bad history."

Man Cut Into 15 Pieces For $20 Worth Of Crack
Re-printed from the original article in the New Britain Herald by Lisa Backus appearing Thursday, October 15th 2009

Cornell Johnson was cut up into 15 pieces. His genitals were never recovered.NEW BRITAIN — Cornell Johnson was killed and dismembered over $50 in cash and a $20 rock of crack cocaine.

The 34-year-old Oak Street man was described as a father of three daughters and a husband who would do anything for his family, his wife Heather Johnson said Thursday.

“My daughters were his world, he spoiled his daughters like crazy,” she said. “He would go when they had cheerleading, their games. He would go on field trips. Anything for them.”

She and Johnson had been together since she was 15. She had dropped out of high school, but he made her go back. When she became pregnant with their first two daughters, he worked three jobs so she could graduate, Heather recalled.

“He took care of everyone in the family,” the 32-year-old woman said of her husband of eight years. “He would take care of his friend’s kids. That’s just the way he was.”

He was also selling crack to make ends meet, Heather acknowledges.

The New Britain couple charged with Johnson’s death left his dismembered body in 15 pieces with his genitals missing in the woods at the Plainville town line, according to newly released arrest affidavits.

Sherri Clarke, 35, and Michael Labarge, 48, both of 123 Putnam St., are accused of killing Johnson, a kidney transplant recipient reported missing August 30th after Clarke lured him the night before to Long Swamp Road for a drug robbery.

Both have been charged with his murder and are being held on several million dollars bond. Clarke is scheduled to appear in New Britain Superior Court today.

Clarke initially claimed she called Johnson for crack cocaine the night of August 29th. He wound up dead because her boyfriend, Labarge, caught him sexually assaulting her. An arrest warrant unsealed Thursday indicates Clarke lied about the circumstances surrounding Johnson’s death during her first interviews with police and she later admitted she intentionally set up a drug deal for a “twenty rock” — a $20 chunk of crack cocaine — so Labarge could rob Johnson.

One of Johnson’s associates later alleged to police that Johnson was selling drugs and was known to carry both narcotics and a few hundred dollars in cash.

Clarke described a scene where she instructed Johnson to drive to Long Swamp Road and stalled for time by dallying with Johnson so Labarge could arrive for the robbery.

Cornell Johnson was cut up into 15 pieces. His genitals were never recovered.
Artist's diagram based on the dismemberment of Cornell Johnson. His gentitals (piece #11) were never recovered and thought to have been carried away by animals.

Labarge and Johnson struggled, with Clarke hitting Johnson with a bat when he was “getting the better of Michael” during the attack, the warrant said. Labarge eventually stabbed Johnson to death, she said, and then dragged his body into the woods.

The two later went to a Berlin gas station twice to get gas for Johnson’s car and fill a container to set the vehicle on fire on I-91. A few hours later, store surveillance cameras showed Labarge and Clarke at Home Depot in Berlin buying two saws.

One was found in their apartment. The other Labarge used to hack Johnson’s body to pieces, she said. Johnson’s remains were found in the woods off Long Swamp Road hours after the pair was taken into custody on drug charges September 4th. He had been robbed of $50 cash, some crack cocaine and his wedding ring, the warrant said.

Police worked night and day to find Johnson after he was reported missing by family members Aug. 30. They are continuing the investigation weeks later, still interviewing witnesses this week to build a case against the couple and help with their prosecution.

“All of us who investigated this case, our hearts go out to the family,” said Lt. James Wardwell who was among the searchers who found Johnson’s body. “It was a horrible incident.”

“I feel everything, I feel anger, frustration, sadness,” Heather Johnson said. “I know they were both drug addicts. I know he [Labarge] had a bad history.”

Johnson’s oldest and youngest daughters are struggling with the loss of their father, she said. “They are having a hard time,” his wife admitted. “Our middle daughter is 12, she’s more like him, very laid back. She writes a lot, she doesn’t show emotion.”

The Johnsons were charged with selling drugs in 2002 but Heather said it was the only time her husband had ever been arrested. “We were young, he was 27, I was 25,” she said. “Maybe he thought it was too easy to go back to.”

They had faced his diabetes and its complications including three bouts of blindness and five years of dialysis. He received a new kidney four years ago but hadn’t had a problem. Friends and family adored him.

“Cornell meant so much to many people,” Heather’s best friend Tory Brown said. “He had a big heart and would always help anyone in need even if that meant going without himself. Anyone who knew Cornell knows the allegations the accused have made are false and it saddens us that statements of such were made public. He is referred to by many as a ‘gentle giant’ and that is how he will always be remembered in our hearts.”

Heather admits she still hasn’t fully come to grips with her husband’s violent death and the condition of his body. “I haven’t dealt with it, I can’t sleep, I don’t eat, I clean like OCD, cleaning the same thing over and over,” she said. “Mostly I talk to my husband’s pictures. I can’t come to terms with it just yet.”

References:
WFSB Channel 3, Man Charged in Missing Man's Death
New Britain Herald News, Man Killed for $20 worth of crack