Foster parent guilty of raping teens; freeze on agency lifted
A Sumner County jury found a Hendersonville foster parent guilty Friday for the aggravated rape of two foster daughters in 2010. The allegations initially led to a freeze on foster care placements by Omni Visions, one of the biggest providers of placements in the state.
Jemel Johnson, 47, of Cole Drive, had been accused of raping two teenage foster daughters and faced a total of five criminal charges. The jury, who had begun deliberating the day before, found Johnson guilty on five counts after having reduced one of the charges against him to a lesser charge.
“(The jury) found Mr. Johnson guilty on counts one and two of attempted sexual battery by an authority figure,” said Assistant District Attorney Bryna Grant, who was part of the team that prosecuted the case. “On count three, it was originally rape, and they came back with (a guilty verdict of) B misdemeanor assault, which is provocative touching; and they came back ‘guilty as charged’ on counts four and five, which were the A-felony aggravated rapes. … On the most serious charges, they came back guilty as charged.”
Grant said that it was a complicated case and, despite the reduced charges, she said she believes the jury held Johnson responsible for what happened.
Grant said Johnson faces a range of a minimum of 15 years to a maximum of more than 55 years in prison.
Johnson’s attorney, William Lloyd Moore Jr., was not available for comment.
Grant said Johnson had admitted to engaging in oral sex with one of the girls and attempting to have intercourse with both of them but denied actually having intercourse with them or using force in the attempt.
During the closing arguments on Thursday, Assistant District Attorney Jayson Criddle detailed the account by one of the girls of what happened on the morning of Dec. 4, 2010, when Johnson started the sexual activity by allegedly asking her to perform oral sex on him, and when she refused, he pulled her head down to his genitals.
Criddle said the girls called Johnson their “granddaddy.”
“Instead of providing a place of refuge for them, he became the predator he was supposed to protect them from,” Criddle said.
Johnson declined to take the stand.
Moore said the state had no substantial proof force was used other than the testimony of the teens, who had been known to lie about things before.
An administrator at a local high school said on the witness stand one of the girls who attended the school had gotten into trouble several times and was known to lie in order to manipulate a situation.
Moore told the jury that the standard they had to set for believing the girls or anybody’s testimony, in general, was whether they would be willing to make a personal, life-altering decision based on what that person said.
“If someone says one thing one day and one thing the next, the ultimate question for you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury: Is that the type of person or that the type of testimony that you would rely upon your most important matters in your life?” he said. “And that’s really your job in finding beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Jemel Johnson’s wife, Peggy Johnson, said on the witness stand that the girls provoked him and so she blamed them for what happened.
“You’re blaming the victims?” Grant asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
Following the allegations against Johnson, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services froze placements by Omni Visions, which manages 700 foster homes in the state.
The CEO of Omni Visions, Eric Strickland, told the Hendersonville Star News Friday morning that the freeze on placements was lifted last March after a review of all their cases.
“There was a short period of time when ... we worked with the department to actually facilitate a review of all of our foster homes in the state,” he said. “Just as a way to verify our homes were doing what they were supposed to be doing.”
He said all the foster homes were re-cleared for placement. The director of programs at Omni Visions, Kathy Joyner, said that company also added another level of review to the approval process for foster families.
“One of the things we added was a review by staff here at our corporate office,” she said. “The previous protocol was that the regents (managers) within each one of our regions would do the approvals of foster families. While they continue to do the approvals, we have the regents send their files here at the Omni home office for us to review.”
Johnson’s sentencing was set for June 29, when Judge Dee David Gay may hear from the victims before deciding on a sentence.