WEST PALM BEACH, Florida — A young Florida man convicted of killing a 13-year-old friend during a sleepover five years ago has apologized at his sentencing and denounced an Islamic terrorist group that his lawyers say influenced his thinking. The judge sentenced him to life imprisonment.
District Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo denied a request that Corey Johnson spend 40 years behind bars for the murder of Giovanni Sierra, saying she does not believe in rehabilitation due to his willingness to kill for radical views.
“I know that I contributed to the spread of evil in this world,” Johnson, 21, told the court, according to the Palm Beach Post.
In November, a jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted murder for assault with a knife wound during a sleepover on the victim’s birthday at his best friend’s home in Palm Beach Gardens.
Johnson was 17 at the time and offended by Sierra’s remark about his newly proclaimed faith, prosecutors said. He also stabbed to death Elaine Simon, who owned the house where the party was held, and Dane Bancroft, her youngest son, who was Sierra’s best friend.
Defense attorneys did not dispute that Johnson, whose online behavior had come to the attention of the FBI, caused “untold damage.” But they said Johnson became “psychotic and delusional,” which they blame on severe depression, prescription drugs, and watching ISIS videos.
Johnson first met Sierra at a birthday party. According to police, he accompanied his friend Kyle Bancroft, Dane’s older brother. Dane Bancroft and Sierra went to high school together. Simon told police that Johnson often visited her house and that he and her eldest son had been friends since kindergarten.
The prosecutor’s office said that the stabbing began after everyone fell asleep. Johnson hid in a closet after the attacks, and police used tear gas to subdue him, records show.
The neuropsychologist testified on Thursday after reviewing hundreds of documents and video interviews. Johnson has an above-average intelligence but has delayed puberty, autism and severe mental illness, Dr. Michael Scott told the court.
A few years earlier, when he was in high school, students reported that Johnson harassed them on social media, engaging them in bizarre behavior, reports The Post. His online behavior had attracted the attention of the FBI by the time he moved into high school. He was suspected of sending a threat to a Catholic high school in England in 2016, prompting nearly 100 parents to withdraw their children from classes.
Jennifer Johnson revealed that her son became increasingly unhappy before the stabbing – he dropped out of school and his online relationship with a girlfriend recently ended.
Karen Sierra Velez said after the verdict that she was trying to forgive and stay strong for her son, who would have turned 17 this year.