A 21-year-old Florida man will spend the rest of his life behind bars for fatally stabbing a 13-year-old boy on his birthday for making comments he saw as insulting to his Islamic faith during a sleepover in 2018 . district judge Cheryl Caracuzzo sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole on Thursday Corey Johnson, who was 17 when he was brutally murdered Jovanni Sierra and nearly killed two others whom he stabbed multiple times, The Palm Beach Post reported.
“I took the life of an innocent 13-year-old boy in the most despicable and cowardly manner,” Johnson reportedly said when addressing the court during the trial. “I know that I have helped spread evil in this world.”
It took a Palm Beach County jury just four hours in November to return a guilty verdict against Johnson on one count of first-degree murder in Sierra’s death and two counts of attempted murder for also stabbing the 13-year-old Dane Bancroft and his mother Elaine Simon. Dane Bancroft, who hosted his middle school classmate Sierra’s birthday sleepover, was stabbed a total of 37 times, while his mother was stabbed 12 times.
Johnson apologized to his victims’ families and went so far as to denounce ISIS, the extremist group his attorney claimed was responsible for the radicalization of Johnson when he was a teenager, NBC affiliate WPTV-TV reported West Palm Beach.
“I wish I could take it back. I wish there was something I could do to make this right. But I want to apologize, not because it would change anything, but because I’m really, really sorry,” Johnson reportedly said. “I really don’t believe I could have done something so horrible. I’m not, and I’m not a violent person.”
But Judge Caracuzzo emphasized Johnson’s willingness to ruthlessly kill people for extremist views by concluding that rehabilitation was not likely. According to the report, the judge denied a request by Johnson’s defense attorney to sentence his client to only 40 years in prison.
As previously reported by Law&Crime, the “Sleepover Murder” took place on March 12, 2018 at Elaine Simon’s home. Palm Beach Gardens police testified during the trial that Johnson confessed to the triple stab and said he killed Sierra, whom he had just met that night, over comments he believed hurt his Muslim faith . According to the arrest affidavit, Johnson reportedly told investigators that Sierra idolizes celebrities and treats them as gods, which violates Islam. He said he also believes Bancroft made fun of his beliefs.
Johnson was reportedly at the sleepover as a guest of Kyle Bancroft, Dane’s 17-year-old brother. Johnson waited until everyone else in the house was asleep, then used his phone to read the Koran to “give him courage to carry out his intentions” before beginning to stab people, WPTV reported. He reportedly started with Sierra, stabbing him multiple times and slitting his throat. When Simon came to investigate the commotion, he used the knife to stab her a dozen times. Dane Bancroft became the third victim while trying to save his mother.
Kyle Bancroft was reportedly woken up by Johnson, who looked “almost happy” as he told Kyle he had just killed his little brother.
Johnson’s family told investigators after the incident Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin fascinated the teenager who had recently taken an interest in Islam.
Johnson’s defense attorneys had unsuccessfully tried to argue that he was not guilty by reason of insanity at the trial.
The sentencing hearing was originally scheduled to take place earlier in the week but was delayed because Johnson was in quarantine, though it wasn’t clear if he was infected with COVID or just exposed, West Palm Beach Fox affiliate WFLX reported.
[image via WPTV screengrab]
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