TAMPA — Seated in a wheelchair, unable to speak, 4-year-old Ty’ahni Williams bore witness to the cruelty of the man facing prison time for abusing her.
A collective sigh of relief arose from half the courtroom Monday as a judge sentenced Demarcus Johnson to 25 years for shattering the girl’s skull so badly it “looked like puzzle pieces,” in the words of a child protection team specialist. Just three months old then, Ty’ahni was the daughter of Johnson’s girlfriend at the time and had been left in his care.
Emotions were strong in the other half of the courtroom, too, Monday as Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella issued the sentence following Johnson’s conviction in January for aggravated child abuse with bodily harm. Johnson’s partner ran crying for the door.
Johnson, the Tampa man convicted of aggravated child abuse with bodily harm in January, had just been sentenced to 25 years in prison. He stared blankly as Sabella announced his fate.
Ty’ahni will never speak, cry or laugh again, her mother Tyreonna Williams said Monday. She suffers from daily seizures and likely always will. To know whether the girl is hungry, hurt, or happy, her mother must learn what she means with the different sounds she makes.
“She’ll never be able to play with her brother, say mommy, go swinging, or pick out nail polish because of you,” Tyreonna Williams told Johnson in court.
Ty’ahni was a healthy child, Tyreonna Williams said, before she left her with Johnson at a home on E 122nd Avenue in North Tampa so she could go to work. It was July 13, 2018.
When Tyreonna Williams came home, she found the infant unresponsive with her “arms bent at her elbows,” an arrest affidavit said. The girl was taken to a nearby hospital and later flown by helicopter to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg for emergency surgery.
Despite “abusive head trauma,” Ty’ahni survived. Johnson was taken into custody by deputies.
Meshika Towns, the girl’s grandmother, asked Judge Sabella on Monday to issue Johnson the maximum punishment allowed. She said she’s heartbroken she’ll never watch her grandaughter become a cheerleader like her mother or even do something as simple as sharing a bowl of cereal with her.
“Since you showed no mercy on my granddaughter, I have to ask that the court does the same and shows no mercy on you,” Towns said.
Still, the judge said, Johnson had no previous record so his crime did not warrant the maximum sentence of 30 years. Jolly as well as Johnson’s mother pleaded with the judge for the minimum sentence of 6½ years.
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“I feel bad for her baby and I don’t know what happened there,” Jolly told the judge, pointing at the Williams family. “But I know who he is and I know he is a good father.”
Johnson said throughout his trial that he wasn’t responsible for the injuries Ty’ahni suffered. He declined to make a statement Monday.
“I’m not saying you’re a monster,” Judge Sabella told Johnson. “But if that was your daughter, you would also want the maximum sentence.”