DANVILLE - When 19-year-old Wyneva Johnson died in April at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, she became the county's first homicide of the year.

She also was the first of three women to die during domestic disputes in 2005.

Johnson's attacker, Justin A. Bell, now 21, of Danville, was convicted Sept. 29 of first-degree murder.

Vermilion County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Fahey sentenced Bell in November to 35 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections for his crime.

Bell's public defender filed an appeal in the case this month.

In September, a jury took two hours to reach a verdict in Bell's four-day trial. The four men and eight women found Bell guilty of stabbing and killing Johnson, a 19-year-old Danville High School student and track star at her Vermilion Gardens apartment April 5.

Johnson, who gave birth to Bell's daughter, Jakayla Bell, in September 2003, suffered four stab wounds - two to her chest, one to her elbow and another to her bicep. A stab wound above Johnson's heart cut a ventricle, causing her death.

Bell admitted during his trial he struck Johnson with his fist while they argued inside the apartment. He admitted he struck her again when he found Johnson sitting outside the apartment building after she fled from her second-story apartment window.

Bell claimed throughout the trial Johnson impaled herself on the two steak knives used during the altercation.

Bell admitted he turned a knife toward Johnson when they argued inside her apartment and again outside the building, but he denied stabbing her.

During the trial, Bell's attorney, Assistant Public Defender William Sohn tried to prove Johnson was a jealous, violent woman who became enraged with Bell because she thought he had given her a sexually transmitted disease.

Johnson did not have an STD at the time of her death.

Sohn argued unsuccessfully the angle of Johnson's stab wounds supported Bell's account of the fight.

During the sentencing phase, Fahey said Bell was a danger, especially to women, and that Bell must accept responsibility for his actions.

Bell is scheduled to again appear in court Tuesday, where he faces two counts of aggravated battery and one count of violating an order of protection.

Bell is accused in a separate case of kicking and punching Ebony Sims while she was pregnant with one of his two children. The alleged incident occurred in the Casey's General Store parking lot Feb. 15.

During his sentencing hearing, Bell apologized to Johnson's family, his own family, the community, and especially his daughter, Jakayla, for robbing her of both a mother and a father.

Johnson's sister, Ollie Gray, now cares for the child.

Gray and others still struggle to stay strong for the child's sake.

"That's the way Nee-Nee would have wanted it," she said.



IN MEMORY

In the aftermath of Johnson' death:

- The Wyneva Johnson Non-Violence Club formed at the Laura Lee Fellowship House, 212 E. Williams St.

- Laura Lee Fellowship House established a trust fund for Jakayla Bell, which will be used for her education after she turns 18.

- A $200 scholarship also was established to be awarded annually to a Danville High School graduating senior who plans to attend an Illinois university or college and was a track and field team member.

- Donations may be sent to: The Wyneva Johnson Memorial Trust Fund, c/o First National Bank of Danville, 1 Towne Centre, Danville IL 61832.

- Officials at the Your Family Resource Connection, which operates a women's shelter and a 24-hour hotline at 443-5566, issues several reminders that services are available at no cost for those in need.

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