By Perla Brito, Naya Wiezel, and Alexis Rios-Jimenez
VENTURA, CA – Ventura County Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Young this week sentenced Pablo Johnson to a four-year sentence in the Ventura County Jail, with an additional year to be served on mandatory supervision after Johnson pleaded guilty to multiple felonies that led to the fatal overdose of the victim.
Defense Attorney David Lehr was present alongside Johnson. Deputy District Attorney Anne Spillner was present for the prosecution. In attendance were members of the victim’s family.
The sentencing hearing began with three additional victim impact statements following last week’s hearing where the victim’s mother, grandfather and family friend gave statements. The victim’s uncle, father and sister all gave a statement. The uncle spoke first, followed by the father, with the sister providing the final victim impact statement.
The victim’s uncle shared before the court his deceased nephew (the victim) and niece (the victim’s sister) were the closest thing he had ever had to children. He coached his nephew’s football team when his nephew was younger. His nephew always wore number 23 during his time with Pop Warner football and all throughout high school which was the same number his uncle had worn during his football days.
While the victim’s uncle made sure to let Johnson know he forgave him, he told Judge Young he did not want his kindness and forgiveness to be misconstrued for weakness.
“I firmly believe the defendant should be sentenced to the maximum the law will allow,” said the victim’s uncle.
A long sentence for Johnson would not only mean justice for the victim’s family, but it would also keep Johnson safe from himself as he has a criminal history involving drugs, firearms, and driving under the influence, said the uncle, adding “the very product that he sells, his fentanyl, killed my nephew so keeping him away from his merchandise may very well save his own life.”
Apparently the death has fueled the victim’s mother in bringing awareness to the national fentanyl epidemic by attending the DEA’s Opiate Summit as a guest speaker, marching in Washington D.C. in front of the White House, and sitting on the executive board of Not One More, an organization dedicated to helping spread awareness on the increasingly fatal risks posed by illicit substances.
She has also traveled around the country speaking at high schools and to law enforcement about the dangers of fentanyl.
The next victim impact statement was made by the victim’s father, who said, “I don’t have much to say that hasn’t already been said, but for the record Mr. Johnson, in the process of being in the business that you’re in, by selling drugs which have taken my son’s life, destroyed my life, his mother’s life, and his sister’s life has heavily impacted the whole family.”
The victim’s father expressed his pain of losing his son, whom he noted was also his best friend, adding, “I wonder if drug dealers like Pablo who sell drugs like fentanyl to people who end up dying realize the ripple effect it has on their families and friends.”
The final impact statement was made by the victim’s sister. She told Judge Young “I’ve written so many pages of what to say and I didn’t turn anything into the court because I didn’t like anything I wrote so I’m just going to speak from the heart.”
Sharing that she did not blame Johnson for the death of her brother, she spoke of her deep love for the victim and that she missed her brother very much while recognizing her brother’s responsibility in seeking Johnson out. Just like her uncle, she said she forgave Johnson but wanted him to use the sentence imposed as an opportunity to grow and learn from it.
The victim’s sister reflected on the time her brother was “locked down” and how she did not like to see him “caged up,” but also noted that these were times where he was able to be sober and have a clear head for a while to make different decisions.
Judge Young responded “if any of those statements were written down you shouldn’t have thrown them away, there’s nothing wrong with what you said.”
Johnson was specifically being charged with multiple felonies and several misdemeanors. The felony charges were possession for sale of a controlled substance and the sale/transportation/offer to sell a controlled substance. The accused pleaded.
Johnson’s misdemeanor charges were related to the simple possession of a controlled substance and drug paraphernalia. The defense asked the court to have these charges dropped against Johnson, to which Judge Young agreed.
The prosecution had moved from agreeing to a five-year felony jail sentence with the fifth being served under mandatory supervision to the maximum possible sentence of six years to be served in the county jail.
The DDA argued the accused’s previous felony charges were out of Los Angeles County charges which he had pleaded guilty to in 2019 and served a three-year prison term only to reoffend shortly upon his release. The prosecution’s detailing of Johnson’s recidivist tendencies was their primary reasoning for asking for the maximum sentence.
The defense counsel argued that the arrest dates that had initially been filed were incorrect and that the criminal offense had not been as close to his release date as had been understood.
Defense Attorney Lehr also explained that while in jail, Johnson had demonstrated complete compliance with his rehabilitation and responsibilities, citing his prison uniform which indicated he had been granted enough trust to perform certain duties.
The court’s final decision was a five-year felony jail sentence for Johnson, four years of which would be served in the Ventura County Jail, with the remaining year being served under mandatory supervision.
It was noted Johnson has had a long history of felony charges and has struggled with substance abuse for a long time. Judge Young said at the end of the sentencing hearing that he hopes Johnson will turn his life around, because he is still young and can get the help he needs.