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Tragedy Robs a Youth of Life with His Mother
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 7/25/2003

RICHMOND, Va. (NNPA)—DeDongio “Donnie” Randall, 12, gently pulls the 11-x-17 color portrait from the hands of a reporter. He blows dust from it, wipes it lovingly with his fingers, then asks, “You’re going to bring this back, aren’t you?”
His eyes await an answer. His serious look belies his youthful face. Assured that the portrait would be returned, he hands it back smiling, then bolts outside to prepare Fourth of July fireworks.
It is a picture of his mother and of course he will get the picture back. But not his mother. She died on Jan. 24, 1991, just hours after he was delivered by caesarean section. Eight months pregnant, Deborah Denise Randall was shot six times by Richard Johnson, her former boyfriend and Donnie’s father.
Tragically, this is an all-too-familiar story.
A decade later, Rae Carruth, a wide receiver for the National Football League’s Carolina Panthers, would be convicted for the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Cherica Adams of Charlotte, N. C. This summer, there has been saturated coverage on cable television news shows of the Modesto, Calif., case of Scott Peterson who is charged with killing his eight-months pregnant wife, Laci. The Peterson case has focused national attention on the issue of violence against pregnant women.
“The Journal of the American Medical Association” reported two years ago that homicide is the number one cause of death of pregnant women in America.
In many cases, the babies die, too, making it a double tragedy.
Donnie knows he is one of the fortunate ones. But, that doesn’t make life any easier.
“I don’t like talking about this,” he says during an interview in his cozy two-story yellow home with aluminum siding. He is being reared here by his maternal grandmother, Georgia Simmons, a retired customer services worker with the Richmond Department of Social Services. He calls his grandmother “Mama.” But, like a guardian angel, pictures of his biological mother, nicknamed “Precious,” hang on walls throughout the house or sit on mantels.
Donnie, a mild-mannered, friendly youngster, has never been interviewed by a reporter and it shows. He talks haltingly.
“When I first heard about it, I was real small,” he says. “Then, I got older and got over it.”
His answers indicate otherwise.
“I just think about why I could not see her,” he says quickly. He then slows his pace. “I just think about why I could not see her.”
That’s something his grandmother would have to explain at the right time. And the right time was seven years ago, when he was 5 years old.
“He knows everything,” his grandmother explains. “You say, ‘Your Mama’s gone to heaven,’ things like that. You let him know that all people are not mean. And let him know that I didn’t feel that his daddy hated his mother, but that his daddy was a jealous-type man. But, still, his response was, ‘Well, Mama, why’d he have to kill her?’”
Young Donnie isn’t the only one who asks that question.
Violence had been a frequent feature of the stormy two-year relationship between Randall, a 1982 psychology graduate of Virginia State University, and Richard Johnson Jr., 48. The U. S. Navy chief petty officer was 18 years her senior.
“He acted like he was her father,” Simmons remembers. She said he had become obsessed with her daughter when she tried to break off the relationship. Then, his behavior turned monstrous.
According to court testimony and local news accounts, Randall had gone to the Richmond city magistrate’s office on three separate occasions to file formal complaints requesting his arrest in 1990. She filed one on June 9, saying he had used his fists strike her in the face, on the neck and in the back. The second time was on Oct. 28, when she was four months pregnant; she complained that he had dragged her across the yard and sidewalk, hit her in the temple and kicked her in the side. And on Nov. 2, she said he beat her again, pulling her legs from under her, causing her to fall onto the floor on her stomach. She said Johnson then squeezed her, knowing she was pregnant.
The day after the last incident, Johnson was arrested on assault charges. He waived his right to an attorney and received three 60-day jail sentences on Nov. 19 and was ordered to pay $132 in court costs. General District Court Judge Jose R. Davila Jr. suspended the jail time and Johnson returned to the streets.
Two months later, events turned uglier.
Around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 24, Deborah Randall and a companion, George Sylvester Jackson, had just driven up to Randall’s Griffin Avenue home. Johnson approached the vehicle before the couple could exit and had a few words with Randall.
As she attempted to enter her home, Johnson aimed a 32-caliber pistol at her and fired bullets into her head, neck and chest. He then returned to the vehicle, ordered Jackson out of the car, and made him walk a short distance to Johnson’s pickup truck. When his weapon misfired, Johnson pistol-whipped Jackson, according to then-Commonwealth Attorney Joseph D. Morrissey. Johnson was arrested a few minutes later as he was driving away from the murder scene in his truck.
Johnson’s lawyers, Chris A. Christie and George A. Neskis of Virginia Beach, argued that Jackson could have killed Randall. But the jury was not persuaded. They convicted him a half dozen charges. He was sentenced to life for first-degree murder, six years for attempted homicide, eight years for abduction of Jackson, 12 years for malicious wounding, two four-year sentences for possession of a firearm and two years for use of a firearm. Unlike the previous judge, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Thomas N. Nance was not about to let Johnson walk free.
Although he was going to prison, at least Johnson would have his life. And that’s more than Randall had.
Doctors at the Medical College of Virginia Hospital kept her on life-support machines long enough to save DeDongio. He was born less than two hours after the shooting. His mother, who never regained consciousness, died 12 hours later.
Simmons would serve as the mother of her daughter’s son.
“If I hadn’t had Donnie with this ordeal, I just don’t know how I might have taken the death of my daughter,” Simmons says. “It’s been 12 years and I haven’t had time to grieve. I don’t have time to grieve. I have PTA, football, baseball, soccer, church, school, work, dog and home.”
The Laci Peterson murder case, which is scheduled to go to trial in September, has pulled the scalp back on an old wound.
“I felt like that pretty girl was my daughter,” Simmons explains. “I had to eventually make myself stop following it. I lived on CNN [Cable News Network] so I could hear and grieve for her mother. I talked people to death about it. And after it went so long, I just made myself stop looking at it.”
As for her daughter’s murderer, Simmons says, “I feel nothing. I don’t have time to hate because I’m too busy trying to teach my boy how to love.”
Donnie has never seen his father in person. Simmons says she once showed him a picture of him. “And he said, ‘Okay,’ and laid it down. A few years went by and he didn’t ask anymore.”
Then one day about two years ago, he brought it up again while riding with her in the car.
“He said he wanted to see him and asked if he could see him. I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘When?’ I said, ‘When you get 12 or something like that.’ He said, ‘Well, who’s going to take me?’ I said I’m going to take you. He said, ‘Well, suppose I don’t want to go?’ I said, ‘If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to go.’ It seems that ever since I said I was going to take him, he’s had no more to say about it.”
He may not have said anything else, but he has still thought about it.
“I want to see him,” Donnie says. He looked askance, as if imagining his father being in the room. He says he has not forgiven his father for what he did and would not ask him any questions. Donnie explained, “I’d just stare at him… I just want to see how he looks now.”
Donnie is an impressive sight. He has a powerful build like his father, whose towering figure and quick, jerky movements in the courtroom kept deputies close at hand. At 12, Donnie stands 5’8,” weighs 165 pounds, and wears size 11 shoes.
Simmons says Donnie has something else in common with Richard Johnson. “His father was a charmer, a lot of charisma.”
Although Simmons meant it when she first agreed to take Donnie to see his father at Sussex II prison in Waverly, Va., she now has her doubts.
“Truthfully, I don’t think I can do that,” she says. “And if it sounds selfish, I apologize.”
Johnson once wrote a letter to Simmons, requesting to see Donnie. She had the Department of Corrections halt further contact.
When contacted by this reporter, Johnson made another plea.
“Ma’am, I’d like to see my son,” he says in a brief telephone interview. “I would love to see him.” When asked what he would say to Donnie, Johnson says he is uncomfortable talking on a prison telephone, where all prisoner conversations are recorded. He says, “You’ve got me boxed in a corner.”
When pressed, he says, “I’m sorry for what has transpired. So what happened in the past, I’d like for it to stay in the past. I don’t need an every-day reminder.”
Donnie is concentrating on the present, not the past. He leads a normal life as an adolescent. He has a world of school, video games, sports, rap music, a bicycle, friends, and a retriever named Rita.
He has never been counseled professionally and doesn’t seem to need it, his grandmother says. Those who come in contact with Donnie agree.
“He’s a super sharp young kid, curious and always willing to learn things,” says Nathan Grooms, 57, a friend of the family who often takes Donnie fishing, to movies and to ride go-carts.
Grooms, a supervisor at the Bellwood Printing Plant, says Donnie rarely talks about the violence that has altered his life.
“He always talks about what he wants to do for his grandmother. He wants to buy a big piece of land and a house and have her to come to live on it,” Grooms says.
Like many youngsters, Donnie, a seventh-grade student at Albert Hill Middle School in this city’s West End, says he wants to play professional football. But, he also loves math and thinks he might want to be a doctor. “I want to study people. Just learn about life and AIDS and stuff because a lot of people get it.”
Donnie can’t truly have a happy birthday. His birthday is also the anniversary of his mother’s death.
His eyes sparkle as he describes taking her flowers on his birthday and on Mother’s Day. “She’s got two trees,” he says. About five years ago, Donnie says, he dreamed that he was on a ride at Disney World with both of his parents, just having fun. Naturally, it was just that—a dream.
While he may have his father’s physical stature, he has a giving heart like his mother, Simmons says. “He’s so much like her. He’s just active, his movements, wanting to help people, wanting to do this, wanting to do that. She would be so happy with the boy she’s got.”

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