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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Man charged in plot to kill rival
The Hernando Sheriff's Office sets up a meeting with one of their own acting as a "hit man."
By JOHN FRANK and HELEN ANNE TRAVIS, Times Staff Writers
Published September 20, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Convinced his wife cheated on him, Lonnie Johnson went to confront her at the Joy-Lan Drive-in movie theater in Dade City where she works.
He drove through a closed metal gate in July before theater manager Maurice Carter called police and Johnson received a trespass warning. Johnson later parked across the street from the theater and his anger appeared to grow.
He hatched a plan to kill Carter by hiring an acquaintance to take him out and make it look like a robbery, according to an arrest report. He told authorities "he is from Florida and he doesn't like homosexuals."
The plan quickly fell apart Tuesday, officials say, when the would-be hit man, Reuben Johnson, 39, of Brooksville, contacted the Hernando County Sheriff's Office just before noon to spill the details.
It ended Wednesday afternoon with Lonnie Johnson, 42, of Brooksville, facing two felony counts of conspiracy to commit murder and robbery, two counts for felony solicitation to commit murder and robbery and five assorted drug charges, according to arrest reports.
Sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Black said details were sparse because the case is under investigation. But here's what is known from records and interviews with Black and Carter:
Lonnie Johnson's wife, Edna, worked as a manager at the theater and Lonnie would do odd jobs occasionally. Edna Johnson and Carter were best friends, but six months ago Lonnie Johnson started to suspect they were having an affair and began to make threats.
"He was always nice to me, that's why I don't understand why he turned," said Carter, who has dated his male partner for four years. "She's like my sister and she says I'm a sister to her."
Six weeks ago things turned more serious when Lonnie Johnson called Carter to say "him and his buddy were going man-hunting to kill me," Carter told the Times.
Edna Johnson told Carter not to worry about her husband, but then authorities arrived at Carter's door to inform him about the threat.
Lonnie Johnson asked Reuben Johnson, no relation, to kill Carter, officials said. Lonnie Johnson told Reuben that he has been planning ways to have Carter "murdered or beaten close to death."
His plan: Reuben Johnson would take Carter's car keys and steal the theater's cash box holding $5,000 to $10,000 from the trunk so it would look like a robbery.
After Reuben Johnson went to authorities, they set up a meeting at noon Wednesday on Howell Avenue in Brooksville so Lonnie Johnson could talk with Reuben Johnson and a purported hit man, who was an undercover Hernando detective.
Lonnie Johnson and the "hit man" discussed terms of a payment, authorities said, but they would not disclose the amount.
At the meeting Lonnie Johnson laid out the plan again, describing the vehicle Carter drove, where he parked at the movie theater and the route he drove home to Lakeland. He suggested the murder take place during the drive home. In explaining his motive, Lonnie Johnson said he wanted to "kill that expletive."
Authorities arrested him on the spot.
During interrogation, Lonnie Johnson admitted to soliciting a hit man and made additional comments about Carter's sexuality, officials said.
Assistant State Attorney Bill Gladson said Lonnie Johnson could not be charged with a separate hate crime under Florida law, but his comments about Carter's sexuality "enhance" the charges, meaning he could face tougher punishment in court.
Carter said the whole incident has him scared. "I told my son in Maine to make sure I get buried in Florida if anything bad happens," he said. "I love it here ... but I'm beginning to wonder."
Staff researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.