MEMPHIS, Tenn.– A Memphis family is left searching for answers after their loved one was shot and killed, and the person they believe is the prime suspect is still on the streets.
Johnnetta Hughes lives in fear.
Her 21-year-old son was shot and killed last November and she worries the killer, who still hasn’t been arrested could come after the family again. She also worries about what she might do if she sees him.
“Shoot someone in broad daylight that was not bothering you and now know that yes the family knows exactly who you are, knows what’s going on,” Hughes said.
Hughes’ son Willie Lawson was sitting outside his girlfriend’s home at St Elmo and North Trezevant on the morning of Nov. 8, 2021. Someone started firing shots and Lawson’s black Altima was hit.
“And the next phone call I got, which was at 8:11 a.m., is screaming in my ear and I’m trying to tell his girlfriend to calm down what was going on,” Hughes said. “I’m hearing screaming and she’s saying, ‘So much blood.'”
She recalled the moment she heard the news no mother ever wants to hear.
“We arrived to the hospital thinking there was a wound to his arm and we were advised that he was gone,” Hughes said.
WREG crews arrived shortly after the shooting and got a video of police securing evidence from the scene. One key piece of evidence was a surveillance video from the community center across the street.
Hughes, who saw the video during a court hearing, said it shows the crime and three suspects running from the scene.
She said days after her son was killed, a 16-year-old confessed to police he was there and he pointed to the gunman as another 16-year-old.
“And then after that crime was done, they went to school Trezevant High School and parked and put the gun across the street from the school. But then, when now you’re getting ready to be questioned about these things you don’t want to talk. You plead the fifth,” Hughes said.
The virtual juvenile court hearing, which was supposed to decide if the teen suspect would be transferred to adult court, turned into something totally different.
The 16-year-old who said he was at the shooting changed his mind and refused to testify about who pulled the trigger, putting Willie Lawson’s family back to square one in finding justice.
Hughes said the teen is not just out of jail, he is now posting social media pictures.
“Lo and behold what do I see? Not only are you out, you are posting guns, no remorse,” she said.
District Attorney Amy Weirich said when witnesses refuse to testify, it can hamper prosecution of a case.
“It happens every day. That you know, right after a crime is committed, somebody gives a statement to law enforcement and it may be a while before we get that case to a point of needing that witness in court, and now all of a sudden, they either can’t be found, or they’re noncooperative,” Weirich said.
Weirich said she understands the frustration of families who have lost loved ones when no one is brought to justice.
The recently announced 901 WRAP program is aimed at making it easier for witnesses or people with information to come forward in cases by offering them protection.
“There is no way in heaven or hell that you could tell me that you can’t get someone. It was broad freakin daylight. It was across the street from a community center. Kids were going to school at this time,” Hughes said. “Cars were passing by, parents were out. You cannot tell me no one saw anything.”
We asked Memphis Police where the case stands. They would only say it’s under investigation.
Juvenile Court said the suspect was released since the other teen refused to testify, and the camera video was not clear. But both teens have other court dates on other unrelated charges.
There is no solace for Johnnetta Hughes.
“I would pay whatever it is for someone to identify my son’s killer that we already know,” Hughes said. “I would give anything, anything just for justice to be served.”