Public Safety

Grieving mother of Royal Abram says her life has been 'without purpose' since her son was fatally shot last year

Gunman in last summer's double homicide sentenced to up to 75 years

Andre Richardson, 27, confers Wednesday with Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud at a sentencing hearing
Andre Richardson, 27, confers Wednesday with Johnson County Chief Public Defender Peter Persaud at a sentencing hearing at the Linn County Courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Richardson pleaded guilty in June to lesser charges in the fatal shooting of Royal Abram and Matrell Johnson and to seriously injuring Booker McKinney and Kayla Panos-Blackcloud on May 18, 2019, outside the Iowa Smoke Shop, 70 Kirkwood Court SW. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — After a gunman last year targeted the vehicle her son was in, killing him and another teenager, Ethel Brown said she has been “lost, my life without purpose.”

“He was the most important thing to me,” said Brown, the mother of Royal Abram, 18, during a sentencing hearing Wednesday of the assailant. “He loved fishing, music and art. He always saw the good in people.”

Yet in her victim impact statement, Brown said she didn’t have any hatred for the gunman, Andre Richardson, 27, who also killed Matrell Johnson in the May 18, 2019, double homicide outside a smoke shop.

“His name was Royal Abram, and he didn’t deserve to die,” Brown said as she concluded her statement.

Richardson was sentenced in Linn County District Court to 75 years in prison for fatally shooting Abram and Johnson, also 18, and seriously injuring two others, Kayla Panos-Blackcloud and Booker McKinney, both now 20.

Richardson, initially charged with two counts of first-degree murder, pleaded in June to two counts each of second-degree murder, attempted murder and willful injury causing serious injury. He also pleaded to one count each of intimidation with a dangerous weapon and possession of a firearm as a felon.

According to a criminal complaint, Richardson was captured on a store surveillance video firing a series of shots from a .45-caliber handgun, even after it jammed several times, at a black Buick Rendezvous outside the Iowa Smoke Shop at 70 Kirkwood Court SW.

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When officers arrived about 1:20 a.m., they found four people in the Rendezvous. Abram and Johnson were fatally shot in the back seat. McKinney and Panos-Blackcloud were seriously injured in the front.

During the sentencing hearing, Richardson said he saw a social media post earlier that night and thought someone who had shot at a house where he and his girlfriend had been a few weeks earlier was in the Rendezvous. He and others had gone to the smoke shop that night and he was in the parking lot when he saw a Rendezvous pull in. He said he thought it was the same one he had seen in a Facebook post.

In retrospect, Richardson said, he should have told the driver to leave. Instead, he “grabbed a gun in the car and started shooting.”

“I did not know for sure who was in the vehicle but recognized it from the picture” on Facebook, he said.

In keeping with the plea agreement calling on Richardson to express remorse, he offered “sincere apologizes” to everyone affected by the shooting, “especially the families of Royal and Matrell.”

Sixth Judicial District Judge Ian Thornhill followed the plea agreement and ran the murder and attempted murder sentences concurrently for 50 years. He also ran the two willful injury 10-year sentences concurrently, but consecutive to the 50, totaling 60 years.

The two other gun sentences totaling 15 years were also ran consecutively to the 60, for total of 75 years.

Richardson will have to serve a mandatory minimum of 35 years before being eligible for parole. He also was ordered to pay $150,000 in victim restitution to each estate or heir of Johnson and Abram, and $8,500 to state crime victim fund. He may owe further restitution for medical expenses of Panos-Blackcloud and McKinney.

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In other victim impact statements, Michael Hodges Sr., Johnson’s father, said he was working on forgiveness but wasn’t yet at that point.

Hodges said Richardson did “cowardly things” and he now needed to face them. Being behind bars is where Richardson should be, but he hopes Richardson can make his children understand it’s not where anyone should be.

Ankerria Johnson, Johnson’s aunt, said her heart was broken when her “sweet, intelligent” nephew died. He was more like her brother.

She said she couldn’t forgive Richardson — what kind of “coward shoots into a car full of kids?” she asked.

“Even when the gun jammed, you kept shooting,” Ankerria Johnson said. “I hope someday I can forgive you.”

Panos-Blackcloud asked Richardson why he couldn’t have “fought with his hands” that night instead of making a “dumbass decision” to shoot. She has traumatic brain injury as a result of being shot in the face and permanent damage to her left arm.

“Because of you, I will look like this for the rest of my life,” said Panos-Blackcloud, whose face was reconstructed after the shooting.

In the last statement, Royal Abram’s father, Christopher Abram, said he forgave Richardson and even offered him and his family support.

He encouraged him to stay strong in prison and not get involved in gangs or other trouble.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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