DENVER - Colorado nonprofit leader Sharletta Evans will host an event on May 23 called “I Call Him Son” to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the restorative justice high impact conversation that led her to forgive the person who killed her 3-year-old son.
On December 21, 1995, 16-year-old Raymond Johnson shot and killed 3-year-old Casson Xavier “Biscuit” Evans during a drive-by shooting.
“He was not the target of the shooting. It was accidental, but I take full responsibility for what happened,” Johnson said.
Just days after the shooting, Johnson and Evans would come face-to-face for the first time in a courtroom.
In November 2021, Johnson was released from prison after 26 years behind bars.
“I remember thinking he was a baby. I mean he was a child. I was just in disbelief that children had access to guns,” Evans said.
Across the courtroom, Johnson says he remembers seeing Evan’s face and immediately feeling ashamed.
“I felt hurt. I was like, "Wow, the pain that I brought to her and her family,"” Johnson said. “I ended up getting found guilty and get sentenced to life in prison plus 50 years.”
It took Johnson years to process the crime. He says it took a few years to decide to leave his gang.
After 16 years behind bars, Johnson became Muslim and started to seek forgiveness from the Evans family and his own family.
“My focal point was to heal her from the wounds and the pain that I caused her and her family, to heal my family, and as a byproduct of their healing, to heal myself,” Johnson said.
Evans started to see the change in Johnson.
“He was more of a young man that actually cared about who he harmed,” Evans said.
In 2012, Evans and Johnson became the first victim and perpetrator of a crime to participate in a restorative justice pilot program. It was one of the first times the pair discussed the night Casson was killed.
“That was hard because you have to meet certain levels of repentance," Johnson said. "First, you got to admit that you had committed a wrong that you have to restore something."
“It was May 23, 2012, that we started that relationship in that way and started getting to know who he was. We had that dialogue to where he just really put us both in a great place,” Evans said.
Around the same time, Evans began advocating for Johnson’s release, as well as other juvenile offenders serving mandatory life sentences for murder. Evans' work, and the work of many others, led to a Supreme Court decision banning mandatory life sentences for juveniles.
“We were instrumental with getting the laws changed and made restorative justice law in the state of Colorado,” Evans said.
After 26 years behind bars, last November, Raymond Johnson was released from prison. And he had a new family waiting for him on the outside.
“I think Raymond is an outstanding young man… I've inherited a son,” Evans said.
Evans’ son Calvin Hurd was 6 years old and in the backseat with his brother, Casson, when the shooting happened. He has also developed a relationship with Johnson.
“I consider him my brother after seeing that he was authentic… and being a productive citizen,” Hurd said.
The three say they know they give “unconventional family” a new meaning, but their hope is that others who have experienced unimaginable loss will consider forgiveness as a way to restore their lives and their hearts.
“I Call Him Son” is a ticketed event and will begin at 4:00 p.m. May 23.