By Rick Sallinger and Photojournalist Louis Ramirez
DENVER (CBS4) – Sharletta Evans still has the clothes of her little boy who would not live to become a grown man. Casson was just three years old when he was shot to death.
“Yes that’s when my life became a whirlwind of grief and sorrow,” she told CBS4’s Rick Sallinger.
And the man who pulled the trigger back in 1995 was Raymond Johnson. It happened in a drive-by shooting.
As a teen, Johnson was sentenced to life behind bars without the possibility of parole. The punishment was later changed to life, but now with the possibility of parole. It was while he was in prison that his life changed.
At the Fremont Correctional Facility in Canon City, Johnson told CBS4 that several years ago he decided to write to Sharletta and tell her how he felt about the murder.
“It put a hole in my heart… it hurt me deeply,” he said.
Evans recalled, “He had pretty much said to me “I need help and I need you to reach out to me’ and he also asked me if I would be his mother.”
The man who had killed her child was asking her to adopt him, figuratively, as her son. He didn’t know that the night Evans’ son Casson died, she had heard a voice and made decision.
“I sat there and said, ‘Yes, I will forgive, yes, I will forgive.’”
Years passed, then the two agreed to enter a restorative justice program to heal. Eventually they met face to face.
Johnson said it wasn’t easy, “My chest started hurting I thought I was having a heart attack and said, ‘I don’t want to do it.’”
Evans remembers, “When he dropped his head it was head saying, ‘Look at the pain I caused this woman.’”
For eight hours they met behind prison walls in Limon.
Johnson said, “At the end, she grabbed my hand and said she wanted to touch the hand of the man responsible for taking her son’s life.”
“I wanted to touch his hand so that it would be real to me that I forgave him,” Evans responded speaking from her home.
Johnson is now eligible to be released in less than two years through a special program. During that time his relationship with Evans has grown.
“I can truly say I love the young man and love him enough to take him as a son and care for him,” she said.
And she has. The phone rang while CBS4’s Sallinger and photographer Louis Ramirez were with Evans.
“Hello mother,” Johnson said from prison. “How are you, son?” was the reply.
They talk on the phone, visit and one day he may come to this home and talk about Casson, the son she lost with the son she gained.