McNeil sentenced in Flowerfield Twp. murder case
CENTREVILLE — Tyler McNeil, 21, of Dowagiac was sentenced Friday in St. Joseph County Circuit Court for his role in the death of 41-year-old Kevin Johnson, a Kentucky truck driver who was shot and killed in Flowerfield Township in the early morning hours of Nov. 15, 2018.
As part of a plea agreement with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, McNeil pled guilty to one count of armed robbery in exchange for his testimony in the trial of codefendant Theron Phone Hunt, also of Dowagiac. Hunt, who will be sentenced in February, was convicted of first-degree felony murder — which carries a mandatory life sentence — and five other charges earlier this month in St. Joseph County Circuit Court. Kayla Cheney, the other codefendant in the case, admitted to pulling the trigger of the 12-guage sawed-off shotgun that killed Kevin Johnson, and is currently serving a 25 to 75-year sentence for second-degree murder.
Circuit Court Judge Paul Stutesman sentenced McNeil Friday to a minimum of 12 years and up to 60 years in prison with 433 days served. McNeil was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $7,000 as well as crime victim and state costs in the amount of $198. According to court documents restitution is joint and several with codefendants Hunt and Cheney.
Prior to sentencing, Stutesman heard from McNeil and one of Kevin Johnson’s older brothers Bradley Johnson. McNeil, the owner of the murder weapon, expressed remorse for his part in Kevin Johnson’s death.
“I want you (Judge Stutesman) and the family to know that I apologize, and I take full responsibility for my actions during this crime. I also want you to know that while paying my dues to society it won’t be time wasted,” McNeil said. “[I will use every day] to prepare myself to be a productive member of society for my daughter, my parents, my siblings and my family.”
McNeil added that he realizes it’s time for him to grow up, and is “sorry that it had to come to this to realize how precious my life is.”
“I know that words can’t describe how the family feels but I hope deep down inside someday they can forgive me.”
Bradley Johnson lamented over the loss his family experienced and how their lives “changed forever” due to “the actions of Theron Hunt, Kayla Cheney and Tyler McNeil.”
“Kevin lost his life over $200,” Bradley said. “[…] To lose someone we loved so much for such a senseless act has been difficult, and sometimes it seems likely that we may never be able to move forward. Kevin’s mom lost her only son, and as a parent myself I can’t imagine what she goes through every day and what she will go through for the rest of her life. Kevin left behind two sons who love him dearly. He had a great relationship with both of his boys. He was a wonderful father because Kevin was like a big kid himself. Kevin won’t be here to see his sons grow, get married, have kids or be a grandfather. It’s all been taken away.”
Bradley added that he and his older brother have lost their “baby brother,” and while they didn’t get to see one another as often as they may have liked, the thought of never seeing Kevin again — as well as what Kevin went through just moments before his death — keeps Bradley awake at night.
“There have been many nights that I’ve laid awake for hours just thinking about what my brother had to go through in the final moments of his life,” Bradley said. ”I think of what Heather (Little) and Staniela (King) were forced to go through, and the impact it’s going to have on them for the rest of their lives. I get angry that these people were willing to endanger all of these lives and take my brother’s (life) over $200.”
Following Bradley’s statement, Stutesman, who presided over Hunt’s trial, said “six lives have been ruined by methamphetamine” and all of their families received the same phone calls.
“’Tyler has been arrested for murder,’ ‘Theron has been arrested for murder,’ ‘Your brother has passed.’ And it wasn’t worth anything, doesn’t matter if it was $1,000, $10,000 or $1,000,000, it wasn’t worth (the pain it caused). Methamphetamine, I don’t know about in Kentucky, but (in Michigan) methamphetamine is a terribly addictive and devastating drug. I wish I could say this was a freak occurrence but if you (sat here) for the rest of the afternoon you would hear three more cases pretty similar to this one except nobody died. I don’t know what’s going on or what we can do to correct it.”
Alek Haak-Frost can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org.