California death row inmate moved to facility where his victim’s grandson is serving time

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Willie Darnell Johnson was convicted and sentenced to death for a 1986 murder in Richmond.

SAN QUENTIN, Calif. — The state is closing death row at San Quentin and all condemned California inmates are moving to different prisons by the end of summer 2024. 

Angela Womble was living in Richmond with her mom and 18-month-old son in July 1986. She remembers when two men with guns came to her home, demanding money. One of them was Willie Darnell Johnson.

She gave them around $100, but things quickly turned violent.

“Johnson fired his weapon into the ceiling and then weapons were pointed in the direction of me and my mother. The noise, the initial shot scared my son and so he started running, and so I was reaching to get him,” she said.

Johnson shot and killed her mother. Womble says chasing after her son saved her life.

“It prevented the shotgun blast from going in the head to grazing the head, the neck and eventually entering my left shoulder,” she said.

The blast left her with severe injuries for the rest of her life which still cause her pain to this day. Johnson was convicted of killing Womble’s mother and sentenced to death in 1987.

“Even if it didn’t bring her back, justice was served,” Womble said.

Johnson has served his sentence at San Quentin since Aug. 5, 1987. In May 2024, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation sent Womble an email saying, “You are receiving this email as the offender’s assigned facility and custody location may have recently changed.”

Johnson was moved to the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

“This cannot be happening. Please make it make sense, this cannot happen,” Womble said.

It all started in 2019 when Newsom signed an executive order temporarily stopping the death penalty. It follows Prop 66, passed by voters in 2016, allowing the state to move death row inmates to high level security state prisons where they work and pay restitution to victims.

“He had no regard for victims, or their families or friends, that live through the horrific events that happen in their lives,” Womble said.

What was once peace after a death row sentence is now Womble’s familiar feeling of fear and anxiety.

“I now have about eight cameras, inside and out. (I) also have these devices that I put in my doors to make sure that no one can get in any of my doors at my home. I’m pretty much a prisoner in my own home,” Womble said.

As for her son, 39-year-old Terrence Henderson, he’s serving a 27-year sentence for second-degree robbery. He’s in the facility Johnson was recently transferred to.

“Definitely a slap in the face. Unheard of,” Womble said. “I’m actively talking with the district attorney’s office trying to get more information. How could this happen?”

ABC10 called state and county officials. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office says it contacted the CDCR about the issue. The CDCR says the DA’s alert about the relationship between the two inmates led to Johnson being transferred to the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. ABC10 was first to notify Womble of the change.

“I have deep empathy for victims of crimes and I believe in justice,” said Newsom in 2019.

During Newsom’s 2019 announcement of the moratorium on executions, he mentioned meeting with victims families. ABC10 asked the governor’s office for an updated statement in light of more inmates being moved off death row. His office pointed to his 2019 remarks.

“Do we have the right to kill? That’s a deep and existential question. I don’t believe we do,” Newsom said in 2019.

Sentences do not change once transfers have been made. Death row at San Quentin will be dismantled and become a rehabilitation center once all inmates are transferred.

Other officials across the state have been vocal about the transfers. Some are concerned their facility’s infrastructures are not set up to securely hold death row inmates.

: ‘Speed Freak Killer’ to be moved from death row by summer 2024

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.

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