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Cycle of generational crime continues for suspect in horrific Bronx headless torso case

As life after incarceration goes, ex-con Sheldon Johnson Jr. seemed to be on the right path.

Armed with a degree he earned during his 25 years in prison, Johnson, 48, became the poster child for prison reform, working with the city’s homeless services department, counseling at-risk youth at the Queens public defenders’ office and talking about his remarkable turnaround on a popular podcast.

The only question about Johnson’s new direction seemed to be about who would play him in the movie.

“I was just blown away by the level of accomplishment and mental wherewithal that he possessed to accomplish what he did while incarcerated,” lawyer Josh Dubin said last month on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast.

He called Johnson “a miracle.”

But cops said this shining example of rehabilitation is the same man who, just weeks after the podcast was recorded, shot a man in the head in a Bronx apartment — stuffed his headless, dismembered torso in a plastic storage bin.

Investigators found the victim’s legs, arms and head in a freezer.

Johnson, who shouted “I’m innocent!” to reporters as he was led from the 44th Precinct stationhouse Thursday afternoon, has never shied away from his criminal past.

His qualm was with the amount of time he was forced to serve for the crimes he committed, none of which — until now, police said — included murder.

“I became this person I feel like I was never meant to be,” Johnson told the podcast host. “What I was exposed to made me into someone else.”

Johnson, sadly, isn’t the first in his family accused of killing another man.

That distinction went to his son — also named Sheldon Johnson — who in 2008 attacked a 24-year-old Columbia University graduate student, Mingui Yu, in Morningside Heights, punching his victim repeatedly in the face. Yu stumbled into traffic and was struck and killed by a passing SUV.

The younger Johnson was charged with manslaughter for Yu’s death and would spend 18 months in a juvenile detention boot camp.

Crime and incarceration run in the Johnson family. After abandoning his family, Johnson’s father — also named Sheldon Johnson — was arrested in 1986 for raping his 7-year-old stepdaughter three times.

The elder Johnson, who is deaf, spent time in prison on drug charges during the crack cocaine epidemic.

In a Buzzfeed article from 2016, Johnson Sr. lamented his family’s legacy.

“Generation to generation, it all stems from me,” Johnson Sr. said  through a sign language interpreter. “I feel disappointed. I regret a lot of the decisions I made in life. It enters my mind all the time. A big, huge amount of guilt. I ruined everything.”

Johnson Jr. said his life began a downward spiral at age 10, when he challenged a teacher’s authority.

He said he got teased as a child because of his parents’ disabilities and got into a lot of fights. Johnson Jr. said his fighting got him in trouble with a teacher who tried to punish him by smacking his hand with a ruler.

The boy dashed out of the classroom and when the teacher followed him, he grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed the educator. He said the incident led to an arrest and nearly a year in a juvenile detention center.

Instead of sticking with school upon his release, Johnson Jr. said he sold drugs. He served several sentences for drug-related charges.

Years later, Johnson Jr. was arrested and convicted for shooting a man who owed him money. The armed robbery and attempted murder conviction resulted in a 50-year prison sentence with no chance of parole for 41 of those years.

“When I located this particular individual, he had his girlfriend with him and this guy owed me $5,000 for some drugs I had given him on consignment,” Johnson Jr. told Rogan. “As far as I was concerned, with his jewelry, we were even. So I robbed him.”

While incarcerated, Johnson created programs promoting civic engagement among inmates and identifying dyslexia in prisoners, in addition to pursuing a bachelor’s degree and obtaining his certification as a paralegal, which he used to offer legal advice to fellow inmates, according to an online bio.

“I started working in the law library and I discovered I had a knack for complicated things,” Johnson Jr. told Rogan. “I was actually helping guys get out of prison. It felt good.”

Dubin and others helped him out of prison in 2023, after the man served 25 years behind bars.

Dubin credited the state’s prison system with helping Johnson Jr. turn his life around, but bashed it for providing the ex-con with more opportunities as a prisoner than he’d received as a free teen.

“This insane inhumane sentence actually saved Sheldon, but why weren’t there those programs … in his community to save him as a kid?” Dubin said on Rogan’s podcast.


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