Father’s killing remains unsolved

ABOVE: Tara Spann-Young, 37, cries as she holds her sleeping 2-month-old son Jonathan and recalls the slaying of her common-law husband, Johnny Young (below), in April. Buy this photo

When Tara Spann-Young looks into her infant son’s eyes, she’s reminded of the man who is fading from her life more every day.

How to help

People with information in the April 6 killing of 38-year-old Johnny Young in his home on Hope Drive near Summerville are asked to call Crime Stoppers at 554-1111.

The 37-year-old gradually is losing memories of the man who had persuaded her to have another child. He had promised to change the diapers, to stay up late and feed the child in their home near Summerville.

She often forgets the sound of Johnny Young’s voice, so she listens to his old voicemails. On Tuesday, she reminisced about handing out gift baskets on their last Christmas together.

But when she gazes into her 2-month-old son’s eyes, Spann-Young also thinks about the pain that has persisted since the spring day when Young was found with three bullet holes in his chest. It was less than 48 hours after she learned that she was pregnant.

Clad in checkered overalls, the baby slept on Spann-Young’s chest as she grew uneasy knowing that his father’s killer is still on the loose and that the investigation has stagnated. She patted the child’s back and cried.

“I just want him to know that his dad was a good person and would have never left us,” said Spann-Young, who was declared Young’s common-law wife after the killing. “And I want the person who took him to be caught.”

Young’s slaying was one of three in Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office jurisdiction this year. Two of the killings remain unsolved. The third was a recent murder-suicide.

Capt. James Nettles, who supervises sheriff’s investigators, said the office has completed many interviews, but is still trying to track down a few other acquaintances who might have information about the crime.

“Some guys may think it’s cold,” Nettles said. “We just don’t have anything concrete that we can put our finger on yet.”

The crime
Two days before the killing, after they learned of Spann-Young’s pregnancy, the couple rode around and chatted about the long lives they had already lived.

Through a previous marriage, the 38-year-old Young had six children, several of whom are grown. She has an adult daughter.

Neither one could fathom plunging into parenthood again.

“It was like we were starting over,” she said. “But it was his idea to have a baby. He was going to change the Pampers.”

The morning of April 6 was like most others. He served her a breakfast of French toast.

She planned a business trip to Manning, but he decided to stay at their Hope Drive home to clean up a Chevrolet Camaro he planned to sell on Craigslist. They had built a small business out of buying, fixing and reselling old cars.

“He wasn’t supposed to be home. At the last minute, he decided not to go with me,” she said. “I drove off, and I never saw him again.”

She had called Young about 15 minutes into her 45-minute drive, but he didn’t answer.

As she took the Manning exit off Interstate 95, her phone rang. It was her daughter, who was returning home from college.

She had found Young lying in the kitchen. His chest was bloodied. Paramedics responded, but he was already dead.

Spann-Young surmised that he was shot just minutes after they parted. Somebody, she said, was likely waiting for him or was burglarizing the home when he walked in.

A backdoor window was broken, but nothing was taken. She saw no signs of a struggle; nothing was out of place.

None of the neighbors heard the gunshots. No one was seen running away. Investigators haven’t determined why Young was killed: if someone was there solely to kill him or to take something from him.

“We’ve heard several different versions,” said Nettles, the sheriff’s captain. “We haven’t been able to verify exactly what happened.”

The aftermath
The birth of her son two months ago lifted Spann-Young from the depths of grief.

The boy was six weeks premature, but healthy. He was named Jonathan after his father.

“It’s nice to call his name again,” Spann-Young said, tugging at her son’s cheeks. “Even though he doesn’t know what I’m talking about.”

Though they never met, Spann-Young thinks there’s a connection between Jonathan and his father.

When she plays old voice mails from Young, the child breaks from his normal cooing or crying and listens to his father’s voice.

But she knows the day will come when she will explain to Jonathan what happened. By then, she hopes she will know.

She used to stop every week at the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division to ask for updates. She contrives excuses to visit: She needs to get photos off her laptop or numbers off her phone, which were entered into evidence.

But she learns nothing new: no solid leads, no evidence. Experts turned up no valuable DNA at the scene, she said, and ballistics testing connected the case to no other crimes.

Investigators checked on customers in Young’s car-selling business, including one unhappy buyer. They interviewed family members involved in a contentious divorce.

Knowing that all of Young’s acquaintances would be suspects, Spann-Young volunteered to take a lie-detector test once she hit the second trimester of her pregnancy.

“My daughter took one, too,” she said. “I wanted (investigators) to at least clear me, so they could move on.”

She started questioning suspicious phone calls Young had fielded just before his slaying.

A week before, a man called to offer Young a chance to buy 2 acres of undeveloped land on James Island for $7,000 — if Young would travel and meet him there.

The day before the killing, a woman called and offered to give Young $3,000 for any car he could transport to a street “out in the country,” Spann-Young said. She now thinks it could have been an ambush.

Investigators have uncovered no solid ties between the calls and the killing.

“It didn’t seem right to me,” she said. “But if someone wanted to kill him, I would’ve known.”

Spann-Young acknowledged that Young had problems in the past, but that he had since moved on. Young was a felon with a history that included convictions for possession of crack cocaine in 1992, distribution of cocaine in 1993, check fraud in 1997 and criminal domestic violence in 2004.

But guns, drugs and gangs were not part of their lives, she said. They moved from North Charleston to avoid them.

The life they had planned was “destroyed,” she said, on that springtime morning. But the infant she cuddled one recent day kept at least part of it intact.

“I’m happy he talked me into having a baby,” Spann-Young said. “He thought it was going to be a girl, but I’m glad it’s a boy.

It’s like I have a little part of him that I won’t let anyone take away.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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