Crystal Johnson followed the robber’s commands.
The clerk at D&V Convenience Store in Adams Run handed over the cash. With a .22-caliber rifle pointed at her, she walked to the back of the Savannah Highway store.
But after she disappeared from surveillance cameras’ view, Johnson never again was seen alive.
The robber shot the 37-year-old mother of three, then stole some lottery tickets and cigarettes before fleeing to Florida. A customer found her body.
Sixteen of her loved ones appeared Wednesday in a courtroom to face the man suspected in her May 28 slaying. They had one question: Why didn’t the robber just let her go?
But the relatives didn’t get an answer.
“She did everything he asked her to do,” said the Rev. Joann Summers, a spokeswoman for Johnson’s family. “Yet, he took her life, and he’s left her children motherless, her husband without his wife, her father without his daughter.”
Jeffrey Eady, 37, of New Zion faces charges of murder, armed robbery and using a firearm in a violent crime. Also a murder suspect in two earlier homicides in Clarendon County, Eady was taken Wednesday morning to North Charleston for a hearing in which he was denied bail.
He is a felon who was released from prison in late summer 2012 after serving a 12-year sentence for robbing a Lake City store.
His public defender, Ashley Pennington, said only that he was looking into the Adams Run killing and had not decided whether to request bail during a future proceeding.
Pennington’s client will remain in the Clarendon County jail until he’s tried on murder charges there.
“This is a horribly tragic case,” the attorney said.
Eady stood in the courtroom, his hands and feet shackled. He wore orange coveralls.
He kept his back turned to Johnson’s family, who filled every seat in the room. Some of them wept. He closed his eyes as Summers relayed the family’s wishes to have Eady punished “to the fullest extent of what the law can allow.”
He is suspected of first using the .22-caliber rifle on May 28 to kill 77-year-old Sadie Brown, who lived near him in New Zion, north of Manning. Authorities said he might have been stealing from Brown.
Two days later, he fatally shot 65-year-old Maybell White at a Clarendon County recycling business, according to deputies there. He took White’s car, they said.
Later that day, the killing spree continued. A security camera showed him pulling up to Johnson’s store and taking the rifle from the car, arrest affidavits stated. He walked inside, stole cash from Johnson and ushered her to the back, where the Charleston County Sheriff’s Office said he shot her.
Eady’s family recognized him on surveillance images published in the news, affidavits stated. He was captured days later in the Florida Panhandle.
Johnson’s relatives have since struggled with their loss.
Eldonis Youngblood, 45, of Walterboro had been with his aunt at the beach and a cookout during the days before her death. The large family enjoys spending time together, especially on holidays, and her absence has left a void, he said.
Now, the relatives spend their time comforting each other, trying to “uplift each other,” Youngblood said.
“It was a useless act,” he said. “I can’t make any sense of it.”
The victim’s 12-year-old daughter, Chelsea, buried her face into her grandfather’s chest. The gray-haired man’s shirt absorbed her tears. She later wrapped her arms around her stepsister’s neck and squeezed.
Cynthia Johnson, 37, said she was hoping the man suspected of killing her stepmother would turn around in the courtroom and see the pain on family members’ faces.
But he didn’t.
“My 10-year-old brother asks me a lot of questions,” she said. “They’re questions I don’t know how to answer.
“He doesn’t understand,” she said. “But I don’t understand either.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.