Victim’s family hopeful for justice

John Lee Hall of Gainesville was shot to death last year in Belleview


Diane Jackson, right, and family members of her brother, John Lee Hall III, a Gainesville resident murdered in Belleview one year ago, gather to honor him. No one has yet been charged in the murder.

Erica Brough/Special to the Guardian
Published: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 4:25 p.m.

The mood inside John Lee Hall's mother's Gainesville home last Wednesday was mixed as loved ones remembered the man they called "Spoony," who was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on Aug. 12, 2012, in Belleview.

Some family members cried. Some told jokes about Hall, a father of five. Others, sometimes offering soft smiles, stared at a huge portrait of him.

Despite the varied emotions, everyone in the home agreed on one thing: They want justice and are hopeful it won't be long before those responsible for Hall's death are arrested.

"It's extremely hard, and it's even harder to know that the person who did this is still free," said a tearful Katrina Curtis about her brother's death.

Hall was visiting his children in Belleview on Aug. 12, 2012. He and five other family members were returning to his ex-wife's home after going to a convenience store. At 6:30 p.m., they were walking behind the Sweetbay Supermarket at 11310 South U.S. 301 when a black Chevy decorated with the likeness of the crazed character Chucky and the words "Child's Play," the name of the movie in which Chucky was featured, pulled up next to them. At least six shots were fired from the car, police said.

Hall's nephew, Charles "C.J." Penny, of Gainesville, was shot in the leg. Hall, 44, was shot once and later died at a hospital from the injury.

Reliving the memory of that painful day, Penny said last Wednesday that they had seen the car drive by and remarked how sharp it looked. Then, he said, they heard multiple shots and ducked and ran into some bushes. He said his uncle started to run, but fell. Penny said they heard the car's engine revving behind them and thought the car might return so they picked up Hall and carried him into the bushes.

Diane Jackson, Penny's mother and Hall's sister, said the incident continues to haunt her son and other family members. Not long after the shooting, whenever a car would drive by, they would dive on the ground, she said.

Belleview Police Department officials do not believe the shooting was random. They also said it was not drug related. Hall's death was the first in their city in six-and-a-half years.

Detective Ray Dwyer said they have followed up on numerous leads and have "very strong persons of interest" and that those people "know who they are."

At this point, however, "We can't say who they are until we have all the pieces in place," Dwyer said.

The car and some weapons were recovered at a home in Silver Springs Shores and were processed for ballistics and other evidence, but officials are not yet releasing information about that part of the investigation.

Hall's family members said they are grateful no one else was killed.

"It could easily have been six of them," Curtis said, adding that her brother didn't want to go with the others that day, but at the last minute he put on his shoes and accompanied them to the store.

"He wasn't a trouble maker. He loved his family and was the glue that held this family together," she said.

Jackson said her brother, the eldest of five brothers and five sisters, cleaned, cooked for and took care of the others, and gave everyone nicknames.

Curtis said she had just finished cooking dinner and was watching television when she received the phone call about the shooting.

Nate Hall, John's brother, said that at first they were told that John was going to be taken to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. Then, roughly 45 minutes to an hour later, they got word he was being taken to Munroe Regional Medical Center in Ocala.

Family members and friends from Jacksonville, Tampa, Waldo and Gainesville converged on MRMC. Hours later, they were told he had died.

"We have a strong bond. If you saw me, you saw him. He was fun loving. He loved telling stories," said Nate Hall, fighting back tears.

The family had been planning a surprise party for Nate's birthday on Aug. 18. Instead, they were burying their loved one that day.

Bosie Jackson, John's brother-in-law, said he misses the man's infectious smile. Jackson recalled a time when John was at his brother's photography business and a woman refused to pay for her pictures. He said John went to the lady and began talking with her and that not long afterward, she paid for her pictures and even paid extra, which brought laughter and a smile to the faces of those in the room last Wednesday.

"John's death was truly senseless. He was well respected, well loved. I would love to see justice done in this case. They took a life unnecessarily," Jackson said. "We just want someone to come forward. We're begging anyone with any information to come forward."

Until then, Curtis said, they are praying as a family that her brother's compassion, kindness and love for others may smile upon them and they can receive justice for his death.

Anyone with any information can call Dwyer at 352-233-2146, the department line at 352-245-7044, or, to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 352-368-STOP (7867).

Austin L. Miller is a staff writer at the Ocala Star-Banner.

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