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Suspect in child-sex case killed by deputies in Treasure Island motel

On Monday night, an 11-year-old girl from Safety Harbor told her mother she felt dizzy. Her stomach hurt. She had a headache.

The mother and her live-in boyfriend, Gregory J. Johns, took the girl to the hospital. The pair waited in a lobby as a doctor examined her. After a few minutes, the doctor came back with news: The girl was pregnant.

Her mother was distraught, and so was Johns. He asked for the car keys. He needed a smoke.

Johns never came back.

Allegations of rape soon followed, and investigators began their pursuit. For five days, Johns — a criminal for more than half of his 42 years — returned to the life he knew. He robbed strangers, authorities say, and bought booze with the money he stole. He swore that he'd rather die than go back to prison.

Just after 5 Saturday morning, Johns got what he wanted. Cornered in a second-floor room at a cheap motel on Treasure Island, he rushed Pinellas sheriff's deputies with a knife, investigators say.

Ten bullets later, he was dead.

• • •

Johns was first arrested at 17. He first went to prison at 18.

Between then and Saturday, he was arrested at least 12 times. For selling cocaine. For carrying a concealed firearm. For robbery and burglary, and battering a law enforcement officer.

He served six stints in prison.

He was last released by the Florida Department of Corrections in July 2009, which, authorities say, was around the time he met and moved in with the woman in Safety Harbor.

Johns, records show, had never before been accused of a sex crime. But after that hospital visit Monday night, authorities say, the 11-year-old told her mother what had happened:

She was home alone with Johns one day in June. He came into the girl's room and asked her to join him in the master bedroom. She refused, so Johns, at 5-foot-9 and 280 pounds, pinned her to the bed and raped her. In the days that followed, deputies say, he assaulted her twice more.

On Tuesday of last week, with a warrant out for his arrest, police said Johns broke into the St. Petersburg home of a 78-year-old woman. He robbed her and left her bound and gagged for 12 hours.

The next day, reports say, he approached a couple in Vinoy Park, drew a knife and demanded money.

He called his girlfriend that night. He said he was sorry for ruining her daughter's life but insisted he would never return to prison.

The police, he told her, would have to kill him.

On Wednesday, investigators found a note at Vinoy Park that had fallen out of Johns' pocket.

It was an apology to the girl.

• • •

Brian Britton and Misty Roberson met Johns outside their motel room Friday evening.

Johns, they say, was staying upstairs with a blond woman they believed was his girlfriend.

The young couple, on vacation from Ruskin, also met two of Johns' other friends, who introduced themselves as "Brett" and "Leslie."

Johns invited Britton, 24, and Roberson, 26, up to his second-floor room for a shot of Grey Goose vodka. The room, they said, was trashed. Clothes, empty cups and McDonald's bags were strewn across the floor. Johns told them he planned to stay for a week.

Next to the pool downstairs, the group played cards, mostly rummy, for hours. Johns, wearing a white T-shirt and black swim trunks, blared rap music from Plies and Lil Wayne on one of his two phones. He chugged bottles of Bud Light Platinum. He mixed his vodka with orange Fanta.

"He seemed nice," Britton said. "He was in a real good mood."

The conversation, they said, was random. He told them he had a pacemaker and pulled up his shirt to show a scar across his chest. Johns said he would have played college basketball if not for arrests he declined to explain. He pulled out a stack of $20 bills and bet his friend Brett that he could beat him in a game.

Around midnight, when Brett and Leslie got into an argument, Britton said Johns turned to him: "I've got no respect for that guy. He's a woman beater."

Roberson went to bed around 2 a.m. Saturday. Britton stayed up for a swim.

Leslie, he said, told him to be careful. Johns had noticed the cash in his girlfriend's pocket.

Britton soon went to his room and locked the door behind him.

Earlier, investigators were told that Johns was in a hotel on Madeira Beach or Treasure Island. More than a dozen deputies had searched through the night before they found him in his room.

Johns refused to answer the door, authorities said, then locked himself in the bathroom. When deputies broke in, they say, he came out with a knife. Deputies Claudio Dimundo and Eric Turner fired at him.

"I heard the cop kick the door in and then yelling," Britton said. "Then — pop, pop, pop."

Shot multiple times, Johns died on the floor of Room 224 at a motel named the Trails End.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at jcox@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8472.

Suspect in child-sex case killed by deputies in Treasure Island motel 09/01/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 1, 2012 10:51pm]
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