By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The family of a homicide victim remembers him as a man who could fix anything before an act of violence put him in a wheelchair and as a man who put the welfare of others before his own.
“He was someone who always looked for and saw the best in people,” Pedro Ka‘awaloa Jr., the nephew of James V. Johns Sr., said of his uncle. “He was very thoughtful, always looking out for people. He wanted to know how everyone was doing.”
Johns was killed in a tool shed on his Nanawale Estates property on Dec. 16. Police say the 54-year-old man — who as of late been able to get around with the aid of a walker — was bludgeoned to death with “an axe or hammer type tool.”
Jason Russell Jump, a 36-year-old man who lived in a shack on Johns’ property, is charged with second-degree murder in Johns’ death and is in custody in lieu of $250,000 bail. Jump has pleaded not guilty to the charge and will undergo a court-ordered mental examination.
“I want to see him get life and leave the islands, someplace where they send crud,” said Betty Johns, James Johns’ younger sister and Ka‘awaloa’s mother.
Johns’ 27-year-old daughter, Linda Johns, said her father “could do anything with anything” and was into reclamation projects, both mechanical and human.
“He was just a handyman,” she said. “He could work on backhoes. That dually truck out there that looks like a semi-truck, he shipped that all the way from Montana here. He found potential in anything, not just cars, but people. That’s why he let this scary dude (Jump) on the property. He didn’t look at the bad in people. He just found that good, and that’s what he focused on. Because everybody lived a story. Everybody went through something tragic and everybody deserved a second chance.”
Betty Johns said her brother was rendered a paraplegic about three years ago when he was punched by a neighbor in Nanawale.
“I was told that my brother was defending a roommate,” she said. “He was flown by helicopter to Kapiolani (Medical Center on Oahu). He died twice and they brought him back to life. He couldn’t move his legs afterwards. There was nothing on an x-ray that they could point to and say, ‘This is your specific problem.’”
Added Linda Johns: “Dad went to shake his hand and the man punched him in the temple and he fell back into the asphalt and his brain did like a ping-pong ball.”
James Johns had experienced hard times since, according to his family. He had accumulated numerous junk vehicles on his property, including a bus, and had battled with the subdivision’s community association, which wanted them removed.
“I came here from Montana to help clean up the property, but I couldn’t get things out of there fast enough,” Linda Johns said. “I’d have part of it cleaned up, and he’d bring in more stuff.”
His relationship with his wife, Keri Johns, was also tumultuous. Both had filed for restraining orders against the other, and he had been ordered by a judge to get mental health treatment. Keri Johns had filed for divorce on Nov. 26, just three weeks before James Johns’ death.
Johns’ son, James Jr., has been incarcerated for several months awaiting trial on sex assault charges.
Betty Johns said her brother got angry about “a son who did nothing with his life,” that money problems took a toll on his marriage and the injury that robbed him of his mobility also deprived him of his short-term memory.
“You couldn’t make plans because he’d forget them the next day,” she said. “He’d make plans to get the junk cars out of the yard, then Junk Yard Dog (towing company) would come down and he’d say, ‘You’re not taking anything off this property.’”
All three family members had pleasant memories of Johns and described him as “a good man.”
“I remember Uncle Jimmy spent a lot of time trying to get electricity to our house,” Ka‘awaloa said. “He did a lot of home improvement, working on the electrical wiring and things like that.”
Linda Johns said she “learned a lot of skills” from her father.
“I learned from my dad to work hard and never give up and just trust the Lord, because he’ll be there, and protect your family. I’m in shock, still. I was coming over the 31st. I was supposed to celebrate New Year’s Eve with Dad. I was gonna bring a friend down to stay with him because there was a lot of crazy stuff going on. I’m in school, and I run a business in Montana, so I’m doing the best that I could.
“I just want my papa back,” she said, and started to cry.
Other survivors include: stepchildren, Steven Harper and Alex Shepard of Keaau, Amy Moran of Helena, Mont., and Robert Otero of Hawaii; sisters, Janet Hanna and JoAnne Yusko of New Jersey, Judith Hartman of Kentucky and Alison Johns of Washington; stepbrothers, Shane Williams of Puna and Arnie Williams of Missoula, Mont.; and mother of his children, Linda Johns (Sr.) of Helena, Mont.; four grandchildren; nieces, nephews, cousins, aunts and uncles.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.