On Nov. 4, 1993, Ellis Curry Watched His Friend Omar Shareef Jones Murder 14-Year-Old Jeff Mitchell. Curry Spent the Next 12 Years in Prison. Now, He's Done Something More to Pay for His Crime. Convict Talks So Others See

By Patton, Charlie | The Florida Times Union, July 24, 2006 | Go to article overview

On Nov. 4, 1993, Ellis Curry Watched His Friend Omar Shareef Jones Murder 14-Year-Old Jeff Mitchell. Curry Spent the Next 12 Years in Prison. Now, He's Done Something More to Pay for His Crime. Convict Talks So Others See


Patton, Charlie, The Florida Times Union


Byline: CHARLIE PATTON

On June 29, Ellis Curry walked into a room filled with strangers and told his story.

For 17 weeks, this group had been discussing what to do about Jacksonville's frightening surge of homicides.

Curry, 29, put a face on the problem at the last meeting of Jacksonville Community Council Inc.'s Reducing Violence study.

He described how he had become, at 16, a convicted killer who spent the next 12 years in prison. He described a prototypical descent into violence, how he was raised without a father by a loving but permissive mother. He began carrying a gun at 12. He embraced the thug life as he saw it on television and the movies and heard it in the lyrics of gangsta rap.

"I thought of myself as a character in a movie," he said. "I thought life was a game. . . . I believed I could do these things without any penalty."

He thought that right up until the day in 1993 when 14-year-old Jeff Mitchell died, shot to death by Curry's friend, Omar Shareef Jones, as Curry stood next to him.

Jones would be sentenced to death, although the sentence was later changed to life imprisonment. Curry, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, testified against Jones. He received 15 years but was released three years early.

He told his story to the JCCI study group because he felt he owed a debt to the man who asked him to speak.

That man was Glen Mitchell, Jeff Mitchell's father.

'THE ONLY ONE WHO UNDERSTOOD'

Every murder is a tragedy to someone. But some murders galvanize a community.

Jeff Mitchell's murder was one of those.

The baby-faced teen was sitting in a chair outside the library at Terry Parker High School on the night of Nov. 4, 1993, waiting for his dad to pick him up following a school function.

Jones and Curry, buzzed on adrenaline, marijuana and cheap wine, were looking for trouble as they approached Mitchell, Curry said in a recent interview.

When Mitchell said no to a demand for his money, Jones pulled a gun and shot Mitchell twice, once in the hip and once in the head.

Curry remembers being shocked at what Jones had done. Jones, he said, looked equally stunned.

"I grabbed him and shook him," Curry remembered. Later, he said, Jones was distraught and apologetic. They both ran, as did two other teenagers who had been with them, Edward Goodman and Marlon Hawkins.

Glen Mitchell arrived at the school just after the shooting and cradled his bleeding son. Jeff Mitchell was taken to a hospital and died the next morning.

By then, Curry, Jones, Goodman and Hawkins had all been arrested.

The first time Curry met Glen Mitchell was when Mitchell and his wife, Margaret, requested a chance to interview him, prior to sentencing. The Mitchells met with Curry and Hawkins, who had both agreed to plead guilty.

"He was the only one who understood," Mitchell said. "He was the only one who had any feelings of remorse."

'I OWED THIS GUY'

Jeff Mitchell's murder changed his parents' lives. They became advocates for homicide survivors, helping found the organization Compassionate Families, which operates out of the Broad Street building that houses Glen Mitchell's landscape architecture firm.

When the JCCI study began, Mitchell became a regular at the weekly meetings, one of four people who attended every meeting.

He was eating lunch with another regular, Mark Griffin, pastor of Wayman Chapel AME Church, when he mentioned that Curry, youngest of the four men who had gone to prison for Jeff's murder, had been released and was back in Jacksonville. …

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