JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four years after skeletal remains found in a wooded area off Braddock Road on the Northside were identified as those of 43-year-old Sherry Prather, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office announced that the man last seen with her has been charged with murder.
Prather was last seen about 2 a.m. Oct. 12, 2012, leaving a bar on New Berlin Road with Johnny Johnson. Her family reported her missing three days later.
Police interviewed Johnson about her disappearance, but he insisted that he dropped her off near her home. Detectives classified it as a missing persons case until police received a tip in early November about human remains found off Braddock Road. The medical examiner positively identified the remains as Prather on Nov. 20, 2012, and said she died of a gunshot wound.
Police said Monday that they never stopped investigating the case and continued to look for witnesses and evidence. After another witness came forward and said Johnson had said he killed Prather, police called him in for a second interview. Police said he did not confess, but changed his story a couple of times.
Johnson was charged Friday with second-degree murder.
"She was basically dropped in the woods and left," JSO Lt. Steve Gallaher said. "The detectives don't forget about the victims and the families. They really want to solve them, and we're fortunate we were able to get this resolved."
Detectives still don't know a motive for the killing, but they're hoping he'll eventually come clean.
Prather's mother said she's lived in fear for years, knowing her daughter's killer was still out there. She's relieved to learn that someone is being held accountable.
"Every night, that's all I've thought about," Norma Ellis said. "Did she lay there and suffer? Could I have saved her if I had gotten there in time?"
Ellis said her life is forever changed.
"She was my only child and I loved her with all my heart. I just can't get over it. I can't," Ellis said. "I hope that he gets the worst punishment that they could give him because he has torn my family apart. He has ripped our hearts out."