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Convict-Turned-Criminal Justice Reform Advocate Who Claimed He Had Spent “Too Long” In Prison Now In Custody After Police Find Body Parts In His Freezer

Ashley Gillett

A well-known criminal justice advocate is facing charges of 2nd-degree murder and concealment of a human corpse after being seen on video repeatedly entering and exiting a New York apartment where police later found a dismembered body. 

Released from prison just last May after serving 25 years for robbery and attempted murder, Sheldon Johnson Jr., 48, was seen in surveillance footage obtained by the New York Post transporting cleaning supplies to and from the apartment of 44-year-old Collin Small, later returning to the scene wearing a disguise.

On March 5, witnesses called police upon hearing Small pleading for his life before two gunshots rang out from the apartment. A man now identified as Johnson was seen carrying a mop and bag of cleaning supplies to and from the apartment well into the night. He was also seen carrying a large blue storage bin into the dwelling and witnesses claim he never carried it back out.

The building superintendent called the police after observing Johnson’s strange behavior, growing concerned when he saw Johnson repeatedly enter and exit the 6th-floor home but never saw the tenant, Collin Smalls, leave. The superintendent also says he saw Johnson leave the premises in Small’s vehicle, returning at a later time wearing different clothing and a blonde wig.

Police conducted a welfare check at Small’s residence where they found his dismembered torso and feet stuffed into a large blue storage bin. 

Johnson was later questioned and after reviewing the surveillance footage, a police search of his home revealed the gruesome discovery of human arms and a decapitated head located in a freezer. He was arrested on Thursday, March 7th, shouting “I’m innocent” to reporters while entering the precinct, according to the New York Daily News.

Johnson’s arrest comes as a shock to some, as he had established himself as a well-respected criminal justice reform advocate following his 2023 release from prison.

Beginning last year, Johnson had begun working with the office of the Queens Public Defenders as a counselor for at-risk youth. Depicted as the product of a cycle of generational crime and imprisonment in a 2016 Buzzfeed article, Johnson is best known for “turning his life around” while advocating for prison reform and more programs for at-risk youth.

On February 1, Johnson appeared alongside Josh Dubin on The Joe Rogan Experience, one of the world’s largest podcasts. Dubin, a civil rights attorney and Executive Director of the Perlmutter Center of Legal Justice, refers to Johnson as a “miracle” and “marvelous human being” while claiming Johnson’s prison sentence for his previous crime, “far eclipses a sentence that would be commonly doled out for murder or manslaughter.”

At the beginning of the episode, Dubin says the sentence Johnson received effectively told him “You don’t matter, you don’t count,” and highlighted it was an “African American judge” that “threw away” Johnson’s life, despite Dubin previously acknowledging Johnson’s guilt for the crime. 

“One thing that has always struck me about Sheldon is his vulnerability, but also his honesty. He’s like ‘I’ll be the first one out of the gate to tell you, I did it. I could have made better choices,’ he’s not asking for a pass.” Dubin says of Johnson during the two-and-a-half-hour-long podcast episode.

Johnson goes on to describe his troubled youth surrounded by crime and gang activity. He believes these childhood experiences played a role in his ongoing criminal activity, including spending almost a year in a juvenile detention facility for spraying a teacher with a fire extinguisher when he was 10.

Later, Johnson was charged with robbery and attempted murder. He says he received 25 years in prison for “two stitches,” a reference to the number of stitches his victim received from being hit in the head with a pistol during the robbery that Johnson initiated. 

Johnson recounted the story of his crime to Joe Rogan, explaining his victim owed him $5,000 for cocaine. When Johnson found the man and his girlfriend wearing jewelry but unable to pay the owed funds, he says he decided to rob him of it.

“His girlfriend happened to be there and unfortunately, she got caught up in the situation.” Johnson says, “I had a bunch of young guys with me and they robbed her as well.” 

Johnson denies hitting the man in the head with a gun, claiming one of the young men accompanying him landed the blow.

But Johnson is not the only man in his family with a criminal history.

Johnson’s father was arrested in the late 1980s for raping his 7-year-old stepdaughter, and Johnson’s son followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps. At just 14 years old, he was arrested for causing the death of Minghui Yu, a Columbia student who was killed by a vehicle while attempting to flee an attack initiated by the troubled teen.

During the Joe Rogan interview, Johnson called his son’s actions a “simple mistake.”

Johnson is currently being held without bail at Rikers Island and has a court date scheduled for March 11, according to the New York Department of Corrections prison records.

It is still unclear how Johnson and Smalls knew each other. No motive has been identified as of now. Police investigation remains ongoing.

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Ashley Gillett

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