Remembering a crime that changed a community forever

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COLUMBIA - More than two decades after Ernest Lee Johnson murdered three people at a Casey's General Store, the surrounding community said the area has never been the same. 

"Before the killings, it was a neighborhood where we didn't lock our doors; afterwards we went to locking our doors all the time," Creedon Miller, a local resident, said.  "So there was like an innocence that was lost in this neighborhood."

Johnson was found guilty in 1995 for killing three workers with a hammer at the store. He was sentenced to death and is scheduled to die by lethal injection Tuesday night.

Miller described the local neighborhood as warm and friendly before the brutal murders.

"The Casey's store created a more wholesome family environment and kind of a community center for people to go to from this side of the street and from Indian Hills. Children and families and everyone would go down there (Casey's). And after that there was a certain amount of innocence that was lost."

Miller said after Casey's left the location, multiple businesses tried to take over the lot, but had trouble sticking around.

"I think for the building itself and for that property obviously it was a very traumatic thing; and yes, we would drive and see that there was a church there and the various other businesses that tried to operate there and couldn't," Miller said. "You know we would think about the fact that the place seemed to be cursed because of that. But, you know life goes on, the neighborhood goes on and we continue to live life. It was an extremely traumatic thing that took place at that time and yes it did affect us."