Toye was 17 at the time of the brutal murders of Alexis and Jeffrey Sosa. She was celebrating the 20th birthday of her boyfriend and father of her child, Kemar Johnston, in October when Jeffrey, 14, and his uncle Alexis, 18, were bound, beaten, carved with knives, doused with bleach and eventually shot to death.
Two lives ended that night. The lives of the nine youths accused in the crime hang in the balance. But in the aftermath of the tragedy, a baby was born.
While restrained to a hospital bed May 10, Toye gave birth to a 7-pound, 6-ounce boy. Her baby, Azariah, is now living with Johnston’s father, Hugh Johnston, 52, in northeast Cape Coral.
Azariah is a biblical name of Hebrew origin that means, “Helped by God.”
Toye was allowed 30 minutes with Azariah before her child was taken away, said Hugh Johnston. He presented a picture ID to a social worker handling Toye’s case and took custody of his grandchild within 48 hours of his birth.
“It feels good. It’s delightful knowing he’s not going to grow up in a foster home,” said Hugh Johnston. “That was our wish.”
Ashley Toye’s father, Clifford Toye, said he does not want custody of Azariah.
“I raised three children myself,” he said. “I do not plan on raising another one.”
Hugh Johnston and Clifford Toye were sitting in the same Lee County courtroom March 29 when a jury found Ashley Toye guilty in the torture-slaying. They have never spoken to each other.
“I don’t know Mr. Johnston. I’ve never met him,” said Clifford Toye. “I’m undecided on what I want to do yet. I’ll call him eventually.”
When Hugh Johnston looks down at his bed and sees Azariah, a tiny face framed by the white- and-blue blankets wrapped around his little head and body, he smiles peacefully. For him, Azariah represents a victory of sorts.
“I would be sitting here day and night wondering who had him and what was happening to him.”
Azariah has his mother’s lips and eyes but looks more like his father, said Hugh Johnston.
When asked about the future he envisions for Azariah, Hugh Johnston said: “If I could foresee the future, my kids would still be with me.”
Kemar Johnston is sitting in the Lee County Jail awaiting a pending trial. He faces the death penalty if convicted in the Sosa murders. Hugh Johnston’s 21-year-old son, Kian Johnston, is in state prison after pleading no contest last April to charges of DUI and child neglect.
“I feel hurt, but no regrets, because I raised them the right way,” said Hugh Johnston. “I never raised my sons like that and we can never know what they’ll do when they walk out the door.”
As he speaks, Janessa Johnston, 2, and Jeremiah Johnston, 4, chase each other through the house, giggling.
The children are the product of a relationship between Kian Johnston and Melissa Rivera. Rivera, 20, was the first defendant to plead guilty in the Sosa murders. She will receive a 20-year prison sentence if she testifies against the remaining slaying suspects.
Hugh Johnston said Rivera was a “neglectful mom” and that he called Child Protection Services to take custody of Janessa and Jeremiah. He has taken care of the children for the past two years.
While both children know their mother is incarcerated, he said they don’t know why. He plans on telling all three of his grandchildren about the darker side of their parents’ lives, but only when they are old enough to understand.
“I will wait until their minds are well-adjusted so the impact won’t be that hard on them,” he said. “I want to let them realize how good, dangerous or treacherous friendships can be. It’s a good lesson for kids.”
Life in prison
Ashley Toye, now 18, is serving a life sentence without parole at the Broward Correctional Institution in Fort Lauderdale. Unlike Rivera and another of her co-defendants, 16-year-old Iriana Santos, Ashley Toye refused a plea deal from the State Attorney’s Office.
Rivera and her attorney first negotiated a 20-year prison sentence. The state later gave Santos a 25-year sentence. Like Ashley Toye, both admitted to peripheral roles in the killings.
Clifford Toye said the state offered his daughter a 35-year sentence in exchange for her testimony.
“We were given the same option, but when you’re 17 and looking at 35 years in prison … my daughter admitted to everything right off the bat and made it simple for the prosecutors. She was screwed royally on this thing,” he said.
Clifford Toye spoke with his daughter Thursday. He said the 15-minute conversation was the first time they’d spoken since his daughter’s life was handed over to the state.
“She cries every day. She attends church as much as possible,” he said.
Hugh Johnston said he’s had many conversations with Kemar Johnston and Ashley Toye.
“We only speak about the necessary things” because the phone lines are recorded, he said. “Kemar asks if the baby is doing OK and things like that.”
Ashley Toye and her attorney told jurors Kemar Johnston was an abusive and controlling boyfriend. After two years of abuse, Toye knew the violence she would suffer if she disobeyed Johnston, and that is why she tortured Jeffrey Sosa and cleaned the crime scene, according to her attorney.
Authorities and attorneys for some of the co-defendants have labeled Kemar Johnston as the group’s ringleader. They say he fueled the bloodlust that led to the Sosas’ horrific end.
Hugh Johnston describes a different person.
“Kemar was a good kid. He was never disrespectful or anything,” he said. “He went to church with us every Sunday.”
Clifford Toye said he forbade his daughter from seeing Kemar Johnston for at least eight months before the murders occurred. On that deadly night, she was supposed to be sleeping over at a friend’s house, he said.
“I did not approve of their relationship at all,” he said. “She knew that and she couldn’t tell me what was going on.”
Clifford Toye said he believes his daughter’s court-appointed attorney, John D. Mills, made a mistake in opting for a speedy trial.
“I believe he (Mills) did everything he could do,” he said. “I just believe things could have been different with a private lawyer.”
The nine youths accused of killing the Sosas were members of a self-styled gang known as the “Cash Feenz,” according to authorities.
But Clifford Toye and Hugh Johnston both said their children have never been gang members and were actually aspiring rap musicians.
“The police said this was a gang from Day 1 and that has never been substantiated,” said Clifford Toye.
Hugh Johnston said he provided a computer and the electronic mixers the Cash Feenz used to create and record their music.
“They were doing music,” he said. “There was no gang business.”