At a court hearing in Wichita on Monday, Samantha Johnson became the first witness to testify against her father.
Based on testimony from Johnson and others, it became clear that Johnson, 23, and Evan Brewer, 3, suffered similar abuse years apart and allegedly at the hand of the same man — Johnson's father, Stephen Bodine.
Beyond the horrific details and the weighty issues, something else surfaced in the courtroom Monday — a loving connection.
A judge found that all of the testimony at Bodine's preliminary hearing was enough to send the 40-year-old man to a May 21 trial on a charge of first-degree murder and other crimes in Evan's death. The case has drawn attention because a landlord found the Wichita boy’s body encased in concrete and because records and video evidence have shown that Evan suffered not only ongoing abuse but videotaped torture. The unfolding story has raised criticism of the state’s child protection system.
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Minutes after Johnson left the witness chair, she sat in the audience with women in Evan’s family. Before Johnson left the courtroom that evening, “We just grabbed her hand and squeezed it and said everything is going to be good. And we thanked her,” Evan’s aunt, Carol Brewer, recalled Wednesday.
On her Facebook page, Carol Brewer wrote this to Johnson: “You are such a BEAUTIFUL AND STRONG YOUNG LADY.... I admire your strength and just so you know.... you have gained new family members for the rest of your life. Sometimes bad things break you or bring you together.... XOXO thank you for being strong and thank you for everything.... we love you.”
In a phone interview on Thursday, Johnson said, “I gained a new family, and I gained new friends, and I gained a support system.”
Johnson testified that when she was a young girl in Illinois, Bodine disciplined her by pushing her face under water in a bathtub. Twice, it caused her to lose consciousness. Other times, he made her stand facing a wall, with her hands behind her back — for hours at a time. If she fell asleep while standing, he would hit the back of her head, pushing her nose into the wall.
“Everything a child does is pretty annoying to him,” she testified.
The abuse that Johnson described mirrored some of the abuse that Evan suffered, according to testimony.
Evan’s father, Carlo Brewer, who fought to get Evan out of his mother’s home, said he appreciates what Johnson did in the courtroom.
“Watching her sit there … and stand up to him, to her abuser, I was proud of her. I told her she was family after that,” Carlo Brewer said Thursday. “She amazed me.”
There was a time, Johnson said, when “I thought they (the Brewer family) would probably not like me because of what my father did. But it turned out that it became a really good thing. They have been a very good support system for me.”
She has been talking to the Brewer family for months, but Monday’s court hearing was the first time she had met them in person.
As Johnson listened to the testimony of how Evan had been abused — from a detective, from his mother, from Bodine’s ex-girlfriend, “It was like reliving it," she said in the interview Thursday. "I felt like I understood some of what he (Evan) experienced. I never would have imagined in my worst nightmare that another child had to go through that. I wish I could have been there for him.”
Johnson said she is fortunate that her grandmother adopted her when she was between 6 and 7.
“If I didn’t get away from him, I would be dead,” she said.
She didn't communicate with Bodine again until she was 19. When she tried to ask him about what happened to her as a child, she said, Bodine first denied it, then treated it as “a big joke to him.” He told her she was stupid.
“It turned out I couldn’t talk to him anymore because I couldn’t get any answers from him except for being mocked.”
Johnson, a young mother of three small children, said she knows that raising children “takes a lot of patience.” In the background of the phone interview, her children sounded fussy at times, crying out for her attention. “Sorry,” she would say, momentarily turning her focus back to them, quickly soothing them.
“It’s not easy,” she said. “But when you have children, you love them and you care about them and their needs, and it becomes a part of you,” she said. “My children are my world.”
It wasn’t that way for her father, she said.
“He’s just mean.”
There were “moments” when her father “showed that he cared for me,” she said. Sometimes, he told her he loved her. Sometimes, he tickled her.
“I do believe drugs ruined him.”
He wasn't charged with crimes against her, Johnson said.
Because of what she suffered, she said, she was in counseling for years. After her grandmother adopted her, she had terrible nightmares.
“I was so scared that he was going to come and get me.”
Until she was 21, she said, she was not able “put it behind me.”
After the landlord and police found Evan’s body in September, Carol Brewer recalled Wednesday, Johnson reached out to her through social media. “She wanted us to know that he had done some things to her. She didn’t want this to happen to anybody else.”
Then Monday, when Johnson testified, “it showed that she went through what Evan went through,” Carol Brewer said.
The two women keep in touch, Carol Brewer said, because of their bond.
“It’s no different than my sister texting me.”