Sunderland man jailed as a teenager for Kevin Johnson murder could be released next year
A Sunderland man who was jailed as a teenager for his part in the brutal murder of a young dad can seek his freedom next year after making "exceptional progress" behind bars.
A top judge said Jordan Towers, now 27, had helped to save his cellmate's life after a drug overdose and prevented another from hanging himself.
He had "done everything possible" to reform himself and deserved a sentence cut, ruled Mrs Justice Cheema Grubb.
Towers was one of a gang of three convicted of killing 22-year-old Kevin Johnson in a savage attack in Pennywell in May 2007.
Mr Johnson was assaulted and stabbed after confronting Towers and his friends about their rowdy behaviour.
Although Towers, then of Fell Road, did not use a knife, he was convicted of the murder on the basis of joint enterprise and jailed.
He was ultimately ordered to serve a minimum of 13 years behind bars, meaning he could not apply for parole until May 2020.
But Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb today reduced the term by a year, meaning that Towers can ask to be freed in May next year.
The judge said: Understandably, the family of Kevin Johnson continue to suffer deeply the effects of the loss.
"His parents have written a letter ...setting out the dramatic change in their lives without their son.
"They describe him as “an exceptional young man, loving and caring toward his family and friends, and well respected and loved by everyone that knew him.
"There were 500 people at his funeral and that is a testament of the kind of man he was.”"
But the Judge said Towers had completed a demanding "Challenge to Change" course with flying colours and is now a changed man.
In December 2016, he gave first aid to his cellmate, who was choking after a drug overdose, before summoning help.
The judge added that Towers had successfully talked a vulnerable prisoner out of numerous self-harm attempts.
"He prevented a suicide attempt by removing a home-made noose from the prisoner’s cell," she added.
In his own statement, Towers told the court: "Prison is a hard place to live. It is not an easy environment.
"It feels good to be able to help those people that otherwise would suffer silently.
"I have found, to my surprise, that people respond well to me.
"There are a lot of people in prison who lie and have ulterior motives.
"I think that I am genuine, straight down the middle. Perhaps that is why people feel that they can talk to me and trust me.
"The person that I am now is someone who can be relied on. I can rely on myself. I am mature, helpful and easy to manage.
"I am motivated by making people proud. I have done bad things in my life and I’m not proud of the person that I was.
"I am a completely different person now and don’t recognise the person that I was.”
Mrs Justice Cheema-Grubb ruled: "The 27-year-old Jordan Towers is a young man who has done everything he possibly can to change his attitude and prepare for a new life.
"He is not the unsettled teenager, easily led and liable to fall in with negative peers.
"He has shown, to the contrary, that he is able to help others, have the strength of character to pursue a course of conduct in their best interests rather than a negative one.
"Taking on the role of a mental for new prisoners is a significant responsibility and only those who are considered a positive role model will be entrusted with it.
"He has raised money for charity which demonstrates a personal commitment towards helping others needier than himself and the Parole Board’s recommendation that he be transferred to open conditions is another clear indication of exceptional progress."
She concluded: "The time has come to mark this remarkable hard work and positive growth. Accordingly, I am sure that Jordan Towers has demonstrated exceptional progress and I reduce his tariff by one year.
"This means that he will be eligible to apply for release on 22 May 2019.
"Whether he is released is a matter for the parole board, but my decision means that he will be eligible to present his evidence of readiness for release into the community one year earlier than otherwise.