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Sheldon Johnson, an ex-con who claimed to be a criminal justice reform activist, pleaded not guilty to murder in a Bronx courtroom. He was accused of gunning down a rival named Collin Small, chopping up his remains, and hiding them in various locations, including a storage bin and a freezer. Johnson, who had become an outspoken advocate for criminal justice reform after his parole, was working with the Queens Defenders before his arrest. Surveillance video from Small’s apartment building showed Johnson coming and going multiple times after the murder, at one point wearing a blonde wig as a disguise. Neighbors heard a man begging for mercy shortly before gunshots were heard.

He had recently appeared on podcaster Joe Rogan’s show and had been released from prison after serving over 25 years for armed robberies. Johnson claimed to have reformed himself in prison and had a photo on his Instagram with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, as well as a photo alongside the CFO of the Brooklyn Nets NBA team. In the podcast, Johnson spoke of his epiphany while on an airplane after his release, describing his time in prison as “the bowels of hell” and his freedom as being “in heaven.” However, he is now being held without bail in a New York City jail on a second-degree murder charge.

Responding officers initially found only Small’s headless torso, with his feet discovered beneath it in a plastic bin. In Johnson’s Harlem apartment, police found Small’s head, legs, and one arm stuffed into a freezer. Johnson appeared in court wearing a tan sweatsuit with his shirt inside-out, entering a plea of not guilty. He had allegedly been seen changing clothes and wearing disguises after the murder. The exact relationship between Johnson and Small, both of whom had served prison time, was not immediately clear. Johnson’s smile in a photo with Bragg was a stark contrast to the serious charge he now faces.

The Queens Defenders, the criminal defense firm Johnson had been working with, had no comment on his arrest. Bragg’s office also did not respond to requests for comment. Johnson’s case has shocked many due to his supposed transformation during his time in prison and his advocacy for criminal justice reform after his release. The incident has raised questions about his character and motivations, especially as he had been working with prominent figures in the criminal justice system and advocating for reform. Despite his claims of redemption and change, Johnson now finds himself facing serious charges and is being held without bail.

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