The suspect was 20-year-old Johnathan Jones, a man with a lengthy rap sheet who lives around the corner from the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store. When he was 14, he brought a weapon to school, was arrested for burglary three years later, then pleaded guilty to carrying a concealed weapon in 2009. In October 2010, he was accused of murdering an 18-year-old in a drive-by shooting. He sat in jail until July 2011, when, according to the State Attorney's Office, a key witness refused to provide additional information to the cops and the charges were dropped. Jones had been home only five months when McMillan was killed.

His mom, Betty Hardwick, says she kept a watchful eye on Jones when he got out of jail. She urged him to get his GED and says he was taking welding classes at the West Technical Education Center before the center shut down. Meanwhile, he took care of his 1-year-old daughter and worked odd jobs mowing grass and laying sod for his uncle in West Palm Beach.

On a February afternoon, Hardwick ushers a visitor past her crowded kitchen to a cramped formal dining room with flowers on the table, fancy red place mats, and cracked tile on the floor. She moves an ironing board so her guest can sit on a chair with a plastic-covered seat. Soon, her 27-year-old daughter, Elizabeth Robinson, and a friend stop by for a visit.

The Alabama Georgia Grocery Store has been in Jimmy McMillan's family for seven decades.
Monica McGivern
The Alabama Georgia Grocery Store has been in Jimmy McMillan's family for seven decades.
Jimmy McMillan (left) was a champion bass fisherman and owner of the store his family had run for generations.
Courtesy of the McMillan Family
Jimmy McMillan (left) was a champion bass fisherman and owner of the store his family had run for generations.

Hardwick has kind, hazel eyes and a weary face above her faded hospital scrubs. She raised six kids and has seven grandchildren. She pays the bills by working at a nursing home in Clewiston. Across the street from her tiny house is a decrepit apartment building with aluminum foil covering some windows like black eyes. Men linger on the balconies.

Like many in Belle Glade, Hardwick and her family don't trust the police. She says her son is a good kid who was wrongly accused of the drive-by shooting in 2010. "They kept him in [jail] for over a year for something he didn't do," she says.

Considering Jones' arrest record, it's tough to know what's true. But Hardwick makes a fair point about the circumstances surrounding her son's latest arrest. A probable-cause affidavit gives the impression that he was charged as an accessory to McMillan's murder primarily because of the accusations of Corey Graham Jr.'s mother.

Errica Hearns told police that she'd discovered a handgun in her son's room two days after the murder. Graham pleaded with his mom for the gun, saying Jones wanted it back. Jones was outside her house during this conversation. Hearns told police she overheard Jones say, "I'm going to fuck her up and the family." Fearing she would be killed, Hearns gave her son the gun.

The probable-cause affidavit doesn't mention fingerprints, phone records, or other evidence to back up Hearns' account of events. It does say that Jones was in the Alabama Georgia Grocery buying a book of matches eight minutes before the robbery began.

The morning of McMillan's murder, Hardwick says her son went to the grocery store to buy a lighter and a pacifier for his daughter. Then he came back home. "Mama, I didn't do nothing," Hardwick remembers him saying later, when police began calling.

"That's why I don't know what's going on," she adds.

Agitated, she disappears into a backroom for several minutes to dig out some papers and returns with printouts showing Jones' old report cards. "He gets good grades," she says. In a town where everyone knows one another, she hates to think people would blame her son for what happened to McMillan. "I don't put my head down. I hold my head up, and I read the Bible," she says, sitting at the dining-room table. "I don't care what people say about me."

But as the conversation wears on, Hardwick drops her head in her hands. Robinson stands behind her in the small room, reminiscing about growing up in a neighborhood where there were free art and recreation programs for the kids, trips to the movies and the park on weekends. That program ended a decade ago. Now teenagers in Belle Glade end up hanging out in nightclubs or on the street. "You ain't got nothing for these young kids," Robinson says.

Hardwick's voice grows muffled, close to tears. She's ready to get out of Belle Glade, the town that seems to brew trouble for her son. Jones and Graham have both pleaded not guilty and are in jail awaiting trial. "When God bring my baby home safe, I'm gonna leave," Hardwick says.


A month after McMillan's death, the Alabama Georgia Grocery Store is open for business again. The makeshift memorial of flowers and scrawled messages is gone, and for the first time in its history, the store is for sale. McMillan's widow is ready for someone else to take over, according to McMillan's sister and family spokesperson, Connie Deaton.

Inside the shop, a short, wiry man with curly white hair and glasses stands behind the counter. "How you doin'? You doin' all right?" a customer asks him.

Wilson McMillan, Jimmy's dad, speaks in a soft, scratchy voice. He's bursting with pride about the fishing competition his 16-year-old grandson will compete in that week. Jimmy was supposed to enter the contest too. Three years ago, Jimmy won a $100,000 bass-fishing prize on Lake Okeechobee after being named Angler of the Year in the FLW Series Eastern Division, Wilson brags.

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16 comments
PONYBOI LIVE
PONYBOI LIVE

THERE IS ANYTHING WRONG WITH THE TOWN ITS DA PPLS IN IT(SOME OF THE PPLS)THAT DONT WONT TO WORK LIKE OTHERS.ARE LET DRUGS TAKE OVER THEM.IN LIFE U HAVE TO WANT TO DO BETTER,AND SET GOALS....SMH.ETC.

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

There is a lot of talk about the "downgrading" the author did in this article. Back story on me, I was born in pahokee & raised in Belle Glade. I saw everything the author put in this article and more. Some of you say there is more to Belle Glade.... You're right.... There is also more to the world. The author isn't trying to put Belle Glade down. They are merely trying to shed light on a town that doesn't get the same publicity as the "wealthier" parts of Florida.

We love our city
We love our city

This is so sad how you can get on here and downgrade the City of Belle Glade people choose not to better themselves by sitting under a tree playing cards and drinking beer all day. If you want anything in life you have to work for it, its not coming to you and if you choose to sit on the corner or go to school or get a job its your choice. I watch the news everyday and West Palm Beach & surrounding cities are on the news with a higher crime rate than Belle Glade but the wealthy can cover up their crimes unlike the poor communities there is some positive in our town and you don't have to drag our name in the mud we are PROUD OF OUR CITY.

IloveBelleGlade
IloveBelleGlade

This is pointless!!! I don't see the purpose of this article. I see you start off bout Corey robbing the store, how the residents making a living then jump to people who choose not to do anything. What makes you degrade a town u never lived in, the people who live in it when u never been through what we been through growing. Yes this really offends me because I was born and raised in Belle Glade, Fl never had much growing up but im very happy to be the woman that I became. From what I've read you only listed the bad things about Belle Glade what about the good things. Yes we have a high crime rate but crime happens everywhere you go. Im done but to Whomever this maybe im proud of who I and where i came from and i dont care who dont like reruns you are very immature and illiterate etc

Jalou002
Jalou002

How can you write about a town that you wasn't raised in.. What smell like manure to you smells like home to us. There is more to BELLE GLADE then football and crimes. If your going to talk about the bad why not mention the good things that happens in belle glade. This town gives the families that are unemployed a chance to send their kids off to school. You mentioned the liquor store but u didn't mention the library that's across the street. You mention seeing kids hang around but you didn't mention the boys and girls club and YEA. There are crimes everywhere but yet belle glade crimes are bad. You mention the bad things about the school but u don't mention the kids thats in school on the coast that's doing drugs. O wow I guess that's not a big deal because they have parents that is wealthy enough to cover things up. They always say Another man's trash is another man treasure.... Belle Glade is my treasure

Vanessa
Vanessa

This is just plain out ridiculous. How can you down grade a city that you really dont't anything about. What was really the purpose of this article. Was it about a Robbery or did you jut want to say some things about belle glade. And for the record more than just criminals come out of belleglade. There are indeed successful people some just choose not to come back to belleglade due to the fact that their is very small opportunity. Instead of bad mouthing belleglade how about you write about helping belleglade.

Why33430
Why33430

I don't get the part about the smell of manure????  Hey if you want to hang out every day all day sitting under a tree playing games ie: gambling and drink beer (which both costs money from working or PUBLIC assitance which is created by others working while you are sitting and drinking beer) instead of being a "postive" role model to these "young" men wandering the streets with nothing to do but watch you drink beer and gamble, how do you have a right to complain about jobs?  Jobs only come to those who seek not sit a whine about their beer getting warm. 

Carloslndn2
Carloslndn2

Was this sopposed to be a story about a young man who robbed a store. Or are you writing a novel about the surrounding areas of okeechobee lake? .... You wrote a paragraph disrobing what belle glade looks,feels,smells like? .. Learn to get the point! Every time I read an article I have to skip multiple paragraphs to get the point. Mad annoying!

FQS9000
FQS9000

Their momma's are so proud of those two good boys.  The popo are framing them, as the store owner had it coming and probably shot himself.

Let's start up a defense fund and get these two wonderful lads back on the streets where they can loaf around, knock up more ho-bitches and shoot evil, greedy, white store owners who are exploiting the oppressed afro-american community.

Free the Belle Glades Two!!!!  No Justice, No Peace!!!!

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

I had more... The part regarding the people playing card games and such. How many times have we heard,"get your education, or end up at the packing house/loading ramp/sugar mill/bean field"? How is the author downgrading our city by spelling out the facts that are in a census for everyone to see? Take your pride out of the equation. Belle Gkade is

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

You can't defend something that is plainly caught on video!

Cartyerc
Cartyerc

*Belle Glade is stricken with poverty & crime. It's fact... I'm proud of my roots. I'm not to proud to face the truth. Think about it folks, if you disagree... Get out there & take our town back. Improve the community. Don't avoid the bad parts of town. Rebuild them. Love you all, I'm done.

FQS9000
FQS9000

I see my sarcasm missed you.

NewsDog
NewsDog

Are you going to believe what you see with your own eyes or what a brotha tells you.  

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

I would like to also know what an ordinary crime is? This article seems to put Belle Glade down harshly. For those that know what truly is, this article was a total slap in the face. We live here because we love it. Those that don't need to get out and quit giving it a bad name.

Betterbelleglade
Betterbelleglade

I believe what can be seen AND what he confessed to. Does there need to be more than that?

 
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