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Boxer's grieving family, friends await justice

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ATLANTA --- Not much has changed at the Chevron station on the corner of Whitehall and McDaniel in the year since Vernon Forrest stopped for a bathroom break and some air in his tire.

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A casket containing the body of Vernon Forrest is taken out of the Bell Auditorium following a memorial service in Augusta Saturday afternoon August 1, 2009.  Michael Holahan/File
Michael Holahan/File
A casket containing the body of Vernon Forrest is taken out of the Bell Auditorium following a memorial service in Augusta Saturday afternoon August 1, 2009.


Beside the air pump, a trailer is set up selling socks. There is nothing to indicate that a world champion boxer lost the fight of his life on July 25, 2009.

Charles Watson -- Forrest's manager and strength and conditioning trainer -- walked these streets in the Mechanicsville area of southwest Atlanta for days after his client and friend was killed in an armed robbery turned tragic. He couldn't rest until he'd done everything to aid the police in finding the men who killed Forrest.

"What drove me was Vernon and I had a motto," Watson said. "If you want it completed the way you want, it has to be completed by yourself. I know that Vernon would have done the same for me."

The efforts of both Watson and investigators were fruitful in an era when willingness to cooperate with the police is not always prevalent. Within a month, the police arrested three men: Charman Sinkfield, now 31; DeMario Ware, 21; and Jquante Crews, 26.

"People got involved because of the life he lived," Watson said of Forrest, who was known for his charity.

On Aug. 25, 2009, all three men were charged in a 10-count indictment for which the district attorney's office said it would seek the death penalty against each. In May, the DA dropped the death penalty pursuit in favor of a life sentence without parole against two of the three men -- Ware, the accused robber, and Crews, who is alleged to have driven the getaway car. The prosecution will still seek the death penalty against accused triggerman Sinkfield, who will stand trial separately from Ware and Crews.

The decision to drop pursuit of the death penalty angered some of the family who say they weren't consulted by the prosecution.

"It's very hard for us. We didn't make that decision," said Shelia Forrest Houston, one of Vernon's sisters. "We want justice to be done and want the death penalty against all three of them."

No trial dates have been set, leaving Forrest's family and Watson waiting through the motions and emotions of the legal process.

"It really has been hard," said Forrest's mother, Mildred. "We've all been grieving. (Today) is going to be worse, but we're holding on and trying to deal with it. I'm hoping that the trial will start soon. Maybe when it starts and justice be done we can move on with our lives."

But the year hasn't healed all wounds. Mother's Day, Father's Day and other favored family holidays can't be the same.

"When they took Vernon they took the whole family," said Sobreano Forrest, his sister-in-law. "He was everything to everybody. There ain't never going to be any closure because Vernon can't get up and say, 'I'm home.' "

Said Watson, "It's a huge disappointment waking up every day knowing you can't see him physically. That side I think I'll never get used to."

FORREST HAD PLANS abruptly interrupted. The road map to his retirement was drawn out. He wanted to have three more fights to secure his potential Hall of Fame legacy, then walk away into a life of helping others. Forrest wanted to take back the world title that had been stripped from him against Sergio Martinez. Then he wanted to take Kelly Pavlik's middleweight belts. Then he wanted to walk away after an Aiken-Augusta matchup against fellow world champ Paul Williams -- a farewell tribute to his hometown pitting its greatest fighters.

"Three more times and that was it," Watson said. "He had other things to do -- working with younger kids and giving back and spending more time with family and friends."

Watson said his focus now is in fulfilling some of Forrest's wishes for him. On Aug. 5 in Atlanta, a golf tournament will be held in Forrest's name for Gloves Not Guns -- a program aimed at giving inner-city kids an outlet to release their aggressions in the gym instead of on the streets.

"It's all centered around boxing and letting them know how dangerous guns are," Watson said. "When a gun comes into the equation, that's final. The gun's sole purpose is to eliminate all sorts of life. Kids don't understand that. They play these games, and it desensitizes you because you think you can hit reset. There's no reset when you're dealing with live ammunition and a live heartbeat. You can't correct that."

Watson hopes this program can reach a few kids to show them the better way that Forrest found to deal with his own aggressions.

"If they are not feared, guns are how they express themselves," Watson said. "It's their hatred and animosity built up inside them. Well, if you have anger, let it out in the gym."

GROWING UP IN Atlanta and Augusta, Watson and Forrest weren't so different from the three men charged in Forrest's murder. But they always valued life.

"That's one thing that really eats at me," Watson said. "Not that Vernon was a celebrity, but that the value of life itself has really depreciated in youths' minds. I understand that people have got to eat. But after a person has committed robbery or something and you have what you went after, why do you have to end it by taking a life?"

Watson has a hard time letting go of that fateful night. At 10 p.m. he had a missed call on his cell phone from Forrest. An hour later, his friend was dead.

"I wonder what was on his mind," Watson said. "I wish I could have talked to him. If I had talked to him, maybe it would be different. If I had been in the car with him, I would not have let him chase them."

Police say that after giving up his wallet, watch and rings, Forrest grabbed his own gun and chased Ware across the Whitehall overpass of Interstate 20 toward Fulton Street. He stopped and was walking back when he ran into Sinkfield and exchanged words. When Forrest turned his back to walk away, Sinkfield allegedly shot him in the back seven or eight times.

THE FORREST FAMILY is torn by the whole legal process and the death penalty.

"I hate to say it, but I want to see him look through the glass while he's on the (execution) table," Houston said.

Forrest's mother thinks about how her son would feel: "If anybody did anything wrong to a family member, I know he'd want that," she said.

Watson is torn by the thought of Forrest's killers being killed themselves. Before the DA took the death penalty off the table for two of the men, he was uncomfortable with the thought of the men who didn't pull the trigger paying such an enormous price.

"I never believed in an eye for an eye," Watson said. "Taking a life is not going to bring Vernon back. The death penalty will have an impact, but it's short-lived. It's like putting a Band-Aid on a major wound. Being able to get to the root of the problem and put policies in place to start addressing problems in our youths at an early age. Do that, then his life won't be in vain."

Watson and Forrest's family are living day by day until the trial comes. It will be hard to handle but something they won't miss.

"I know it will affect me," Watson said. "There's no logic behind it. It's senseless. But you want to hear from them. What is their perception of life, of existence? Understand how they view things."

While he'll never be satisfied with the outcome, Forrest's friend finds solace that a resolution in the case will keep the family from ever having to wonder.

"They'll always continue to grieve for Vernon," Watson said, "but they're comforted that some kind of closure is coming."

FAMILY AND FRIENDS will gather at Mildred Forrest's house in Atlanta today to grieve and celebrate Vernon's life.

His nephew, Alphonso Forrest Jr., canceled his own amateur boxing fight at Buford Arena to be there. Vernon's sister Evonna says the family has dedicated July in Forrest's honor.

"The family has a lot of things planned to keep Vernon's name alive," said Sabrina of plans ranging from placing a statue at the Augusta's Boys & Girls Club to proposed charitable endeavors.

For now they mostly wait and wish they could do anything to turn back the clock one year. Watson still occasionally finds comfort in wandering the blocks where Forrest lost his life.

"I walk the walk sometimes," Watson said.

"I want to trace his last steps and let him know I would have done anything," Watson said.

Comments (7) Add comment
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corgimom
36520
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corgimom 07/25/10 - 12:10 am
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While I understand and agree

While I understand and agree with the families' anguish, death penalty verdicts are very hard to come by and are frequently overturned even when a jury sentences someone to death.

If they can get one death sentence, the prosecutor's office will have done well. They bargained the death sentence for the two men in exchange for their testimony to get the one man charged- and they probably wouldn't have gotten death anyway. So in that regard, yes, it is fair and just.

Riverman1
90291
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Riverman1 07/25/10 - 04:37 am
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0
Vernon Forrest was the

Vernon Forrest was the greatest athlete to ever come out of Augusta.

3g
0
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3g 07/25/10 - 06:00 am
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What is truly sad is how

What is truly sad is how ineffective our Justice system is - the death penalty is not a deterrent , and jail is just subsidized living quarters . Release those inside on drug charges and allow them treatment for their DISEASE , then reduce the amount of taxpayer money for inmates and make them grow their own food , generate their own electricity....

getalife
4
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getalife 07/25/10 - 07:38 am
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0
I really feel for Vernon's

I really feel for Vernon's family. He was a great boxer and an even greater man. May God bless this family as they go through these trials and may the results of the trials help the family find some peace.

alfrrst4
18
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alfrrst4 07/25/10 - 12:24 pm
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0
On behalf of my family, I

On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of you for your expressions of sympathy during this difficult time. I wish to set the record straight that Sobreano (Sabrina) Forrest is no longer married to any member of Vernon Forrest's family. Any comments made by outside parties are not reflective of the family's thoughts or opinions. Thank you!

Fiat_Lux
16205
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Fiat_Lux 07/25/10 - 02:02 pm
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0
There's something completely

There's something completely tacky and totally lacking in grace and class to declare "I wish to set the record straight that Sobreano (Sabrina) Forrest is no longer married to any member of Vernon Forrest's family. Any comments made by outside parties are not reflective of the family's thoughts or opinions.

Al, you should have simply been appreciative for the condolences and not fretted about a gentle, harmless comment made by a former in-law, even if you don't like her anymore.

That kind of pettiness is completely unworthy of the memory of such a great man.

Riverman1
90291
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Riverman1 07/25/10 - 08:19 pm
0
0
Sure, let's all stay

Sure, let's all stay positive. JB's funeral came close to getting out of hand because of conflicts with the survivors. Just smile and do the right thing. There's a time and place for everything.

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