FINNEYTOWN, Ohio - John Johnson takes nothing for granted these days he said, as he lit his small Christmas tree barren of ornaments.
"Well I always tried to have a little tree," he said. Even when he didn't have a home, he had a tree.
Johnson is proud of his new Christmas tree decorating his new apartment. He has been there just 60 days.
He's come a long way since April 2010. That's when he was attacked under a Spring Grove Village bridge, where he'd lived for two years, by four men, Pvt. Riley Feller, out of Fort Knox; U.S. Army Spc. Travis Condor, out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina; Matthew MacMurtrie; and self-proclaimed skinhead Michael Hesson.
He remembers those early morning hours. It was 3 a.m.
"I'm hearing guys yelling and screaming about, 'you're not suppose to be here! I'm gone, man; I'm out of here… I got about 10 feet away from them and then two of them already started in on me… From then on I just went into a defense mode."
After his beating with pipes and a baseball bat by the men, some of which were in the military at the time, he suffered a fractured face and needed 18 stitches in his head.
Six months later Scott Everett, attorney with Dinsmore and Shohl, stepped in… pro bono.
"This is what you go to law school for, is to make an impact and directly help people. This is one of the few times where I've done something where you can see tangible results right away."
That's when he sat down with Johnson to figure out a plan.
But even after everything he went through, he didn't want revenge.
"I was never out to ruin these boys' lives," said Johnson.
He sat down with Condor and MacMurtrie face to face for an apology. With that, he asked the prosecutor for a lighter sentence on those two. They each received six months.
"The first and primary thing was he wanted to get off the street."
Everett settled for $200,000 judgement in a civil suit against Feller and Hesson.
They said they reached a smaller settlement with defendants Condor and MacMurtrie, who are currently making partial payments.
"Not that I've changed on the inside all that much... just changed my goals," said Johnson.
Everett's been able to help with some of those goals.
"He's been able to get his driver's license back. He's been able to get transportation. He's been able to go back and start working a little bit and obviously we're sitting here in his apartment, which, you know, I think is a big success story for him."
He went from under a bridge in Spring Grove Village, to a home… his home.
He looks at that brutal night, a year and a half ago, with a silver lining.
"I'm looking at it as my chance to get back on my feet... it's the only way I can look at that."
The four men were convicted and sentenced.
Pvt. Riley Feller, out of Fort Knox received 15 years in prison. U.S. Army Spc. Travis Condor, out of Fort Bragg in North Carolina, and Matthew MacMurtrie were given 90 days after their face-to-face apology to Johnson. Self-proclaimed skinhead Michael Hesson received four years total for the beating and for later shooting his pregnant girlfriend.