On September 20, 1990, a University of Chicago graduate student was raped while walking on South Hyde Park Avenue in the Hyde Park neighborhood. From a police photo, the 21-year-old Caucasian victim identified Richard R. Johnson, an African American, as the man who raped her.
Johnson was arrested in Florida on August 8, 1991, after his photo was featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” He waived extradition to Chicago, where the victim identified him in a live lineup, and he was held without bond pending trial. Serological testing excluded him as the source of semen recovered from the victim. Despite these exculpatory forensic results, Assistant State’s Attorney Scott Nelson proceeded with the prosecution.
At a 1992 bench trial, Johnson’s Cook County public defender, Michael Halloran, did not introduce the exculpatory serological evidence. Based solely on the victim’s identification testimony, Judge James M. Schreier found Johnson guilty and sentenced him to 36 years in prison.
Johnson contacted Centurion Ministries, a New Jersey organization that investigates potential wrongful convictions. Centurion Ministries agreed to pay for DNA testing, which confirmed the original serological finding. Schreier then vacated Johnson’s conviction and set bond at $10,000. His family posted it, and Johnson was released on December 5, 1995. The prosecution, however, refused to dismiss the charges, insisting on further testing.
Nelson finally agreed to dismiss the charges on March 8, 1996. “I deeply regret I found you guilty of this offense,” Schreier then told Johnson, but Nelson did not apologize. (While this case was pending, Johnson was indicted for an unrelated crime — a sexual assault on a Hyde Park 14-year-old — and that case was also assigned to Judge Schreier. This second case was later moved to another judge’s court, where a jury found Johnson not guilty.)
At the time of his arrest, Johnson was 31 and had no criminal record. His photo was in police files only as a result of a 1989 arrest for allegedly resisting a police officer, a misdemeanor charge that was dismissed. Governor Jim Edgar issued Johnson a pardon based on innocence and the Illinois Court of Claims gave him a $61,023.00 award. Johnson sued his Cook County public defender, Michael Halloran, for legal malpractice and eventually received an out-of-court settlement from Cook County for $400,000.
— Center on Wrongful Convictions