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Juan Johnson

Other Cook County Exonerees with Official Misconduct
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Juan_Johnson%20(1).jpg
On the evening of September 9, 1989, Ricardo Fernandez was beaten to death during a birthday party at the Caguas Nightclub on the west side of Chicago, Illinois.  Many of the 200 people attending the party were members of four different street gangs. Around 11 p.m., a fight broke out between members of two of the gangs and quickly escalated.  Shots were fired and everyone ran into the street.  Once outside, several fights broke out, one of which involved four men beating Fernandez. 
 
The next day, Edwin Gomez was picked up by Area 5 police and questioned about the murder.  There, according to Detective Reynaldo Guevera, Gomez identified Juan and Henry Johnson and two others from a photo array.  Later that evening, Gomez picked out Juan Johnson, Henry Johnson, and Hector Franco in a lineup.  On September 28, he picked out Pedro Cordero in a lineup.  The Johnsons, Franco, and Cordero were indicted for murder.
 
The prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of three purported eyewitnesses who had been present at the club.  The bench trial for the four defendants began on January 11, 1991, before Cook County Circuit Judge Henry Singer and stretched over nine months, including several lengthy recesses.  On September 28, 1991, Judge Singer found Juan and Henry Johnson guilty of murder and sentenced them both to 30 years in prison.  The codefendants, Hector Franco and Pedro Cordero, were acquitted.
 
Following their convictions, on May 7, 1992, the Johnson brothers’ new attorney, Dan Stohr, filed post-trial motions, which included a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel.  The motions were denied.  On June 11, 1992, the Johnsons filed a supplemental post-trial motion and in the alternative, a post-conviction petition, but Judge Richard Egan, who had been assigned to the case, denied both.
 
On May 15, 1995, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the convictions, but remanded with directions to the trial court to hear the defendants’ post-conviction petition.  At the hearing, Stohr introduced testimony by four additional eyewitnesses that the Johnsons were not involved with the murder.  But, the court denied the post-conviction petition on the merits. 
 
The law firm of Jenner & Block joined Stohr in appealing that ruling. Finally, in May 2002, the appellate court reversed the denial of post-conviction relief, vacated the convictions, and remanded for a new trial. The Johnsons were released from prison six months later after being confined for more than 11 years.  They were offered a deal to plead guilty and be sentenced to time served with no mandatory supervision.  Henry Johnson, who had re-established relationships with his children and secured a job, opted not to risk another trial and reluctantly accepted the deal.  Juan, on the other hand, rejected the deal.
 
Represented by Jenner & Block and Stohr at a retrial, Juan Johnson was acquitted by a jury on February 23, 2004.

A federal jury later awarded Johnson $21 million in damages from the city based on evidence that the original three eyewitnesses recanted their testimony and revealed that they were coerced by Detective Reynaldo Guevara to identify the Johnson brothers.  The City of Chicago appealed and, during the appellate process, settled the case for $16.4 million.

During the next several years, pressure from defense attorneys and activists alleging that Guevara was responsible for numerous false convictions was mounting. This prompted the city of Chicago to ask the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP to conduct an independent investigation of Guevara’s cases. In 2015, the Sidley Austin report was completed. It concluded that Jose Montanez and Armando Serrano, among others, were “more likely than not actually innocent.” In July 2016, Montanez’s and Serrano’s convictions were vacated and their charges were dismissed, joining the ranks of Johnson and Jacques Rivera, who had been exonerated in 2011 in part based on evidence of Guevara’s misconduct.

In April 2017, two more men—Roberto Almodovar and William Negron—were exonerated after evidence showed that Guevara had improperly influenced witnesses to identify them as the shooter and driver in a drive-by shooting that killed two people and wounded a third. Almodovar and Negron were convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without parole

In November 2017, Jose Maysonet became the seventh person to be exonerated based on misconduct by Guevara. Maysonet, who was serving a sentence of life in prison without parole, falsely confessed after a 17-hour interrogation punctuated by beatings and torture by Guevara.

In December 2017, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the murder prosecutions of Gabriel Solache and Arturo DeLeon-Reyes. Solache and DeLeon-Reyes became the 8th and 9th persons to be exonerated based on Guevara’s misconduct. They were convicted of murder in Chicago in 2000 based on false confessions made after Guevara beat them during more than 40 hours of interrogation.

In January 2018, Thomas Sierra became the 10th person wrongfully convicted based on Guevara’s misconduct. Cook County prosecutors dismissed charges against Sierra, who was convicted of murder and aggravated discharge of a firearm based on false identifications obtained by Guevara.

In February 2018, Ariel Gomez became the 11th person convicted based on Guevara's misconduct to be exonerated.

On March 27, 2018, Ricardo Rodriguez became the 12th man whose conviction was obtained through misconduct by Guevara have his conviction vacated and the charges dismissed.
 
 — Center on Wrongful Convictions and Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 4/3/2018
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1989
Convicted:1991
Exonerated:2004
Sentence:30 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:19
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No