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Chad Johnson

Other Cook County Murder Exonerations
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On February 1, 2004, Super Bowl Sunday, four people were shot in a drive-by shooting outside of Mr. G’s Food and Liquor Store on east 58th Street on the south side of Chicago.

Witnesses said the shots were fired from a purple Dodge Intrepid that drove north on Calumet Avenue, which was a one-way street restricted to southbound traffic. The car, with its front and rear passenger windows down, slowed as it neared the corner of 58th street and multiple shots were fired from both windows.

Wounded were 24-year-old Christopher Dorbin, 23-year-old Kendrae Wade, 28-year-old Desi Jones, and Carol Holt. Dorbin died six weeks later, but the others recovered from their wounds.

Jones and Wade identified one of the shooters as 28-year-old Chad Johnson. They said that another of the gunman was Oliver Crawford. Another witness, Stacey Murray. who was driving to the liquor store when the Dodge sped past him, said the third person in the car was Ricardo Lee.

Police made no arrests in the case for about two years. In 2006, when Johnson was incarcerated on a drug charge in Tennessee, he was informed that police were looking for him in Chicago. He wrote a letter to the police and ultimately was brought to Chicago. He was charged with a vast array of crimes, including first-degree murder for the killing of Dorbin and three charges of first-degree attempted murder for the wounding of the others. Lee and Crawford also were charged.

In February 2009, Johnson and Lee went to trial in Cook County Circuit Court. Johnson chose to have his case heard by a jury while Lee chose to have the judge, Diane Gordon Cannon, decide his case.

Desi Jones testified that he, Wade, and Dorbin were all members of the 57th and Calumet branch of the Gangster Disciples Street gang. Johnson, Lee and Crawford, Jones said, also were Gangster Disciples members, but they were in the 57th and Wabash branch. At the time of the shooting, Jones said, the two branches were feuding.

Jones said Johnson was in the front passenger seat and Crawford was in the rear passenger seat. He said that as the car approached the liquor store, he noticed the windows were down, which was unusual because it was a cold day. He said that as the car came up to the liquor store, both Johnson and Crawford began firing semi-automatic weapons.

Kentrae Wade also identified Johnson and Crawford as the gunmen. Stacey Murray, a member of the same gang faction as the shooting victims, identified Lee as the driver of the car and one of the gunmen as Crawford. He did not identify Johnson.

Johnson’s defense lawyer, assistant Cook County public defender Marc Stahl, presented testimony from three witnesses that on the day of the shooting, Johnson was in Fulton, Kentucky. The day was particularly memorable because this was the Super Bowl during which singer Janet Jackson had a “wardrobe malfunction” that resulted in one of her breasts being exposed during the live half-time presentation.

Joyce Williams testified that she was dating Johnson at the time of the shooting and was living with her parents in Fulton. She said that on Super Bowl Sunday, Johnson came to her home and gave her $80 so she could accompany her mother to a mall in Paducah, Kentucky. She said she was going to buy new shoes because she going to receive a “teacher of the year” award the following day. She said she had stopped dating him in 2006 after he was arrested in drug charges in Henning, Tennessee.

Williams’s mother, Ora Russell, testified that she recalled Johnson giving money to Joyce that day before they went shopping. She said the day stood out because she cooked food for her grandchildren for a block party that was planned for the Super Bowl, although the party ultimately was not held.

Gloria Taylor testified that on February 1, 2004, she was working as a bartender at the Spot Bar and Grill in Fulton, Kentucky. She said it was the only time the bar held a formal Super Bowl Party and she recalled seeing Johnson there. She said she knew he was there for the entire game because she saw him exchanging money with other customers who had been betting on the outcome.

On March 5, 2009, the jury convicted Johnson of one count of first-degree murder and three counts of first-degree aggravated battery. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Crawford also was convicted of the same charges. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison. Lee was convicted in a separate proceeding of conspiracy to commit murder and was sentenced to six years in prison.

In March 2012, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Johnson’s convictions and ordered a new trial. The court ruled that Judge Cannon had failed to properly instruct jurors during jury selection that defendants are presumed innocent, that the prosecution must prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, that defendants are not required to present evidence, and that a jury cannot hold a defendant’s decision not to testify against him or her.

The appeals court also ruled that the prosecution’s eliciting of evidence of Johnson’s drug charges in Tennessee was erroneously allowed by Judge Cannon. That evidence was unrelated to the shooting charges and may have “unduly influenced” the jury.

In addition, the court held that the prosecution had improperly introduced prior consistent statements made by Jones after he had been cross-examined about some of the inconsistencies in his statements to police, his testimony to the grand jury, and his trial testimony. The court said that Judge Cannon had erroneously allowed the prosecution to “enhance” Jones’s testimony with statements that were inadmissible.

The court also concluded that Judge Cannon had improperly criticized the quality of the work performed by the defense investigators in the case. The appeals court noted that while the judge’s pejorative remarks were primarily uttered outside the presence of the jury, some of her comments were made while the jury was in the courtroom. “The patent sarcasm inherent …unnecessarily displayed a personal evaluation of the (defense) report’s quality beyond the bounds of its technical evidentiary sufficiency.”

The court did not rule on the defense argument that Cannon’s attitude and comments toward the defense investigator were a ground for reversal. However, the court did order that the case be assigned to a different judge for retrial.

In June 2018, Johnson went to trial a second time. In this trial, defense attorney Stahl presented a new witness, Albert Randle, who worked as a barber in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred. Randle testified that Jones had admitted to him after the shooting that he could not see the faces of anyone in the car.

In addition, the defense presented a video showing a similar vehicle driving down the same street at the same time of day at a speed of 10 miles per hour. The video showed the difficulty that witnesses—particularly people who were being shot at—would have in seeing into the car.

The defense also called Geoffrey Loftus, a professor at the University of Washington, who was an expert on eyewitness identification. Loftus testified about the factors—such as fright and short duration—that can affect a witness’s ability to see someone as well as the fallibility of memory.

On June 11, 2018, the jury acquitted Johnson and he was released. In March 2019, Johnson was granted a certificate of innocence, entitling him to seek compensation from the state of Illinois. In July 2019, Johnson was awarded $170,000.

Johnson also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department and the City of Chicago. The lawsuit claimed that a witness named Joe Cobbins told detectives at the time of the shooting that he was walking on 58th Street and saw the shooting. He said that afterward he went home, and from a rear window saw the same car pull into the alley. He said he saw Radsheed Shepard, who lived in the building across the alley, leave the car carrying laundry bag and then came back out empty-handed.

Cobbins told a detective the two men in the front of the car were still wearing their masks, but he could tell they were much smaller in size that Johnson.

The lawsuit said that when Johnson was charged two years later, Cobbins again told the detective what he saw and that Johnson was not one of the men in the car. The lawsuit said that the officer promised to pass the information along to the detectives handling the case. The lawsuit claimed that the officer passed the information along, but the detectives on the case failed to investigate it or note it in any of their reports.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/29/2019
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2009
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:80 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No