Juan Johnson

Framed by a notorious cop

After a bench trial that stretched over nine months in 1991, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James D. Egan found Juan and Henry Johnson guilty of beating a man to death two years earlier during a brawl outside of a Chicago nightclub. Both were sentenced to 30 years in prison.

The prosecution case rested on the testimony of three purported eyewitnesses. After initially affirming the convictions, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed them in 2002 based on newly discovered evidence indicating that Chicago Police Detective Reynaldo Guevara had coerced the witnesses to falsely implicate the Johnson brothers. In addition, other eyewitnesses came forward to testify that the victim had been beaten by Hispanics. The Johnsons are African American.

Despite the mounting evidence that the Johnsons had been framed by Guevara — who had a long history of coercing false identification testimony — prosecutors refused to drop the charges. Henry Johnson, who had gotten a job and reestablished a relationship with his children after his release on bond, opted not to risk another trial. He pled guilty in exchange for a sentence of time served.

Juan Johnson, however, refused an identical deal and was acquitted at a 2004 jury retrial. A federal jury awarded Johnson $21 million in damages. The City of Chicago appealed and, during the appeal, settled the case for $16.4 million.

— Rob Warden