Yesterday, Juan Johnson of Chicago was awarded $21.1 million for 11½ years spent in jail for a murder he didn’t commit, the largest award for a wrongful conviction lawsuit in Chicago history.
Johnson, a former member of the Spanish Cobras gang, was arrested in 1989 and accused of murdering a rival gang member. Eleven years later at his retrial, witnesses testified that they were intimidated into identifying Johnson as the murderer by arresting officer Reynaldo Guevara. An article posted today by the Chicago Tribune records a statement from Samuel Perez, a fellow Cobra:
“[Guevara] told me that he knows that the Cobras killed that Eagle. Which Cobra, he didn’t care, but he preferred that it was this Cobra” and pointed at a picture of Johnson, Perez said. “I took it as a threat. … I was going to get hooked up for that murder or Juan Johnson was going to get hooked up for that murder.”
From the time of accusation, Johnson had claimed to be framed by now-former officer Reynaldo Guevara and the jury agreed during his retrial. In a separate trial, Guevara himself was ordered to pay Johnson $15,000 compensation. However, even before being awarded the compensation from Guevara,
Johnson said he wasn’t looking for more money from the police officer he said framed him. All he wanted was an apology… Guevara’s legal team objected, saying an apology could taint any chance of getting the decision reversed when they appeal.
Juan Johnson’s case is a step forward in the right direction for exoneree compensation. However, Guevara still owes Johnson an apology for his wrongful accusation. Although the compensation he contributes will help Johnson get back on his feet, that money cannot take back the more than 11 years of Johnson’s life wasted in prison and the criminal record that will stick with Johnson forever.
There is a moral obligation to provide compensation, and in Johnson’s case living peacefully includes a personal apology from Guevara.