Federal jury awarded Juan Johnson $21 million for wrongful conviction

Juan Johnson spent 11 years in prison after a wrongful conviction in a 1989 murder.

By: Annie Sweeney, Chicago Sun-Times: June 23rd, 2009

In a record award, a federal jury has given $21 million to a man who spent 11 years in prison for a murder conviction that was later overturned.

Attorneys for Juan Johnson, an alleged Spanish Cobra leader, said Monday his wrongful conviction was part of a pattern of abuse on the city’s Northwest Side by former Chicago Officer Reynaldo Guevara.

In Johnson’s case, at least three people who identified him in the murder later said they did so only after Guevara or others working with him told them to, his attorneys said.

The $21 million award was the largest ever for a wrongful conviction in Chicago, his attorneys said.

“What we proved was his conviction was not an accident. He was a victim of police misconduct,” Jon Loevy said.

Guevara’s attorney, Jim Sotos, said what was happening was just the opposite – reputed gang leaders intimidated witnesses, who recanted and accused Guevara, a longtime gang investigator and detective, of coercion.

Sotos said nothing about gangs—including Johnson’s alleged affiliation with the Spanish Cobras—was allowed into evidence.

“The jury was not told that two people who changed their story did so after being confronted by gang leaders,” Sotos said. ” …The truth is while they’re saying they have a pattern of Officer Guevara’s coercing false testimony, we believe we can establish a pattern of gang leaders coercing false recantation through intimidation.”

Johnson named both Guevara and the city in the lawsuit, alleging the officer framed him in the 1989 murder. The jury decision came late Friday.

Johnson was acquitted of murder charges in 2004 after being granted a new trial by an appellate court.

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