Wrongfully convicted man awarded record amount

By: Ben Meyerson, Chicago Breaking News Center: June 22nd, 2009

A federal jury awarded $21 million to a man who spent more than a decade in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder.

The compensatory damages, determined on June 19, are the largest awarded in Chicago history, officials said. Today, the same jury awarded another $15,000 in punitive damages to Juan Johnson who spent 11½ years in prison for the 1989 murder of Ricardo Fernandez.

Johnson, a former gang member, who is now 39, was released from prison in 2003

Today he unsuccessfully sought an apology from Reynaldo Guevara, the former Chicago police officer Johnson claims framed him.

Rather than an apology, Guevara is responsible for paying the $15,000 in punitive damages even though he claimed during the trial that he is living paycheck-to-paycheck.

“He could have picked a side — protect [himself] or apologize,” said Jon Loevy, Johnson’s attorney. “If he had expressed remorse, we wouldn’t have asked for anything.”

In 1989, Johnson, then a member of the Spanish Cobras gang, was arrested by Guevara and accused of murdering a rival gang member outside a nightclub near North and Western Avenues.

Johnson was convicted and began serving a 30-year prison term before being retried and acquitted in 2004. In that trial, witnesses testified that Guevara intimidated them into saying Johnson was the murderer.

The jury agreed that Johnson was wrongly arrested and that Guevara was at fault.

Though Johnson claimed that from the beginning, 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.

Guevara’s lawyer, Jim Sotos, said he thinks witnesses changed their stories during Johnson’s 2004 retrial because of gang intimidation.

“We strongly believe there is an orchestrated effort by gang members that witnesses were told to recant,” Sotos said.


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