A federal jury has awarded $21 million to a man who was wrongfully imprisoned in Chicago, and spent 11 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit.
The wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed by Juan Johnson, 39, alleging that he was framed by a Chicago police detective and found guilty of beating a man with a two-by-four in 1989.
Johnson served 11 years of a 30-year prison term before an appeal court threw out the conviction. Five years ago, he was acquitted after a retrial. During the second trial, a witness indicated that Detective Reynaldo Guevara told him to pick Johnson out of a lineup.
According to a report by WLS-TV in Chicago, investigators from Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions are now investigating more than 40 possible instances where retired Detective Guevara may have framed innocent people.
The lawsuit against the City of Chicago and Guevara alleged that the detective, who specialized in gang investigations, cherry-picked evidence and witnesses who would finger Johnson, reputed to be a local gang leader. Johnson’s attorneys said that there were 150 witnesses to the murder and a large amount of physical evidence, but Detective Guevara closed the case with Johnson’s arrest in a matter of hours.
Attorneys for the city say that gangs intimidated witnesses out of testifying against Johnson and say Johnson is still a leader of the Spanish Cobras, a Chicago gang. They said that the judge in the lawsuit barred evidence that would reveal witness intimidation tactics.
The $21 million verdict is reported to be the largest amount ever awarded in Chicago for a wrongful conviction lawsuit.