Fifteen years after serving his prison sentence for a 1991 murder, Demetrius Johnson had his conviction overturned and was granted a new trial Tuesday.
Cook County prosecutors told Chief Criminal Court Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. they intend to try Johnson again in spite of allegations of misconduct by former Chicago Police Det. Reynaldo Guevara tied to the case.
Johnson’s attorney Joshua Tepfer said he was puzzled by the prosecution’s decision since Johnson can’t be sentenced again since he spent 13 years behind bars and was released in 2004, serving his full sentence.
“I can’t even begin to pretend to know what’s going to happen,” Tepfer told reporters, standing next to 44-year-old Johnson, who was 15 when he was arrested for murdering Edwin Fred near North and Claremont avenues.
“We will do everything in our power to get those charges dismissed, or get an acquittal.”
The decision to vacate the conviction, but retry the case, also seemed to puzzle Martin, who allowed Johnson to walk out of the courtroom after Tuesday’s hearing on his own recognizance — a rarity for a defendant charged with first-degree murder.
Johnson in September filed a motion to throw out his case after lawyers handling a civil lawsuit against Guevara located a “street file” that appeared to show Guevara concealed evidence that a key eyewitness in Fred’s shooting had identified another suspect.
Assistant State’s Attorney Carol Rogala has pointed that other witnesses had picked Johnson in subsequent police lineups. But those other witnesses who identified Johnson picked him only after they had been shown his photograph by Guevara, Johnson’s motion states.
At Johnson’s 1993 trial, Guevara and another detective testified that witnesses had not pointed to any suspects other than Johnson during lineups conducted during the investigation.
Tandra Simonton, a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, later noted in a statement Tuesday that neither prosecutors nor Johnson’s lawyers were aware that another suspect had been identified, and said that the office was “reviewing the matter to determine any next appropriate legal steps.”
Johnson’s is the 20th murder conviction overturned based on allegations of misconduct by Guevara, according to Tepfer, of the Exoneration Project at University of Chicago Law School.
Guevara’s reluctance to testify about his old cases has bedeviled prosecutors, who in 2017 put him on the stand to defend the prosecution of two men convicted in brutal 1999 double-murder. Even with a grant of immunity, Guevara refused to answer questions about allegedly beating the two suspects to get their confessions, prompting Judge James Obbish to issue a ruling overturning the convictions and stating that Guevara’s testimony had “eliminated the possibility of being considered a credible witness in any proceeding.”
Tepfer said that if Johnson’s case is to be re-tried, it should land in front of Obbish, who took over the courtroom docket for the judge who originally heard Johnson’s case.
“We went in there this morning hoping we were going to put all this behind us,” Tepfer said. “But for 28 years, 13 plus in prison, Mr. Johnson was living under a cloud of being a murderer, which... as of 9:30 this morning, that has been lifted, and that is an extraordinary event.”