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Exonerated defendants protest perjury prosecution

Twelve former defendants who have been exonerated have written a letter to Cook Couny State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez protesting a perjury prosecution against a man who says his testimony falsely sent two other men to prison.

The man who recanted his testimony, Willie Johnson, testified in 1994 that Cedric Cal and Albert Kirkman committed a double murder on the South Side. But in 2011 he said he had lied because he feared the truth would endanger him and his family. Now, he is being charged with perjury.

The ex-defendants who sent the letter said they fear prosecuting Johnson could have a chilling effect on future witnesses who might want to come forward and admit they gave false testimony.

Among the men who signed the letter is Gary Dotson, who was sent to prison for what turned out to be a false rape allegation. Eight years after the accusation, the witness, Cathleen Crowell Webb, said she had lied. Authorities didn’t believe her until DNA testing proved Dotson’s innocence in 1988. But no one prosecuted Webb for perjury, either.

An earlier letter signed by 23 former judges and prosecutors raised the same concern about a chilling effect.

The more recent letter says prosecuting Johson “would not only deter false recantations, but also truthful ones.”

The other men signing the letter were lead signatory Jacques Rivera, Kenneth Adams, Jonathan Barr, James Harden, Dana Holland, Juan Johnson, James Kluppelberg, Deon Patrick, Maurice Patterson, Willie Rainge and Daniel Taylor.

An Alvarez spokeswoman has said perjury prosecutions are necessary if witnesses are not to feel free to lie on the stand in court proceedings.

Patrick is scheduled to hold press conference today about a federal lawsuit he is filing that alleges he was forced to sign a manufactured confession.

Read a May 6 Sun-Times editorial about the Willie Johnson case here.