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Worth It? $21 Million For Man Wrongly Imprisoned 11 Years

Video Courtesy of Affiliate CBS 2 Chicago

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) How much money would you take to serve 11 and a half years in prison?

A federal jury Monday awarded Juan Johnson $21 million for the 11 and a half years he spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted of beating a man to death. That means Johnson received an average of $1.8 million for every year he wrongfully served. It's the largest wrongful conviction judgment in Chicago's history, according to officials.

Johnson and his brother, Henry, were convicted in 1991 of beating a man to death and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The Illinois Appellate Court reversed the convictions in 2002, after new evidence showed former Chicago police detective Reynaldo Guevara had allegedly coerced witnesses to implicate the brothers. Juan Johnson then sued the city and Guevara.
Despite the award, Juan Johnson does not see his time spent in prison as a worthwhile investment. "He ruined my life," he said of Guevara Monday. "I didn't expect to survive. I had given up hope."

Prosecutors continued to pursue the case against the Johnson brothers even after the convictions were reversed. Henry Johnson ultimately pleaded guilty for time served, and Juan Johnson was acquitted in 2004. Jon Loevy, one of Juan Johnson's attorneys, said in the lawsuit that two people testified that Guevara pressured them to name Johnson.

"He just grabbed some guys and basically got them all telling a story implicating Juan Johnson when in fact Juan Johnson had nothing to do with the crime," Loevy said.

Attorney Jim Sotos, who represented the city, said the judge barred him from presenting evidence that showed the two witnesses changed their testimony at the behest of gang members. Gang leaders were targeting and attempting to punish Guevara because he was aggressive and successful, he said.

"This is an organized campaign of retaliation," Sotos said. "What really is going on is you have gang leaders forcing recantations."

Juan Johnson's troubles are still not over. Sotos said he'll ask a federal judge to order a new trial and, if denied, will appeal to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

"We're very confident the jury just didn't get an accurate picture," Sotos said.

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