Thursday, March 25, 2010

Wrongly convicted and unjustly imprisoned - Montell Johnson update

From Chicago National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression:

Montell Johnson’s case against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Rehabilitation and Correction (CDRC) will probably be transferred to a Federal Court in California. Northern Illinois U. S. District Court Judge Robert M. Dow said at a status hearing on the case today that this was the direction toward which he was leaning. Regarding Johnson’s suit against the Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) about the treatment that almost resulted in his death three years ago, Judge Dow said he would rule on the State’s motion for summary judgment soon.

Meanwhile, a settlement conference with the State is scheduled for April 29, and Judge Dow granted a motion by Johnson’s attorneys to depose Dr. Demetrios Skias, the University of Illinois at Chicago Hospital neurologist who examined Johnson earlier this month regarding his condition.

Observers said that a settlement that allowed Johnson to be paroled to the home of his mother, Mrs. Gloria Johnson-Ester pending resolution of the case against California in that state might be acceptable to Johnson and his family.

Johnson is currently incarcerated in the Sheridan Illinois Correctional Center. He has chronic progressive multiple sclerosis and is almost completely paralyzed. He is completely bedridden and dependent on others for care.

Johnson was sent to Illinois in 1998 by the CDRC to stand trial for the murder of Dorianne Warnesly. At that time Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and California Governor Pete Wilson signed an Executive Agreement that should Johnson not be executed in Illinois he would be returned to the CDCR. He was serving a life sentence there for another murder. He has consistently claimed he was wrongfully convicted in both cases.

Johnson was sentenced to death for the Warnesly murder in Illinois, but his sentence was commuted to 40 years by former Gov. George Ryan after the victim’s mother appealed to Ryan and submitted evidence that Johnson was wrongfully convicted.

Johnson’s 40 year sentence was commuted in November 2008 by then Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich on compassionate grounds. He continues to be held at Sheridan, however, because of a request by California that the terminally ill man be rendered there to die in prison under a 1998 executive agreement between the governors of the two states.

Johnson’s attorneys argue that the agreement was effectively abandoned when California did nothing to have Johnson returned to them after Gov., Ryan commuted his death sentence in 2003.

The lawsuit against the IDOC was filed in July 2007. They allege that the inadequacy of Mr. Johnson's medical care by the IDOC at Dixon Correctional Center (Johnson-Ester v. Elyea et al., No. 07-4190, U.S.D.C. N.D. Ill.) violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Johnson’s attorneys also filed suit against California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the CDCR on August 31 2009. They are asking for a preliminary and permanent injunction barring the “rendition” of Johnson to the CDCR “until the Defendants can demonstrate how they intend to provide constitutionally adequate health care” for Johnson.

The State of California is in a severe, ongoing budget crisis, and the California Prison Health System is under receivership for consistently failing to provide constitutionally adequate health care. (Plata v. Schwarzenegger, No. COl-1351 TEH, U.S.D.C. N.D. Cal. 26.) In spite of this, the CDCR has made no provision for Johnson’s medical care, or shown that it has the means, the funds, the desire, the ability and the intention of actually caring for Mr. Johnson.

Regarding inmates with chronic conditions, such as Johnson, Judge Thelton Eugene Henderson, the presiding judge in the California case wrote, "A sizeable portion of the CDCR prisoners suffer from chronic illness, yet defendants have failed to devise and implement a system to track and treat these patients, and such patients suffer from a lack of continuity of care" (2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43796, at **2-3 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 3,2005) at *46). The medical staff is "incompetent and abusive" (Id. at *47).

As a result of his suit against the IDOC, from November 2007 to September 2008, Mr. Johnson remained in hospitals receiving specialized care, first at the University of Illinois Medical Center and then at Kindred North Hospital in Chicago. His mother was able to visit him regularly and assist with his care while he was in these facilities. In September 2008, Johnson was transferred to Sheridan Correctional Center. Johnson remains at Sheridan. His mother is able to visit him there five days a week, and is critical to his care and continued survival.

Johnson is represented by Attorneys Harold C. Hirshman and Camille E. Bennett of Sonnenschein, Nath and Rosenthal. They may be reached at 312-876-800.

Ted Pearson, Co-chairperson
Chicago Branch, National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression
1325 S. Wabash Ave., Suite 105
Chicago IL 60605
312-939-2750 office
312-927-2689 cell

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