Outrage as Cook County judge grants $400 cash bail to suspect charged with raping a disabled woman

Illinois last year enacted a Bail Reform Law intended to make bail affordable for poor people. Kim Geiger of the Chicago Tribune explained at the time of passage:

…the new law creates new rights for people in custody at Illinois jails and aims to move away from requiring people charged with relatively minor crimes to post cash bail as a condition of their release.

The legislation reflects a general consensus among criminal justice advocates, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx that the state's cash bail system is unfair to poor people.

Under the previous law, many nonviolent, low-level offenders were spending weeks or months in jail because they couldn't come up with the 10 percent down payment that's required in order to be released. In 2015, for example, more than 1,000 inmates in the Cook County Jail had served more time in custody than they were ultimately sentenced to serve, according to Dart's office.

Fair enough, though certainly subject to abuse, as the following case, highlighted by CBS 2 in Chicago demonstrates:

Why did a judge let an alleged rapist out on bond for $400 cash? That’s the question CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards asked the man accused of that very crime.

How did Burnell Johnson get a $400 cash bond? The CBS 2 Investigators asked him after a recent court appearance.

The crime of which Burnell Johnson is far from “relatively minor.” The details are horrifying:

… Johnson faces criminal charges, including seven counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault of a handicapped person.

His alleged victim, only known by her initials in police reports, is in her 30’s, but functions as a 6-year-old, with an IQ of 47.

According to the police reports she “suffered severe smoke inhalation during a house fire when she was approximately one year old.”

The fire caused “brain damage, visual impairment, and difficulty using her right arm.”

The victim gets help at a suburban non-profit.

She told an aide there “she had sexual intercourse with Burnell [Johnson] several times,” adding that it, “caused her pain.”

She rode Pace bus 14-144. Johnson was her Pace bus driver. The bus has a camera; but, according to police reports, “Burnell Johnson placed his baseball hat over the camera…prevented it from capturing any images.”

However, Johnson can be heard saying, “[blank] me. … I know you’re getting hot.”

It is not stated whether or not a rape kit examination was performed. Perhaps not, since the victim may not have reported the incident promptly. Nonetheless, the behavior of covering the camera and the words captured are pretty incriminating.

What makes this case so outrageous is that two other judges – despite the Bail Reform Act – denied bail to Johnson presumably out of concern for the public’s safety.

On June 9, Judge David Navarro denied Johnson bail. On June 12, Judge Eulalia De La Rosa upheld that decision: no bail.

But then, Johnson appeared in the courtroom of Judge Stanley Hill:

YouTube screen grab

On June 15, Johnson went from no bail to a D $4,000 bond, plus EM — that means $400 bucks cash to get out on electronic home monitoring.

Accused suspects are allowed to post 10 percent of the bail amount. EM stands for electronic monitoring.

Professor Richard Schack, chair of the criminal justice department at National Louis University, has concerns with the $400 cash bond.

“For a case such as this, $400 is a reprehensible bond,” Schack said.

Judge Hill’s leniency has been an issue taken up by CBS 2 before – here, here, and here.

Illinois judges are elected, and Judge Stanley Hill’s statement on his candidacy in 2012 looks pretty good. Maybe his track record in office will cause some voter regret.

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