Will juvenile lifers get a second chance?

See also: Johnathan Jordan letter clears co-defendant in murder -- but will anyone believe it?

Jordan didn't respond to a request for an interview or acknowledge that he wrote the letter, which is now posted on Johnson's website, along with other documents pertaining to the case. Johnson says his co-defendant has been reluctant to repeat his comments in any public forum and may be having second thoughts about how a confession might affect his own hopes of clemency some day.

Sitting behind glass in a small visitation booth at the Centennial Correctional Facility, Johnson studies the walls hemming him in and picks his words carefully.

"I'm not trying to play the victim," he says. "There ain't but one victim in this case. But, honestly, a part of me has always felt that the man killed me, too. My life is over. This is where I'll die. That's hard to accept. For a lot of years, I was just angry. I hated him. But I don't want to sit here and be angry all day long."

Johnson doesn't have an attorney at present, and he isn't sure how or when his case might come up for resentencing. He hopes he'll have a chance to present evidence in his cause some day — the letter from Jordan, his accomplishments of the past few years, some indication of the clueless adolescent he was and the person he's become — rather than have some judge who's never met him rubber-stamp a new sentence of forty years to life. He shudders at the idea that his parents and just about everyone else who ever meant something to him on the outside could be long gone before he gets out.

Like the other lifers who came to prison before they ever got a chance to be men, there's an oddly stunted boyishness about him. He talks about never having seen the Internet and not having any role models in prison for the man he would like to be.

"At seventeen, you don't know nothing about being a man," he says. "You think you know, but you're an idiot. We're all still in that frame of mind, to some degree."

His hands press against each other as if in prayer. "Whether my sentence changes or not," he says, "I'd still like to be in a situation where I can give a voice to the people convicted as juveniles. We might die in here, but it doesn't mean we have to fall victim to this lifestyle.

"A better life is always a choice away. I believe that."

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7 comments
saraandzoey
saraandzoey

John Leonardelli was my grandfather, not sure why but I had never heard any of this till now. I googled my grandfathers name and this came up. Does anyone know any current updates?

lrussel5
lrussel5

I've read many of the filed court pleadings and have to say that all of this is mind boggling.Where was the physical evidence in this case? So many gaps in what should have happened and what didn't happen, but yet he gets LWOP. His public defender really dropped the ball.  Jeff didn't understand what was going on and did not have another adult or advocate to help him.

I"m not saying I believe he is innocent of all charges, but I do believe that he has served his time. At one point he was in solitary confinement for 4 years - that is inhumane!  As someone before me commented, if an animal was treated that way the entire society would be picketing and up in arms.

As to Jeff's credit, I have to say that I commend him on using his time incarcerated to create a life for himself, educate himself, and to keep a positive attitude. Many facing his future would simply give up, whereas he has learned to read, learned another language, educated himself in many subjects, and one of the best - to speak with youth and to share his story to help others not to do the same as he has.

He has gained maturity and worked on rehabilitating himself, even without any thoughts of being released into society. It seems that during that time period, the courts were attempting to crack down on gang violence resulting in throwing away youths that didn't deserve that harsh of punishment.

klausa50
klausa50

I believe that the Department of Corrections must make every decision based on issues of safety. Managing  and controlling the population is paramount. 

Providing a certain quality of life, offering opportunities for education and rehabilitation are not top priorities. However, "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People," and "7 Habits on the Inside" are examples of programs that have successfully shifted many offenders from criminogenic thinking towards understanding how to be a responsible member of society if/when released. 

We need more programs.The offenders, especially the younger ones, have worked diligently to catch up and learn, obtain degrees, read extensively and improve themselves. Many have accepted responsibility for their past poor choices and horrific acts, but still sense that the world has thrown them away and forgotten them. The public needs to pay attention, because most of the prison population WILL eventually be released. Investing in education rather than more punitive measures is an investment that helps both victims and perpetrators of crime-

by offering all humans hope and dignity.

Randy144
Randy144

Alan, 

Again, another amazing thought-inspiring story.

I cannot help but notice that, throughout the story, and in any comment from any person in the prison system, there is no reference to rehabilitation. I was taught, as were many other citizens, that the purpose of prison was rehabilitation.  I would imagine that most citizens use that reference as part of their decision making process when they are on a jury, or when they hear about crimes and make mental decisions about how the offender should be punished.

If rehabilitation is not valid anymore, and all that a criminal gets is prison time, solitary confinement, prison brutality and a life without hope, we should all be changing our understanding of the prison system and of our Justice System.

Without rehabilitation, prison is nothing but cruelty and pain. Without a chance for rehabilitation prison is the pure representation of cruel punishment.

Who can imagine spending time in solitary confinement for 2 or 3 years. We would not subject a vicious dog to such a punishment. Imagine the Animal Activists reaction to the statement: "Your Pit Bull is going to be put in a tiny cage with no windows for 3 years, and abused." It would be on every News Station in the Country. Yet we treat children like this and there is no outrage, or even public criticism.

Your article should make people think about the cruelty of the current system, the lack of hope, the lack of  humanity, and the lack of Justice. 

It is certainly time to revisit and modify the states Felony Murder Statute, and find a way to handle criminals and possible innocent children with more humanity.

At this point it looks like the only person who really cares is you.

Thanks Alan.

Keep up the good work.

Randy Brown

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

There NEEDS to be a hearing to determine if a juvenile

will be tried as an adult. Texas calls such hearing a

'Waiver of Jurisdiction', and quite often can last a week or more .

Mad, insane D.A.'s as Chambers has demonstrated to be

 THROUGHOUT her term, have charged juveniles as adults w/o concern. 

This leaves enough cases warranting a review, WAY more than necessary, to tie up the courts at ALL levels 

for many years to come . Johnson, IF he gets some kind of 'play', won't occur til he is into his 50's I'm sure.

UNLESS they all get Patrick Sullivan's judge ! He appears to 'Show a lot of Love' to those who come before him based on Sullivan's slap on the wrist ....

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

@klausa50  

I'd like to publish this in our print edition, ideally with your full name. if that's okay, let me know at patricia.calhoun@westword.com

alanprend
alanprend

@Randy144 Thanks, Randy and Juan Leg, for your comments. This is not a popular issue, and I wouldn't want to minimize the crimes these men committed as adolescents. But as Jeff Johnson's story shows, the situation is often more complicated than it appears, partly because of the juveniles' immaturity and naivete about the justice system. The decision to take away a life, whether by execution or a sentence of life in prison without parole, isn't something we should take lightly -- and I agree that the equation should include other factors than simply a public outcry for punishment.

 
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