Jailhouse confessions tend to be treated skeptically by judges and juries, and with good reason; inmates have a bad habit of lying about their crimes, either to brag or to blame someone else. But the confession that inmate Jeff Johnson says he obtained from co-defendant Johnathan Jordan, stating that Jordan alone committed the 1994 murder for which Johnson is now serving life without parole, is an unusual entry in the field of purported mea culpas.
For one thing, it's in writing.
As detailed in this week's cover story, "The Old Boys," Johnson was seventeen years old when he and Jordan, nineteen, were arrested for the fatal stabbing of insurance broker John Leonardelli in an Aurora parking garage. Johnson, who was living in a foster home, had only recently met Jordan and gone with him to pick up a paycheck; he says Jordan was desperate for rent money and took him to the garage and started rifling cars, ultimately attacking and robbing Leonardelli. But prosecutors argued that both youths were involved in the homicide, and Johnson ended up receiving a sentence of life without parole (LWOP) -- one of 51 inmates in Colorado prisons serving life for crimes committed as juveniles.
Jordan fared slightly better. After the investigation found the victim's blood on Jordan's clothing but not Johnson's, Jordan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and wound up with a 100-year prison sentence; he'll be eligible for parole in another 25 years, when he turns 63. And although both defendants initially pointed the finger at each other, Jordan has apparently reconsidered.
A few years ago, Johnson received a handwritten letter from the Arkansas Valley Correctional Facility bearing the signature of one Johnathan Jordan. (Jordan did not respond to requests by Westword to confirm that he wrote the letter.) After some initial recriminations over who snitched on whom, the letter essentially takes full responsibility for the stabbing and states that Johnson didn't know what Jordan was planning. The complete letter is on view below, but here's an excerpt:
"I'm here to confess to you and to whoever else will listen on your behalf. You and me know I did it. You had nothing to do with it. I'm so sorry. You didn't know what was going on...You were under the impression I was picking up money. I was. Not the way you thought.... I guess I got you to stay with me the whole time waiting for money. What did I say I give you if you wait with me $10-$15. What did you end up with a life sentence."
Johnson is now seeking reconsideration of his sentence based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that declared mandatory LWOP sentences for juveniles unconstitutional. He has posted the letter along with other documents at his website Forgotten Justice.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Continue to read the complete Jeff Jordan letter.
More from our Prison Life archive: "Sexy letters -- and Men's Health? -- banned by new prison censorship rule."