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Freed by DNA

Test results prove Johnson not guilty of May sexual assault

DNA evidence has exonerated a Morris man who has spent more than two months in jail on sexual assault charges.

Grundy County State's Attorney Jason Helland and Morris Police Chief Brent Dite held a press conference Thursday morning in the law library of the Grundy County Courthouse to announce Ryan Johnson Jr. was cleared of the charges.

Johnson, who was 20 at the time of his arrest, was arrested May 24 on a sexual assault charge. On June 5, he was indicted for 4 counts of aggravated criminal sexual assault, all Class X felonies, and 2 counts of criminal sexual assault, both Class 1 felonies.

The arrest, according to a press release from Dite in May, stemmed from an investigation conducted by the Morris Police Department into a reported sexual assault of a 36 year-old female. The incident was reported to have occurred at about 10 p.m. May 15, in a wooded area near the 1000 block of Park Boulevard, behind Morris Community High School.

"I told him in front of everyone (in the courtroom) he was going home," said Gary Dobbs, assistant public defender.

Johnson put his face in his hands and cried, said Dobbs.

"Twenty years ago, Ryan would probably be sitting in prison. Thank God for DNA evidence," he said. "It did exactly what it is supposed to do."

Helland said Johnson was arrested based on "credible evidence." He could not comment on what that evidence was because the investigation is ongoing.

"Based on the evidence from the crime lab, we know where the evidence it going to go . . . we expect it to be concluded in the next four weeks," Helland said.

In order for someone to be charged with a felony, there must be probable cause and the authorities had that, the state's attorney said. In addition, Helland said he reviews all cases going before the grand jury to make sure the evidence backs the charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

"In this particular case, we felt it had probable cause with no doubt," said Helland.

During the investigation, a rape kit was retrieved, he said, and the Illinois State Police were asked to examine the DNA as soon as possible because Johnson was sitting in jail. His bond was set at $250,000, 10 percent of which would have had to be posted for his release.

Johnson pleaded not guilty to all of the charges June 20 and demanded a jury trial.

Helland was notified of the the DNA results Wednesday afternoon, at which time the public defender was tracked down and notified. They immediately had Johnson brought up to court and he was released.

"During prosecution, we seek justice, not merely convictions. We are glad, due to DNA evidence, we were able to release Mr. Johnson in an expedited manner," said Helland.

If the state police crime lab had not expedited the examination of the DNA in this case as requested, Helland said Johnson could have been in jail a lot longer. His results came in very quickly for state police.

"If this technology was not available, there is a high probability this individual would have been in the penitentiary," Helland said.

The investigation into the May 15 assault is continuing, said Dite. He would not comment further if police were investigating another suspect or not.

Johnson was not present at the press conference.

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