Reasonable doubt: State fails to prove Aurora men were involved in murder of Johannessen
Bill Catching - Staff Writer
Geneva - Soon after a jury acquitted them in the slaying of a 75-year-old Aurora Township widow, Michael Turner and two other Aurora men formed a tight circle near the audience and hugged each other.
"My main men, brothers, may God be with us,: Turner proclaimed.
After nearly six months in the Kane County jail, three of the four men who had been charged with the
January 1993 murder of E. Virginia Johannessen went free Thursday afternoon.
The three suspects - Turner, 23, of the 0-99 block of North Ohio Street; Lester D. Salter, 24, of the 400 block of Morton Avenue; and Cory O. Jenkins, 24, of the 1200 block of Nantucket Drive - were acquitted after a nine-day jury trial.
The jury's foreman, Harold "Hal" Bowen of Elgin Township said later that prosecutors failed to prove the charges against the men.
"Quite frankly, we just didn't feel they proved it beyond a reasonable doubt," he said. "We had a lot of questions. That was the general consensus of the jury."
The jury took about 3 ½ hours to find the men innocent of the murder of Johannessen, who lived alone in the 1300 block of Felton Road.
The widow was found shot to death in her home on Jan. 5, 1993. Although $16 and a checkbook were left beside her body, her blue 1984 Oldsmobile Delta 88 was found at an Aurora supermarket on Farnsworth Avenue about a mile away from her home
Nine months after Johannessen was killed, Mary Jill Oberweis, 56, who lived on the same block, was shot to death in her home. No arrests have been made in that case.
The slayings sparked a wave of fear in the neighborhood. Members of North East Neighbors, a citizen- action group, have watched the court case closely.
"I hope the Kane County Sheriff's Department opens up the investigation again and finds out who these predators are,: said Tina Bohman, one of the group's leaders. "...I feel sorry that those three young men had to go through this, but we really feel bad for what the Johannessen family has gone through. They have no resolution to their pain."
State should think twice
Lane's attorney, Kane County Public Defender Don Zuelke, said Thursday's verdict should make prosecutors think twice about putting Lane on trial.
"I think the state should re-evaluate the evidence and maybe consider not going forward in Lionel Lane's case," he said. "I hope they do that."
Prosecutor John Barsanti, chief of the criminal division of the Kane County state's attorney's office, declined to comment after the verdict.
No physical evidence and only one adult witness linked the four suspects to Johannessen's slaying.
Lane's former live-in girlfriend. Lori Mohle, testified that she was in a car that stopped outside Johannesson's home the night of Jan. 2, 1993. Lane, Salter and Jenkins got out of the car, she testified. Turner stayed behind the wheel, she said.
After hearing what sounded like a gunshot, Mohle and her two children got out of the car and walked home, she testified. One of her children supported her testimony, but also agreed with trick questions from one of the defense attorneys.
Defense attorneys Kevin Busch, David Camic and Fred Morelli attacked Mohle's testimony and credibility. They cited her previous felony forgery conviction, her past cocaine use and her motive to testify.
Mohle, who was not charged in connection with Johannessen's slaying, said she came forward to "clear her conscience." She also said she wanted to help her former husband, 38-year-old Jesse James Thomas, get a good deal in an unrelated Kane County case.
As part of a plea bargain, prosecutor's agreed to reduce Thomas' sentence from eight to five years in connection with a North Aurora residential burglary.
After testifying last Friday, Mohle was arrested on a warrant from a DuPage County retail theft charge. Prosecutors denied knowing about the warrant, which was discovered by Camic. Mohle was released the next day, after posting $575 bond.
Witnesses called by the defense attorneys also testified that they saw Johannessen alive after Mohle said she was killed.
One woman, who sang in the Annunciation Catholic Church choir with Johannessen, testified that on Jan. 3 she returned a call from Johannessen, who sold World Book Encyclopedias.
"We spoke of the encyclopedias, politics, and wished each other a happy new year," she said. "We talked for about 10 to 20 minutes."
Another witness recalled seeing Johannessen leave the 11:30 a.m. Mass at Annunciation on Jan. 3. He called out to her in the parking lot, but she apparently did not hear him, he said.
Defense attorneys also established alibis for the three accused.
All three defendants testified that they were with their girlfriends the night of Jan. 2. Their alibis were supported by their girlfriends and their family members.
About a dozen family members and friends of the defendants waited outside the Kane County jail Thursday afternoon for the men to be released.
Mary Sayles, Turner's aunt, wondered aloud how the men could be held so long on such little evidence.
"I'm so happy it's over," she said. "I've never had any doubt that they were innocent."
As he was leaving the jail Thursday afternoon, Salter said he hopes police catch whoever killed Johannessen.
"It's a situation I don't ever want to be into again, serving six months for something I didn't do, " he said. "I mostly feel sorry for the family of the woman this happened to. "I feel they should get the people that really did this. They need to make up for my six months and then do their time.