[Pnews] Arthur "Cetewayo" Johnson Ordered Released After 51 Years in Prison

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 11 18:26:08 EDT 2021

"Cetewayo" Johnson Ordered Released After 51 Years in Prison
By Chris Schiano

August 11, 2021

Philadelphia, PA – Longtime Pennsylvania prisoner Arthur
“Cetewayo” Johnson, age 69, was ordered released
<https://abolitionistlawcenter.org/2021/08/11/cetewayo-is-free/> today
after five decades in prison, 37 years of which he spent in solitary
confinement. Johnson had been convicted in the 1970 murder of Jerome
Wayfield, when he was just 18. The Conviction Integrity Unit of the Philly
District Attorney’s Office recently identified evidence that the sole
witness against him, 15 years old at the time, was beaten by police for
hours until he agreed to incriminate himself and Johnson.

Johnson was represented in court today by Bret Grote, executive director of
the Abolitionist Law Center, a public interest law firm that has been
working to secure his release. In a statement
<https://abolitionistlawcenter.org/2021/08/11/cetewayo-is-free/>, Grote
said “*we are grateful to the Conviction Integrity Unit that Mr. Johnson is
finally able to return home to his family. When I first met Mr. Johnson I
promised we wouldn’t stop fighting until we brought him home. Today we
fulfilled that promise*.”

Pennsylvania state prosecutors agreed with the determination of Philly DA
Larry Krasner’s office that Johnson’s original conviction should be
overturned, citing interviews with Wayfield’s surviving relatives who said
they supported his release.

Philadelphia Judge Scott DiClaudio agreed to nullify Johnson’s original
conviction in the 1970 murder case, saying he believed the sole witness
Gary Brame, known as ‘Ace’, “*was coerced when interviewed in such a manner
that the circumstances of the information provided to the police and the
jury*…*could cause the court to hesitate as to the veracity of the witness*.”
DeClaudio described the role of Brame’s coerced testimony as “*serious
misrepresentation to the jury*…*that went unchecked*.” Johnson was arrested
and charged in 1970 by Philadelphia cops working under then-police chief
Frank Rizzo, notorious for encouraging corrupt, brutal and racist practices
amongst his officers.

After entering a new guilty plea today to the lesser charge of 3rd degree
murder, Cetewayo Johnson is set to be released today or tomorrow once
cumbersome logistics allow him to be processed out Pennsylvania’s prison
system. The 10-20 year sentence imposed by Judge DiClaudio in the new
lesser guilty plea is over 30 years shorter than the amount of time Johnson
has already spent in prison.

One obstacle holding up Johnson’s release even though Judge DiClaudio
ordered him to be “*immediately released*” is the fact that the text of the
out-of-date 1970 murder statute he was charged under was not readily
available to court staff filling out the necessary forms.

Passing family, friends and supporters of Johnson mingling in the hallway
as he left his courtroom at lunchtime, Judge DeClaudio said that Johnson’s
release was delayed because the court couldn’t find the 1970 murder law,
and would have to “*pull a book off the shelf*” in order to complete

“*It’s not gonna be anytime soon*… *they can’t even find the section of
what the crime was 51 years ago.. when i pled him today there’s a certain
section they have to pull up on the computer so they can send the order
up…nobody knows where the section was, so we’re trying to call up to
Harrisburg*… *to go find a book off the shelf to see what the sub-section
was of homicide in 1970.*”
– Judge Scott DiClaudio, Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas

Early in his incarceration, Johnson became politicized via friendships with
political prisoners like Joseph “Joe-Joe” Bowen
<https://prisonersolidarity.com/prisoner/joseph-joe-joe-bowen>, a combatant
in the Black Liberation Army (BLA), and Russell “Maroon” Shoatz
<https://prisonersolidarity.com/prisoner/maroon-shoatz>, a member of the
Black Panther Party and the BLA.

Johnson attempted to escape prison three times – in 1979, 1984 and 1987.
The 1979 attempt allegedly involved using improvised weapons and
restraining a guard he had incapacitated inside a cell. Pennsylvania’s
Department of Corrections (DOC) cited the escape attempts as recently as
five years ago to justify holding him in prolonged solitary confinement.

In 2016, the Abolitionist Law Center represented Johnson
in a lawsuit
<https://www.gadsdentimes.com/article/DA/20160920/NEWS/160929827/> which
successfully forced prison officials to stop
holding him in solitary confinement after doing so for nearly four
decades. Solitary
confinement is classified as a form of torture
yet is still used as a routine punishment in US prisons.

Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, was
once incarcerated alongside Johnson at SCI Greene. Holbrook told Unicorn
Riot that Johnson’s case was “*personal*” for him because “*Cetewayo was
one of our mentors and elders.”*

“*He was legendary within the system for his resistance – 38 years in the
hole, and he stood tall. When prisoners… went in the hole, Cetewayo used
that as a university. They isolated him, they wanted to use him as an
example to us, like ‘don’t be like him’… but Cetawayo’s personality and his
resistance was just so infectious that a lot of us younger guys looked up
to him.*“

“*What was really impressive was that influence he had. He pushed us in the
right and positive direction. He easily could have, had he been into the
prison culture, pushed us into a more negative direction… Cetwayo pushed us
into a direction of self-improvement, self-development, self-determination
– study our history, study the Black Panthers, the Black Liberation Army,
and more importantly, prepare ourselves for freedom.*“
– Saleem Holbrook, Executive Director, Abolitionist Law Center

Holbrook said that winning Johnson’s release was a “*victory, it feels
good, but it’s also bittersweet because we didn’t get justice*” by
exonerating him from all charges, with Johnson settling for the compromise
of a guilty plea to lesser charges whose maximum sentence he has already
served. “*We got freedom for him, but I’ll take that.*“

Cetewayo Johnson’s cousin, Julie Burnett, told Unicorn Riot that Johnson was*
“like a brother” *to her and that she’s missed him since his arrest in
1970, when she was just 4 years old*: “I’ve been writing [him] letters
since I knew how to address envelopes at about 5 or 6*.” She’s been
visiting him in prison for decades (“*it’s like a way of life for me*“),
most recently on her 55th birthday this last July.

Burnett, who lost another brother when he died in prison in 1990, said
she “*always
had hope*” that Johnson would someday be released – “*I was told never to
give up on family*.” She said that in spite of the “*cruel and excessive
punishment*” of extended solitary confinement, her cousin “*was a mentor to
me over the telephone*” and supported her through the loss of other family
members when she was young. When Judge DiClaudio ordered Johnson released,
Burnett described herself as “*bursting at the seams with joy and
thankfulness to God for allowing this to happen*… *I can tell other people
that there is hope, there’s a chance*…*where there’s hope, never give up*.”

Published August 11, 2021
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