Chicago, IL – A Cook County Circuit Court judge released an accused rapist on just $400 bond, after asking the defendant’s sister, a former court clerk, how much she could afford, according to court transcripts.
Burnell Johnson, 60, has been indicted on 20 felony counts for the alleged sexual assault of a disabled woman who suffers from cerebral palsy, CWB reported.
According to prosecutors, Johnson met the 33-year-old unnamed victim while he was working as a Cook County Pace bus driver.
The victim is also visually impaired, has the mental functioning of a six-year-old, and depended on the bus to transport her to and from her cerebral palsy treatment center, CWB reported.
She also suffers from “brain damage…and difficulty using her right arm,” police reports noted, according to WBBM.
Johnson allegedly groomed the victim for two weeks, and eventually exchanged phone numbers with her, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
He also instructed her to send him nude photographs of herself, and to delete the messages from her phone.
Johnson told the woman to keep their relationship a secret, prosecutors said.
On Jan. 10, Johnson dropped off all of his other passengers, then drove the woman to an off-route location in Oak Park.
He covered the on-board camera with his hat, then proceeded to sexually assault her, prosecutors said.
Although the hat prevented the camera from capturing any images, the audio was unobstructed.
“[Expletive] me,” Johnson told her in the recording, according to WBBM. “I know you’re getting hot.”
Johnson also raped the woman on at least one other occasion, prosecutors said.
Later in January, the woman told an employee at the treatment center that she was worried she had sent a nude photograph to the wrong person by mistake, the Chicago Sun Times reported.
When the worker asked her who she intended to send the image to, she said she meant for it to go to Johnson.
According to prosecutors, the victim has an IQ of 47, and is unable to give consent due to her mental capacity, WBBM reported.
On June 9, Johnson was charged with three counts of criminal sexual abuse and two counts of criminal sexual assault-consent, CWB reported.
Two Cook County judges ordered that he be held without bail.
But on June 15, Johnson appeared before Cook County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Hill, WBBM reported.
During the hearing, Johnson’s attorney told Hill that the family could afford to post $400 bond, according to court transcripts.
“Are there any youngsters in the home?” Hill asked.
“No. Just with me,” a woman in the gallery interjected.
The woman was Johnson’s sister, Maxine Johnson, who happens to be a retired court clerk who worked in the same building as Hill.
“What is it, Maxine? What?” Hill asked her directly.
She then suggested that Hill set her brother’s bond at $400.
“It’s not proper, and shouldn’t be done,” WBBM legal analyst Irv Miller said. “I’ve seen thousands of bond hearings. I have never seen a judge call out into a gallery, to someone by their first name, who happens to be a family member of the defendant in front of them.”
“That has the appearance of impropriety,” Miller added. “That judge isn’t supposed to know the family of the defendant when he’s setting a bond.”
Johnson subsequently walked out of jail after posting $400 – which was the 10 percent requirement of his $4,000 bail, CWB reported.
He was also placed on electronic monitoring, but Hill soon lifted that requirement as well.
On July 9th, approximately 10 days after Hill nixed Johnson’s electronic monitoring requirement, the accused rapist violated his court-ordered curfew.
The following day, a Cook County grand jury indicted him with seven felony counts of criminal sexual assault of a handicapped victim, three felony counts of criminal sexual assault – unable to give consent, seven felony counts of criminal sexual abuse of a handicapped victim, and three felony counts of criminal sexual abuse – unable to give consent.
The case was subsequently reassigned to Cook County Circuit Court Judge Pamela Leeming, who reimposed an electronic monitoring requirement the following day.
“I find that the bond is set too low,” Leeming declared on July 26, according to WBBM.
She raised his bond to $40,000, which required him to pay an additional $3,600, CWB reported.
It is unclear when Johnson is due back in court.