August 11, 2021
After fifty-one years in prison on a wrongful conviction we are pleased that our client, friend and mentor Arthur ‘Cetewayo’ Johnson is being released today. His release is the result of an agreement with the Philadelphia District Attorney Office, in which Mr. Johnson, age 69, pled to a lesser offense allowing him to be released to his family and friends.
ALC Legal Director, Bret 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.”
Mr. Johnson was convicted in the 1970 murder of Jerome Wakefield based solely on a signed statement that Mr. Johnson testified at trial he could not read. Mr. Johnson was arrested a mere two months after his Eighteenth birthday. He had only completed the fourth grade and did not begin to learn to read until he was incarcerated on this case.
Evidence from the police file turned over to Mr. Johnson’s lawyers from the Abolitionist Law Center by the Conviction Integrity Unit in 2019 revealed that police had only obtained a statement implicating Mr. Johnson from a 15-year-old child that they had interrogated for 21 hours in a 30 hour period, including the last 15 hours consecutively. Not until more than 11 hours into that last interrogation did the child give a statement implicating himself and others, including Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson testified at trial that he was physically struck by police officers during his interrogation, matching the testimony of Gary Brame, who was also charged and tried separately for the murder. Mr. Brame said Philadelphia police beat him until he signed a confession. He was sentenced to 7 ½ to 15. In 2020, Mr. Brame signed a statement admitting to the murder and disavowing that Mr. Johnson had anything to do with the crime.
The Philadelphia District Attorney Office offered to resolve this case on the basis of suppressed evidence of police misconduct if Mr. Johnson pled to a lesser offense.
The Abolitionist Law Center fought diligently the past five years to bring Mr. Johnson home from an unjust sentence and conviction, however no one fought harder than Mr. Johnson and his family during the past fifty-one years. While we believe Mr. Johnson to be innocent of the charges he was convicted of, Mr. Johnson made the decision that was in the best interests of his family and decided to plead guilty to a lesser offense to be reunited with his family after decades of incarceration.
Our Executive Director Robert Saleem Holbrook, who during his twenty-seven years of incarceration was mentored by Mr. Johnson offers the following statement: “Arthur Cetewayo Johnson was a beacon of strength and hope to younger prisoners like myself who entered the prison system lost souls. Mr. Johnson was a mentor to so many of us who found ourselves struggling to survive the daily grind of prison life. I don’t believe we found justice in this case however we found freedom for Mr. Johnson, after fifty-one years of incarceration.”
MORE ABOUT ARTHUR ‘CETEWAYO’ JOHNSON:
Ceteywayo spent 37 years in solitary confinement. The Abolitionist Law Center represented him in a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for violations of his 8th Amendment rights. He was released from solitary confinement in the fall 0f 2017 after we won the case.
Throughout his incarceration, Cetewayo was consistently a target of state repression and human rights abuses, for his relationship to the Black Liberation Movement.
Cetewayo currently serves on the Prison Advisory Board of Let’s Get Free: Women and Trans Prisoner Defense Committee.
‘After 50 years in prison — 37 in solitary confinement — Philly man’s conviction is vacated‘ by Samantha Melamed for The Philadelphia Inquirer (08/11/21)
‘Arthur “Cetewayo” Johnson Ordered Released After 51 Years in Prison’ by Chris Schiano for Unicorn Riot (08/11/21)