'An urban predator' finally goes to prison
by Alice Hohl
Johnny Jones spent years in an Oak Forest Hospital bed, delaying his trial with medical excuses. When he finally gets his day in court, he lashes out at his victim again.
Two days after a jury found her attacker guilty of home invasion and aggravated battery, Barbara Ravalee sat in a Tinley Park restaurant, sipping tea.
She is calm. Her hair is smoothed. Her voice is level.
"This is the first time I have slept all night long," Barbara said. "I feel rested.
"I have decided that now this is a good time for me to attack everything in my life.
"I feel like dealing with those things now."
She is ready to move on, to shake from her mind the haunting memory of a stranger forcing his way into her home, repeatedly stabbing her and her son before she shot him.
For her, part of moving on means taking a stand against freeing violent criminals from prison early.
Johnny Jones, the man convicted of attacking her, already had been convicted of three rapes and two murders when he left prison. A few months after he got out of prison, he came knocking on Barbara's door.
Barbara's first job is to do everything she can to make sure Jones is put away for good this time.
The judge set sentencing for a day in June.
After that, she will look after all those life goals she had abandoned, like outgrown toys tossed into a dusty corner.
Maybe she will start taking classes again.
Maybe she will start going out at night.
Maybe she will resurrect enough vitality to be a more active parent again.
Since the attack, she tells her children she loves them and lectures them about being safe and getting a good education. That's about all she has to give anymore.
"That's not enough for a child," she said, looking at her youngest, now 11 years old. As a 2-year-old, he clung to her leg while Johnny Jones stabbed her. "It's hard to explain to them.
"When our physical wounds closed up, we didn't talk about it anymore. We dealt with it as though it would go away."
But it never did, really.
"I never conceived it would take this long, and I would still not have a grip."
Maybe she will talk about the attack with her family. Someday.
Passing time in a hospital bed
June passes. September arrives. Jones has not been sentenced.
He watches television in the room at Oak Forest Hospital he shares with another patient.
Jones is hooked up to bags and tubes that remove his waste. His lower body is covered in bedsores because he refuses to turn himself every few hours.
Nurses and doctors care for Jones as they would any other patient, except they must make room for the Cook County corrections officer stationed within sight of him at all times.
The hospital is accessible to the general public, and visitors pass in and out freely, but Jones can only see people during jail visiting hours.
The county jail, next to the Criminal Courts building at 26th Street and California Avenue in Chicago, holds a medical ward and clinic, but Jones' needs for attention and special equipment surpass the clinic's ability to care for him.
As a result, he has been holed up in the long-term care ward of Oak Forest Hospital. The doors are unlocked, and the halls are quiet.
Jones was in no hurry for his case to go to trial. His court file is filled with a stack of white papers. Jones was not well enough to attend court today, one paper says. On another day, no hospital staff was available to drive him the few blocks to the courthouse.
After he is found guilty of stabbing Barbara, the delays continue. Jones' sentencing, scheduled for June, does not happen until late September.
'Johnny Jones, in custody'
Four deputies and a nurse from Oak Forest Hospital wheel Jones through the public hall and in the main door of courtroom 104. The rolling, adjustable gurney is too big to fit in the elevator that brings other inmates straight to the courtroom's holding cell.
They wheel Jones into the holding area, a white sheet pulled up to his neck.
This is the day when a judge will decide what fate will befall Jones this time. He had been lucky with previous sentences, serving time for three rapes and two murders and getting out before he reached the age of 40.
Now Jones is 46. He waits behind the locked door, hoping his lawyers might win him yet another chance to stay out of prison.
Associate Judge Paul J. Nealis comes sweeping out of a doorway, black robe flowing behind him. Nealis is assigned to set bail in new cases now, not to hear trials and decide sentences. But the Johnny Jones case was his in 1994, and he stuck with it, wanting to see the case through all the lagging scenes to its final act.
"Johnny Jones, in custody," Judge Nealis calls out.
The door opens, and the deputies wheel him into the courtroom, turning the bed to face the judge.
Barbara has been sitting in the front row, staring straight ahead. She's not really looking at anything but keeping her cool. When the case is called, her lips purse slightly, then relax — the only sign she heard the judge.
A white-haired nurse takes a seat in a chair near the foot of the gurney as the hearing begins.
Assistant state's attorneys Bill Delaney and Terry Reilly call witnesses to show the judge Jones is even more awful and less redeemable than displayed at the trial.
A public safety officer from Oak Forest Hospital testifies that Jones caused a disturbance in his room and threatened a nurse.
The prosecutors run through Jones' extensive criminal background.
Jones is charged with a heinous crime.
Jones is convicted.
Jones is sentenced to prison.
Jones is released on parole.
Jones is charged with a new heinous crime.
And on and on it goes, in grim repetition.
Reilly reads a statement from Barbara for the judge. In Illinois, victims are permitted to file a "victim impact statement" detailing the effect the crime has had on their lives.
Barbara suffered seven years of irrational fear and paralyzing anxiety after what she calls "my incident." She thought about it all the time. She still does.
Barbara waited until the night before the sentencing to write her statement for the judge.
"This incident has been very difficult for my family and me," Reilly read from the paper Barbara wrote. "Blood was shed in my home.
"I am no longer full of life and energy as I once was."
In the statement, Barbara calls Jones a "gutless coward" who preys on women and children. As Reilly reads to the end, Barbara sits in the front row without moving. Her lips are pressed tightly together. She blinks.
Jones lies on the gurney. His lips are pressed tightly together. He blinks.
Judge Nealis calls a recess to wait for a witness, and deputies move to the gurney to roll Jones back into the holding area. As they turn the gurney to squeeze through the door, Jones' face comes fully into view.
He scowls at Barbara.
Dr. Joyce Gertzen arrives from Oak Forest Hospital to testify about Jones' medical condition and the special equipment needed to care for him.
Her testimony convinces Nealis the Illinois prison system will be able to accommodate Jones with no problem.
The average cost to care for each inmate in Illinois is now $19,543 per year. Jones' care will undoubtedly cost more than average because of his extensive medical needs.
As Gertzen tells Nealis about Jones' paralysis from the nipples down, about his inability to control his bodily functions, about his bedsores, Jones watches from the gurney. His right index finger rests against the corner of his mouth.
Reilly prepares to sum up the reasons why Jones should be put away forever, assuring Nealis his arguments will be brief.
"Take all the time you want," Nealis says with a slight smile. "This case has been here since 1994."
Reilly points out that since Jones turned 17, he has spent all but two years of his life in county jail and state prison.
"He's never had a job," Reilly said. "His basic function in this world has been to cause pain, destroy, murder and to violate women. That's what he's managed to accomplish with the life he's been given."
Reilly described an Illinois law that requires a life sentence for "habitual criminals." Commonly known as a "three-strikes" law, anyone convicted twice of the most serious level of felony in a given time must be sentenced to life in prison if he commits another "Class X" felony.
"He's a poster boy for that statute," Reilly told Nealis.
Jones' public defenders didn't present any witnesses.
The lawyers asked the judge to spare Jones prison time, however, because he is disabled. Let him serve his sentence in a regular hospital, they asked.
They also point out prosecutors didn't present to the court all the documents showing Jones' convictions and release dates — documents required under the Habitual Criminal Act.
The prosecutors look a little worried.
The judge is silent for a few moments as he reads through the law, then he asks Jones if he has anything to say for himself.
Jones says "no" so quietly it's hard to tell if he spoke at all or just mouthed the word. His index finger fiddles with the corner of his mouth.
Nealis reads aloud the list of factors to consider when applying the habitual criminal sentence.
His face grows redder, and his voice grows louder with each word.
"Great bodily harm inflicted. Yes."
Every reason listed applies to Jones.
"This defendant is a menace, a career criminal, an urban predator," Nealis says at the end of the list.
He puts his glasses up on his head and then back down on his nose. He clicks his pen and makes notes on court papers.
The room falls silent. Spectators squirm. Jones' lawyers rustle some papers nervously.
Then Nealis clears his throat.
"The court sentences the defendant ... to natural life in the Illinois Department of Corrections."
Barbara's stony faces tilts downward, and her hands move to cover her mouth. Tears roll down her cheeks.
Jones' finger fiddles with his upper lip.
Barbara wipes her tears, fixes her glasses and gets back to the brave, rigid expression she wore before.
Jones' lawyers calculate their client has served 2,405 days already, but a life sentence minus 2,405 days is still a life sentence.
The judge advises Jones of his rights to appeal, and he answers with a voiceless "yes" and "no" to show he understands.
His lawyers are asking for 90 days extra before Jones is shipped to prison.
Before they can finish, Jones erupts, screaming and thrashing and spewing profanities.
Between curses, he throws Barbara and her family a menacing look.
"They're dead, man!" he shouts. "I'm gonna go down to South Holland and ... they're dead."
More screaming and cursing. His right arm flails near his head.
Nealis, stunned at first, begins yelling over him.
"Let the record reflect the defendant is threatening the state in open court — threatening the state, and me and the victim," he shouts as the deputies roll Jones quickly back behind the door.
Barbara is visibly shaken, her composed expression lost.
Jones said "South Holland" as he was yelling his threats, but Barbara never wrote her new address on any court documents.
He knows where she lives.
She frantically turns to family, friends and her court advocate for support.
How could he have known?
An ending, of sorts
Prosecutor Terry Reilly said he probably wouldn't press charges against Jones for the courtroom threats. Jones had nothing to lose, really, having already been sentenced to life in prison.
Reilly said Jones yelled the threats to show he wasn't helpless after all.
"He wanted to keep terrorizing her," he said.
In a way, it worked.
Hearing a judge sentence Jones to life in prison should have been Barbara's moment of peace. This was her closure. After seven years of waiting, this was the end.
But now this man knew where she lived again, even though she had moved more than once from the house where his blood had stained the carpeting.
He can't walk, and he's doomed to spend his life behind bars, but Barbara is convinced Jones can find a way to hurt her. Maybe he has friends on the outside who will take revenge.
"When are they going to show up at my door?" she asked herself.
This is not the same Barbara of seven years ago. She has grappled with fear, anxiety attacks and nightmares.
This is supposed to be her time to move on. The plan was to thank the judge and prosecutors and then begin bringing her life back into the present.
"I don't want to use it as an excuse," she said. "I'm not that kind of person."
But Jones' threats put her on edge, making her fearful again. His screams stabbed at her confidence.
So now Barbara quietly makes preparations to apply for a new Firearms Owner Identification Card. Her old one expired, and her revolver sits trapped in a box of evidence, sealed in a plastic bag in case Jones appeals his conviction.
She finds herself browsing gun shops again, looking for something practical and reliable.
A gun that won't go off accidentally.
A gun that will be there for her if she needs it.
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