Philadelphia Inquirer

Oct. 08, 2005

Charges dropped against freed man

Clyde A. Johnson 4th was charged and released in a slaying now linked to alleged serial killer Juan Covington.

Inquirer Staff Writer

It took a courtroom minute yesterday to end 15 months of limbo for Clyde A. Johnson 4th, a social worker wrongly accused of a shooting that investigators now say could be linked to confessed serial killer Juan Covington.

Assistant District Attorney Christopher DiViny withdrew charges of attempted murder against Johnson.

And at that moment, Johnson had his life back. "Wow," he said from his seat in the back of the courtroom.

Johnson had been charged with firing five shots at close range at 33-year-old William Bryant on a quiet residential block in Logan on April 26, 2004.

DiViny said later that a ballistics test linked a gun owned by Covington to the Bryant shooting. He declined to comment further, adding that an investigation was "ongoing."

DiViny said the ballistics evidence, along with Johnson's strong alibis, "convinced us that the right thing to do was withdraw the prosecution."

Police arrested Johnson after he was picked out of a photo lineup by the victim. Unable to post $1 million bail, Johnson was detained at the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility.

But in July, when Covington confessed to three slayings, police took a second look at the case against Johnson. The Bryant shooting occurred around the corner from Covington's home. Bullets were tested and matched a gun owned by Covington.

On July 29, Johnson was released from jail without having to post bail, but charges against him were not dropped until yesterday.

David Mischak, his attorney, said Johnson's ordeal should be a lesson in the dangers of building cases around eyewitness accounts. He said the ballistics test that linked Covington's gun to the crime was "the equivalent of DNA matching or fingerprints."

"This is an example of why ballistic tests should be conducted more frequently," Mischak said.

In an interview after the hearing, Johnson said his life has been on hold since his release from jail. With the lingering charges, he has not been able to return to his job as an AIDS counselor with Congreso de Latinos Unidos in Kensington.

Johnson remembers with clarity the moment his ordeal started.

"July 15, 2004, at 6:55 a.m.," he said. "Police came to my home to arrest me. I answered the door with a toothbrush in my mouth and my red shorts on."

Johnson said he had no idea that he had become the main suspect in the shooting of Bryant, an acquaintance. "I had no prison record, no nothing," Johnson said.

At the city's jail, Johnson said, "Every day was a low point for me."

He said he told police he was innocent from "the day they locked me up."

Johnson's coworkers were prepared to testify that he was at work on the morning of the shooting. His manager at Congreso had computer logs and a sign-in sheet to vouch for him.

Having the charges dropped, Johnson said, "was a burden off my shoulders."

Surrounded by his father, mother and stepfather, Johnson said it was too soon to talk about the last year, or his plans for the future.

"I just want to breathe," he said.

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