A quieter Friend of Huck

June 21, 2010

By Jacob Quinn Sanders.
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Having served 12 years of his 160-year prison sentence, Julius Johnson Jr. got the hope of a second chance.

A drug addict and thief whose life plummeted out of control after a rough divorce — even his attorney wanted nothing to do with him at the end — Johnson petitioned then-Gov. Mike Huckabee for an early release in 1999. Johnson wrote to Huckabee that he had learned from his mistakes and was a different man. And yet any chance at parole was still a half-century away.

Johnson’s pleas won Huckabee over. In January 2000, the governor proclaimed that Johnson would be eligible for parole in August 2008. He was released that November. But he did not stay out for long.

While Johnson, 55, is not among the more violent and notorious of the hundreds of prisoners Huckabee pardoned or set free early during his time in office, Johnson hasn’t changed, either. He has spent the 1 1 /2 years since his parole in and out of jail on the same old charges — burglary, theft — and he went back to prison June 9 when his parole was revoked. That parole is scheduled to expire March 7, 2050.

More recent charges could make his return to prison last longer. Little Rock police arrested him on theft and burglary charges in October and November 2009 — the latter when they found him hiding in an attic. Little Rock police arrested Johnson again April 20. The charges: burglary and theft.

Officials at the Pulaski County jail said that at first they didn’t know the man they booked in April was Johnson because he gave them the name of one of his brothers and changed by one digit his driver’s license and Social Security numbers. After an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter began asking questions, the jail identified him properly and served him with a failure-to-appear warrant.

“It’s sad to me,” said Johnson’s mother, Bobbie, standing on the porch of the crumbling Pulaski County house where she has lived for 48 years. “He tried. He wanted to change. And it’s got to be up to him to change. But those drugs. Those drugs got him.”

Her words last week were echoes of what she said in a Pulaski County Circuit courtroom in 1988, testifying during the penalty phase of her son’s first trial. First she said he was a good man, used to have a good job. But, lost in despair after his family broke apart, he turned to drugs, she said.

“He called me one time,” Bobbie Johnson testified then, according to a transcript. “He was high and in a motel, saying that he owed somebody $2,000 and they were out to kill him.”

In a written statement from the executive director of his political action committee, HuckPAC, Huckabee said he could not access the case file but knew he based his decision on the information and recommendations he had in 2000.

“The easy decision and politically expedient one is never to grant a clemency,” Huckabee said in the statement. “But no person elected to serve the people should make the easiest and most selfish decisions — but instead, the ones which at the time seem rational and reasonable based on the facts presented.”

In Huckabee’s time as governor, from July 22, 1996, to Nov. 6, 2006, he commuted 166 prison sentences and granted 849 pardons — giving out one or the other an average of once every 2 1 /2 days.

In Johnson’s clemency application, dated Aug. 26, 1999, he did not ask for a pardon, just the chance to get out from under as much of the rest of his sentence as he could.

He apologized for his crimes. His wife cheated on him, he wrote, and told him that the younger of his two sons was not biologically his.

“I was devistated and it destroyed me,” Johnson wrote. “I was so hurt I just lost touch and focus toward every thing. I was so ashamed at the time that something like that could happen to me and I couldn’t face anyone, especially my family. No One.”

His full sentence of 160 years covered 14 total charges of burglary and theft. A jury deliberated for eight minutes before convicting him in his first case. Setting his sentence in that case, the jury took 41 minutes.


By the time Johnson sat in front of Special Judge Art Allen at the Pulaski County Circuit Court on April 21, 1988, he had already been in a little trouble. In 1977, he was sentenced to three years in prison in a burglary and theft case in Perry County. Five years later, he pleaded guilty in Pulaski County to being a felon in possession of a firearm. His sentence that time was a $500 fine and 20 days in jail.

Neither case predicted Johnson’s run of burglaries and thefts in the spring of 1987.

Pulaski County prosecutors accused him of breaking into houses on March 18, March 28, April 20, April 22, April 25, April 29, May 11 and May 13 as well as a car in a thrift-store parking lot on April 17.

They later added more charges for a burglary on Nov. 19. The May and November charges came when Johnson was out on bond in the other cases.

All kinds of things were taken: a Mossberg shotgun, a television, a weed trimmer, hand tools, towels and bath mats, tennis shoes, leather ski gloves. He even left an empty beer can on one man’s kitchen counter, police said.

Fingerprints on a window pane — Johnson’s left thumb and left pinkie — led police to him.

In happier times.

But to Johnson’s family, his demons were born Feb. 18, 1985, when his former wife, Olivia, filed for divorce after six years of marriage. They had two sons together, Julius III, now 28, and Javin, now 25.

According to the divorce case file, the two tried to reconcile but separated again in July.

Sixteen days later, Johnson broke down the door to Olivia’s apartment and took his oldest son and namesake. A judge ordered Johnson’s arrest and sentenced him to 10 days in the Pulaski County jail and a $50 fine. The judge suspended the jail sentence as long as Johnson behaved.

His access to his sons dwindled as the case went on. In early filings, he got to keep the family’s house. By the end, there was no mention of the house. He lost it to the bank. Johnson had also lost his job at the Little Rock Water Works. He did not pay court-ordered child support.

Six days before the hearing that would make the divorce final, Johnson’s attorney, Jeff Rosenzweig, sent him a curt typewritten letter.

“Dear Mr. Johnson,” it began. “Your mother informs me that you are aware that I am looking for you. As I expected, you have not been in touch with me.”

Rosenzweig told Johnson he would make a motion to be removed from the case.

“I am sick and tired of dealing with you and your lies,” the attorney wrote, signing the note “Sincerely yours.”

The divorce became final March 18, 1986.


Just more than two years later, Johnson began his prison sentence.

His attorney at trial was Willard Proctor, a future Pulaski County circuit judge who had just more than a year of experience after passing the Arkansas bar exam. After the jury convicted Johnson in his first case and sentenced him to two consecutive 20-year terms, Proctor advised him to plead guilty to the rest of his charges to perhaps win leniency from the judge.

Johnson did. But the judge was unforgiving, handing down 120 more years in prison.

Proctor said he doesn’t remember much about the case’s specifics except for the ending.

“Mr. Johnson was emotional,” Proctor said. “He was really upset getting all that time. Nobody knew really what he was going to do. We all got pushed into the elevator together — me, the bailiff, his mom, everybody, including him — to ride down to a secure place so they could get him in custody as quickly as possible.”

Bobbie Johnson said she can’t remember now which drug her son favored.

“It doesn’t matter anymore,” she said.

His sister Arizona Kennel, 59, remembers her brother as the child who would hog the television and build armies out of everyday things he found because the family could not afford many toys.

His mother can still see him that way, too. She was lucky she couldn’t visit him in jail this time, she said. She didn’t want to see him failed or broken.

None of the four cars parked in front of her house tucked between railroad tracks and an Interstate 430 overpass work, so she did what she could, putting $40 on his jail account May 2.

“No matter what happens, he’s still my son,” she said. “I love him. I love him dearly. And he needs help. Plenty of people — a governor of Arkansas, even — gave him another chance. But the rest of his life is up to him.”

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  2. Thats My Pops…that’s me in that Picture…he Is A Good Man And he Will Learn….a Govener like that wouldn’t give some one so many chances if he didn’t believe it…..I wanna apologize to everyone for what he did….I’m proof that there’s got blood in his body….and my brother is his son no matter what and he loves him like a father to….

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