Johanna: Facing Forward

Johanna closed her eyes, fearing for her family -- her brother, Kevin, and her grandparents -- sleeping just rooms away.

Juan told her not to make a sound. Or he would hurt them.

Juan held a plastic-handled kitchen knife across his neck, then hers.

Give me another chance, he begged.

The blade brushing just above her sternum persuaded her not to test him.

OK, Johanna promised, knowing it was what he wanted to hear.

Johanna stayed still in her twin bed, as Juan had sex with her.

As he kissed her, she tried not to throw up.

Afterward, he warned her not to tell.

She didn't plan on it.

But when Johanna went to school the next morning, she was meek and withdrawn.

What's wrong? her brother, Kevin, asked as they headed to school in the used Dodge Durango she had recently learned to drive.

Juan came over and held a knife to me and threatened to kill me, Johanna said. She didn't mention the rest.

At school, Johanna dumped the whole story on two close friends. They urged her to tell. The girls went to their senior class adviser and told her about the rape.

She took them to Principal Edward Muffet's office and he called the police.

Juan was arrested at White Castle, where he worked full time at the drive-through. He had been expelled two months before for bringing a gun to school. Before that, he was a student council and drama club member set to graduate from high school.


At MetroHealth Medical Center in emergency bay No. 14, Johanna chewed at the sides of her fingernails as a nurse swabbed her for evidence of rape. She plucked a strand of shoulder-length hair from Johanna's head, combed her pubic hair for evidence and scraped the underneath of her fingernails.

As she was prodded, Johanna worried. Not about herself but about her grandfather, Wosbely.

Don't tell Abuelito, she said to Aunt Hilda, referring to her grandfather.

He had a heart attack in 2006, and Johanna had overheard doctors saying stress could trigger another one.

Hilda understood Johanna's fears and she knew her father's reaction would be volatile. But he couldn't be kept in the dark. The rape had happened in his home.

Hilda picked him up and decided to drive around while telling him. That way he couldn't go anywhere, or do anything.

But Johanna's grandfather took the news calmly. He said after losing his son, he could bear anything. After the rape, Johanna's room, with its white-painted paneling and family pictures on the walls, didn't feel safe. She slept on the faded floral living room couch instead of her bed. A knife was tucked within reach.

Juan was locked up four miles away, in a building with concrete walls and bulky guards. That didn't stop him from finding Johanna. He reached out from a bank of pay phones, lining the walls of his unit in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Detention Center.

Juan called Johanna's home three times from lockup, the first on the evening of his arrest. Johanna picked up and heard his voice. She shrieked and threw the cordless phone down.

Why can't he just leave me alone, she cried. He's done enough already.


On Feb. 20, just four days after his arrest, Juan was on the street again.

When Johanna went to give her statement to a sex crimes detective she asked: Is he still in jail?

Johanna had heard a rumor Juan was released.

The detective called the juvenile court and confirmed it.

It happens, he told Johanna, especially in cases of rape that are he said/she said.

Johanna was terrified. The detective called and asked officers to patrol around her house more often.

Court Magistrate Laura Williams had released Juan to house arrest. The county detention center was overcrowded. And after listening to the charges, she said he didn't pose a serious threat to the community.

During the hearing, Williams noted that the victim -- "alleged victim," she corrected -- was someone Juan considered a girlfriend.

"She was my girl," Juan retorted.

"Stay away from her," Williams shot back.

"I'll stay away from her, I promise, but --," Juan said.

"You don't have to say anything else," Williams said cutting him off.

Juan was fitted with a plastic ankle bracelet to monitor him.

It didn't keep him away from Johanna.

In little slips of time between leaving his White Castle job and when his probation officer expected him to be home, Juan dogged her.

Johanna knew he wouldn't let her be. To protect herself, she retreated to a second-floor bedroom in Aunt Hilda's house. Shadow, a stocky Labrador and pit bull mix, barked incessantly if a stranger stepped in the driveway.

Less than a week after Juan was released, on Feb. 24, he banged on Hilda's side door. The dog barked. By the time Johanna answered, he was gone.

Panicking, Johanna called her aunt, who told her and a cousin to get in the car and go to their grandparents' house just a few miles away.

As the girls sped down the street, they spotted Juan.

His back was turned and he was bent down as if he were tying his shoe. When Johanna pulled into her grandparents' driveway, she noticed the rear driver's side tire on her car was flat.

She called the police.

Breathless, Johanna answered the dispatcher's questions in a little-girl voice.

"Do you see him around the perimeter of your home?" the dispatcher asked.

"No, not yet, hopefully no," Johanna said shakily.

Two Cleveland police officers showed up at the house. They told Johanna and her family there was nothing they could do. They said nobody saw Juan slash the tire.

They told her to call the detective investigating her rape and left, without making a report.

The detective visited Juan at the White Castle a few days later with a warning:

Don't go near her.


Despite her fears, Johanna continued to go to high school during the day and cosmetology school at night. Her friends tried to cheer her up.

Johanna planned for prom, buying a dress that matched her brown eyes. That special night wasn't going to work out the way she dreamed, but she wasn't going to give it up.

On the morning of March 5, Juan asked a judge to let him off his electronic monitoring so he could make a visit to a local college.

The judge said no.

Instead, Juan went with his father to enroll at an alternative high school, where he could finish earning his credits to graduate.

Around 4:30 p.m., Johanna pulled into her driveway and headed into her grandparents' house.

She wanted to hop onto MySpace to chat with a friend before going to cosmetology school. She logged off the computer around 5:20 p.m., said goodbye to her grandmother, kissed her, and -- as usual-- let the side door bang on the way out.

Johanna loaded her large duffel bag, with all of her hairbrushes, sprays and beauty textbooks, into the back seat.

Hopping into the front seat, she put the keys in the ignition. Something moved to her left, outside the window.

Johanna glanced over.

It was a person. It was Juan, all in black.

His eyes locked with hers.

Juan lifted the sawed-off shotgun he had stowed in a pool cue case.

Johanna blared the horn.

Everything went white.