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November 15, 2003

Deaf-Mute boy's trial on hold

From: Akron Beacon Journal, OH - Nov 15, 2003

Judge says 17-year-old must learn sign language before facing murder and rape charges in court

By Phil Trexler
Beacon Journal staff writer

An Akron teen who cannot hear nor speak won't go on trial until he learns sign language and is able to assist in his defense of murder and rape charges.

Jerron Johnson, 17, who is being tried as an adult, was found incompetent to stand trial Friday by Summit County Common Pleas Judge Jane Bond and was sent to a state mental hospital for treatment.

He has been jailed under a $1 million bond while awaiting trial for violent crimes involving four women.

Johnson, cuffed at the wrists and ankles, wept in the courtroom while several of his friends and family members looked on. He learned of the decision through an interpreter. Bond questioned how he was able to understand the interpreter before issuing her ruling.

His attorney, Joy Chicatelli, said afterward that Johnson has an IQ of 61 and was never taught traditional signing. She said he can barely read lips.

Johnson mostly communicates through a crude, family- taught signing method and is unaware of the seriousness of the charges, Chicatelli said.

His mother is currently in a federal prison, she said.

''My sense is that he is completely overwhelmed and confused by these proceedings,'' Chicatelli said after the hearing. ''He seems to have no idea what he's accused of. In the last court hearing, he asked me if he was in trouble for not going to school.''

Bond's order calls for Johnson to be treated for one year before he is returned for another evaluation. He could return sooner, if his condition improves.

Johnson was a student at Firestone High School when he was arrested in May. He was bound over from juvenile court and faces adult charges of aggravated murder, attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, aggravated burglary and voyeurism.

His alleged victims include three women and a girl, and the charges date back to 2001 when he was 15 years old.

He is accused of raping and strangling 45-year-old Jean Zienka inside her Akron home in October 2001. He is charged with raping a 37-year-old Akron woman during a burglary in November 2002 and attempting to rape a 35-year-old Akron woman in October 2001.

The voyeurism charge involves a 13-year-old girl whom Johnson is accused of watching undress in February.

He faces life in prison, if convicted.

© 2003 Beacon Journal and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.