Not So Easy Prey

By Alice Hohl

Daily Southtown


A predator with three rapes and two murders to boast, Johnny Jones thought Barbara Ravalee wouldn't put up much of a fight. He was wrong. And she was devastated to learn such a man wasn't kept in prison.


The ambulance roared into the emergency room driveway at Olympia Fields Osteopathic Medical Center, and Barbara Ravalee's bloody body was pulled through the hospital doors.


Two more ambulances rushed through traffic. One carried Barbara's 11-year-old son, Eric, bleeding from stab wounds and a human bite. Eric's ambulance went to Ingalls Hospital in Harvey.


The other carried a man named Johnny Jones.


Police found him crumpled on the floor in Barbara's house, shot four times and unable to move his legs. Johnny Jones was taken to Christ Hospital, where they diagnosed him as having a spinal cord injury, a broken arm, a broken rib and a fractured left hand.


At least six nurses, paramedics and doctors surrounded Barbara as they wheeled her down the hall. They were shouting over her and at her, asking her what happened.


Was she raped? Who did this?


They were holding her down, cutting away her blood-soaked cotton nightshirt, sticking their fingers in her, touching her wounds.


Barbara was bewildered and scared. She felt like her ribs were broken. Her left eye, where Johnny Jones plunged his rusty knife that last time, was swollen shut. But the knife had cut a slit in the flesh of her eyelid. She could see through the hole.


The only things Barbara saw that made any sense to her were the medical instruments and machines. Barbara had worked as a home health care provider while pursuing a nursing degree. The first rational, understandable thing she said to hospital workers was a criticism.


"You aren't supposed to use that," Barbara told a nurse as the woman picked up a metal tool.


The nurses began talking to her about how she knew about medical equipment, and Barbara talked back. She started floating down from her hysteria.


The pain set in.


And with the pain came knowledge of what had happened in her house.


A strange man had used a made-up letter to get Barbara to open her door, and while she was reading the letter, the man came inside and began stabbing her. Barbara had to leave her two boys, 11 and 2, alone with this man while she got her gun.


Barbara shot him, but he didn't die.


That's all she remembered.


At home, so much blood


Barbara didn't stay long at the Olympia Fields hospital. Doctors there performed emergency surgery on her eye, saving her vision.


Less than a week later, she could get out of bed without help. Heading for the bathroom, Barbara stopped at the mirror. Slowly peeling back the bandages from her face, she was horrified.


"I didn't look like myself," she said. "It was scary."


Then she looked at all her other wounds, on her hands, her legs, her ribs. "There are so many," she thought to herself.


When Barbara came home, her three children were staying with her mother. Her sister was trying frantically to scrub away the blood before Barbara could see it.


Blood stains were everywhere. Upstairs, downstairs. On the walls and the floor and soaked through the carpeting. Police tape still surrounded the house, and investigators had been coming in and out. By the time Barbara's sister had a chance to clean, it was too late. Barbara was ready to come home.


"I had never seen that much blood at one time. Ever," Barbara said. "I had done home health care for 12 years, and I came across a lot of ugly things, but I have never seen anything like that."


Barbara was not really surprised she shot the intruder, though.


She figured he had been watching her.


"He had it all chalked up in his mind," she said.


"Easy prey."


He figured wrong.


Barbara had grown up in Altgeld Gardens, a public housing development in Chicago.


"My mother taught us to fight for our lives," she said. "Stand up and put your chest out, even if you are little."


Had Barbara realized her gun stopped firing because she ran out of bullets, she would have reloaded and finished him off.


"It's too bad that he is alive."


The life of Johnny Jones


Less than a month after Barbara was attacked, she went back to work, as if working at a police department would take her mind off the crime.


It was Christmas Day, and as usual on Christmas not much was happening. Even criminals take holidays.


The dispatcher on duty with Barbara asked if she knew anything about the man who attacked her, seemingly without provocation or motive.


Barbara said she didn't, so they found out together, typing the name "Johnny Jones" into the police computer. Together, they waited for the results.


Barbara gasped.


In June of 1974, Jones pleaded guilty to raping two women on separate occasions. In exchange for his guilty plea, he was sentenced to four years in prison for both crimes. After two years, good behavior behind bars bought him an early release.


A few months after he got out of prison, Jones was charged with aggravated battery and rape. Two years later, in 1978, a jury found him guilty of the charges and a judge sentenced him to 26 years in prison.


While there, Jones began writing letters to prosecutors and police, telling them he could give them information about some unsolved murders. When investigators visited him in prison, Jones confessed his participation in two killings.


He was charged with two counts of murder and sentenced to 27 years in prison.


But the judge who handed down the sentence allowed Jones to serve the 27 years for murder at the same time he was serving the 26 years for rape.


By 1993, Jones was paroled.


He was a free man.


And he was still young enough to strike again.


He was 37 in 1994 when he came knocking on Barbara's front door.


Since the age of 17, Jones spent almost his whole adult life in prison. He was a free man for all of two years — just enough time to rape and beat and murder women.


Barbara was horrified.


This man should have been locked up, not outside her door jingling keys in front of her window.


She was angry. She wanted criminal charges against whatever parole board decided Jones was "rehabilitated," deserving of an early release from prison and capable of living with the rest of us.


Barbara wished someone had sentenced Jones to death for one of the earlier crimes.


"When people cannot live in a society with normal people you should put them out of their misery," Barbara said.


Living with terrible fears


A few months after the attack, Barbara was getting out of her car at her son's day care center.


As she reached in to free Kendall, the toddler, from his car seat, she noticed a few people walking down the sidewalk in her direction. Barbara's hands flew to her face, and she screamed.


The people stared and walked on.


She did not know them. She really had nothing to fear from them, either.


But this is what life became after that bloody November day.


Barbara became hysterical over nothing at all. A co-worker raising her voice to be heard across the room set Barbara's heart racing with fear.


In the grocery store, she chose the household staples she needed and moved into line at the cash register.


If a man stood in line behind her, it was all she could think about. Just knowing a man stood behind her drove Barbara crazy. Once, she pushed her cart to the side and walked out of the store.


Every day she battled for some sanity.


Every night she fought her way out of nightmares.


That Thursday morning plays out again and again in her sleep.


"I wake up and I can't breathe," Barbara said.


It didn't end after a year.


It didn't end when she moved away from that house.


It didn't end after five years had passed.


Today, Barbara doesn't scream when strangers walk by, and she can finish her grocery shopping.


But she is not a trusting soul.


"I always look ahead and behind me now. I watch their hands," Barbara confides.


"I never talk to strangers."


A special case


After seven years of traipsing up the steps of the Markham courthouse for hearing after hearing in the criminal case against Johnny Jones, there is finally a jury in the room with Barbara.


Seven years is a long time to wait.


In Cook County, even complicated murder trials usually take just two or three years.


But Jones' case was special. Because Barbara's gunshots left him paralyzed from the chest down, Jones stayed in a nursing home instead of county jail.


His case file filled with sheets of white paper indicating Jones didn't feel well enough to make it from Oak Forest Hospital at Cicero Avenue and 159th Street across the expressway to the courthouse on Kedzie Avenue. Sometimes there was not enough hospital staff to drive him to court and walk with his gurney into the courtroom.


So the years passed.


May 29, 2001, the prosecutors and public defenders finally chose a jury.


The trial was quick. Jones and his lawyers presented no witnesses. Jones did not testify on his own behalf.


May 30, Barbara testified, describing the horrific scene that unfolded just over the threshold of her front door in 1994.


May 31, both sides rested their case and began their final arguments.


Barbara did not want to look at Jones, lying there on his hospital bed. He looked so thin and helpless. But Barbara was afraid he was not as helpless as he appeared.


She avoided looking at him while she testified. But he looked at her.


During the closing statements by the lawyers — in which Jones' lawyers argued the two had experienced a romantic relationship — Barbara finally relented and glanced at Jones.


Their eyes met.


He winked at her.


A jury's 'sympathy'?


This should have been an open-and-shut case.


The man who attacked Barbara had been shot. Police found Jones shot on the floor in her dining room.


The wood-handled knife lay broken in a plastic bag with other evidence, including the revolver Barbara used to shoot Jones.


Still, prosecutors were a little worried.


Assistant state's attorneys Terry Reilly and Bill Delaney had left little room for doubt, if any.


But a jury is a funny thing.


"You were afraid there was going to be this sympathy for him," Reilly said. "You've got this guy on a gurney."


It took seven years to bring Johnny Jones to trial.


In the end, the jurors didn't feel much sympathy for Jones.


It took them 45 minutes to reach a verdict.