BELLEVILLE, Ill. (AP) — An Illinois man pleaded not guilty Monday to a sex charge involving a teenager who claims he held her captive in his house for more than three years, repeatedly raping her and fathering her child.
Steven Johnson, 25, entered his plea in St. Clair County Circuit Court as police in Washington Park continued to vet the 19-year-old St. Louis woman's claim that she had been held against her will in Johnson's home since April 2009 and was forced back at gunpoint when she tried to flee.
The woman told investigators she finally escaped Aug. 20 with the help of a relative.
Johnson's relatives have disputed the allegations, telling media outlets she was always free to leave the house.
Johnson and his mother were arrested Thursday after a SWAT team stormed his home. He was charged Saturday with a felony count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse that alleges he had sex with the teen about the time she went missing in 2009.
He also has been charged with promoting prostitution —although it is not clear if that relates to the teen —with possessing cocaine and marijuana with plans to deal those drugs, and with being a felon in possession of a gun. He was previously convicted in a home burglary.
Johnson's mother, 54-year-old Owida Johnson, also appeared in court Monday. She was tentatively scheduled for trial Nov. 5 on two misdemeanor counts of child endangerment. The charges say she subjected the teen's 2-year-old son and another child to "unsafe and unsanitary living conditions" in the home. It describes unsafe electrical wiring, animal feces and vermin in the home and spoiled food in the refrigerator.
Police say the teen told investigators she endured almost daily beatings and sexual assaults in the home and that when she tried to escape, Johnson brought her back, at times at gunpoint. The teen also told investigators Owida Johnson helped detain her and falsify medical records when her son was born.
Police Chief David Clark has told The Associated Press the teen met Johnson socially and went to his home voluntarily but wasn't allowed to leave. Clark said the three-day lag between when the teen made her report to police and the raid on the home was largely spent trying to substantiate her story — which Steven Johnson's relatives reject.
His family has told local newspapers that the teen was dating Steven Johnson and she would attend family reunions and leave the house, but she always came back.
St. Clair County's top prosecutor, Brendan Kelly, said the investigation continues, with more charges possible.
"The charges and the nature of the evidence within those charges speaks for itself," he told the AP.
The children remain in the custody of state child-welfare advocates, Kelly said.
The Johnsons still were jailed Monday — Steven Johnson on $2 million bond, his mother on $15,000 bond.