Lamar Johnson is now officially free after nearly three decades in prison for a crime he has always maintained he did not commit. “This is unbelievable,” Upon learning of the conviction’s reversal, he addressed reporters in the courthouse lobby.
Johnson’s sentence was overturned on Tuesday by Missouri Circuit Judge David Mason because there was strong and trustworthy evidence that “actual innocence” to overturn the conviction. The Innocence Project and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner submitted a motion in August calling for Johnson’s release.
Marcus Boyd was shot dead on his front doorstep by two masked men in 1994, and Johnson was found guilty of his murder. According to police and prosecutors looking into the murder, an argument over drug money was the cause of Boyd’s death. Johnson has always maintained his innocence, using his girlfriend as an alibi and saying they were hundreds of miles away when the crime was committed.
According to AP News, Johnson also claimed that he briefly left the house to sell narcotics on a corner a few streets away from the scene of the victim’s murder. After a crucial witness and fellow prisoner admitted to killing Boyd, proving Johnson’s innocence, the judge agreed to review Johnson’s case.
The main witness, James Howard, admitted that he shot Boyd in the back of the head and neck while walking with the second suspect, Phil Campbell, who was convicted and given a seven-year sentence.
Howard is currently serving a life sentence for murder and other crimes that took place years after Boyd was slain, even though he was never charged with the killing. Howard took the witness stand during a week-long hearing in December. He reiterated his admission that he and Campbell, who has since passed away, killed Boyd that evening in front of St. Louis Circuit Attorney Gardner. According to Howard, he came forward because he felt bad about locking Johnson in for a crime he didn’t commit.
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According to the Kansas City Star, Gardner is currently deciding whether or not Howard should be accused of killing Boyd. James Gregory Elking, a second guy, claimed to have been on the front porch with Boyd when the two shooters struck. Elking initially claimed during his testimony that he was forced to choose a person from a lineup despite being unable to identify the gunmen. Johnson was one of the killers, according to Elking. He then walked back this statement.
Erika Barrow, Johnson’s girlfriend, attested to these facts. Barrow claimed that she spent the whole night with Johnson, save for the five minutes he was gone to conduct a narcotics transaction at a nearby residence. Barrow stated that Johnson would not have been able to travel there and return in five minutes due to the distance between the friend’s house and Boyd’s house.
A state rule was created to make it simpler for prosecutors to obtain new hearings after the Missouri Supreme Court rejected Johnson’s request for a new trial in March 2021, ruling that Gardner lacked the power to make the request.
Kevin Strickland, a second lifer who had spent more than 40 years in jail after committing a triple homicide in Kansas City, was eventually released thanks to the statute.
A statement from Johnson’s legal team read: “While today brings joy, nothing can restore all that the State stole from him. Nothing will give him back the nearly three decades he lost while separated from his daughters and family.”
Johnson said he intends to get in touch with his family and take advantage of the opportunities he claims were unfairly withheld from him for over 30 years while he was incarcerated.
According to Johnson’s attorneys, the state attorney general accepted the initial conviction without objecting to Johnson’s claim of innocence. The attorney general’s spokeswoman defended his conduct but insisted that he would respect the judge’s ruling.
“As he stated when he was sworn in, c. Our office defended the rule of law and worked to uphold the original verdict that a jury of Johnson’s peers deemed to be appropriate based on the facts presented at trial,” said AG Bailey’s press secretary Madeline Sieren in a statement. “The court has spoken, and no further action will be taken in this case.”