Lamar Johnson, 50, served nearly 28 years in prison in St. Louis, Missouri, for a murder he did not commit. On Feb. 14, he was finally freed.
Circuit Judge David Mason declared Johnson innocent and overturned his conviction. Mason said there had to be “reliable evidence of actual innocence — evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing.”
Johnson always maintained his innocence.
“I hope I can be an inspiration and that they will continue to fight — truth finds a way. I think there’s a purpose in pain. To some degree, I have an obligation to try to help others and help them get through what they’re going through,” he said to St. Louis Public Radio.
Innocent Black men still account for 53 percent of wrongful convictions, according to a 2022 report titled “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States.”
Johnson had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the Oct. 1994 murder of Marcus Boyd. Boyd was shot dead on his front porch by two masked men. Johnson said he was with his girlfriend miles away when the murder was committed.
Johnson claimed he was with his girlfriend nearly the entire night, except for a few minutes when he stepped outside of the home of a friend to sell drugs on a corner several blocks from where the victim was killed.
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A second suspect in the case, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term, The New York Post reported.
According to Dwight Warren, who prosecuted Johnson in 1995, the main evidence against Johnson was an overheard jail cell conversation.
In August 2022, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner filed a motion seeking Johnson’s release after an investigation her office conducted with help from the Innocence Project.
While the Republican-led state attorney general’s office fought to keep Johnson in prison, a spokeswoman for the office announced the office will take no further action in the case.
“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’s lawyers said. “The evidence that proved his innocence was available at his trial, but it was kept hidden or ignored by those who saw no value in the lives of two young black men from the South Side.”
Although Johnson is finally free and declared innocent, he was offered no financial compensation for the time he lost, CBS4 News reported. Missouri does not have specific legislation to give financial compensation to exonerated individuals. The state does award compensation in very few cases, but Johnson will not qualify because the case did not rely on DNA evidence.
“In Missouri, that ability is really just non-existent. So Missouri does not provide compensation for individuals who are wrongfully convicted unless they’re exonerated through a very specific procedure in which that person is requesting DNA testing and that DNA testing leads to evidence that proves their innocence,” Tricia Rojo Bushnell with the Midwest Innocence Project told The Root.
The Midwest Innocence Project has launched a GoFundMe to help Johnson.
Lamar Johnson, center and his attorneys react on Feb. 14, 2023, after St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason vacated his murder conviction during a hearing in St. Louis, Mo. Johnson served nearly 28 years of a life sentence for a killing that he has always said he didn’t commit. (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)