By Paulina Buelna, Elizabeth Garabedian, Casey Rawlings
ST. LOUIS, MO – After nearly 26 years of incarceration, Lamar Johnson, who has been serving life without parole, has been denied a petition to overturn his conviction for a murder he swears he didn’t commit.
Johnson was convicted of killing Marcus Boyd in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole – even after others have repeatedly come forward and confessed to the crime, Johnson has not been exonerated.
While incarcerated, Johnson has worked to gather evidence to prove his innocence. With the help of the Midwest Innocence Project and St. Louis Prosecutor Kimberly Gardner, he petitioned the circuit court for a new trial but was denied.
Johnson’s petition to the court asserts his innocence through multiple claims which establish the violation of his constitutional rights through this miscarriage of justice that is his conviction, his supporters charge.
With the confessions of the actual shooters, Phillip Campbell and James Howard, a witness’ admission to making a false identification of the shooter, the state’s involvement with said witness intimidation and incentivization, and Johnson’s empirically verifiable alibi, Johnson is once again claiming his innocence.
Johnson’s petition asserts that his right to due process under the 14th amendment was violated on several grounds.
The primary way, Johnson claims, in which the state interfered with Johnson’s right to due process was through bribing the witness and withholding confessions from the actual shooters, Campbell and Howard, who Howard credibly confessed to shooting Boyd in sworn affidavits and personal writings from 1995, and have upheld their guilt since then.
Furthermore, the state, Johnson notes, failed to disclose evidence regarding an incentivized prison informant, William Mock, who had relevant evidence including letters displaying Mock’s racially motivated animosity toward Johnson, as well as his presumption of rewards in exchange for his testimony; he later received a complimentary letter to the parole board on his behalf.
Johnson’s pleadings charge the state additionally failed to disclose material benefits exceeding $4,000 given to the eyewitness, Greg Elking, following his false identification of Johnson after being pressured and intimidated by police. Elking first told the truth in a 2003 personal essay to Reverend Larry Rice, and has maintained this version of the story ever since.
Further illustrating his innocence, Johnson’s alibi that he provided was supported by his girlfriend as well as two other witnesses who were at an apartment more than 10 minutes (by car) away from the scene where Boyd was shot. Johnson’s alibi was confirmed by multiple witnesses, such as neighbors who were interviewed by police on the night of the homicide.
Detective Nickerson, the prosecuting attorney at the time, falsely invalidated Johnson’s alibi by incorrectly testifying that it was possible to travel back and forth from the alibi location to the crime scene within five minutes, despite it taking 10 minutes to travel only one way.
The state’s knowledge and use of false and perjured testimony from Mock, Elking, and Detective Nickerson violate Johnson’s right to due process, claim Johnson supporters.
This misconduct, said Johnson, along with new evidence which supports Johnson’s claims has led the St. Louis City Circuit Attorney’s Office to believe Johnson’s innocence, following an investigation of the case that began in 2018.
Kimberly Gardner, a St. Louis circuit attorney, has become an ally of the Johnson case and believes it’s the St. Louis justice department’s obligation to correct this vast injustice. She was quoted by PBS describing, “we have to train our attorneys that, at the end of the day, we’re ministers of justice, to pursue justice- not merely convictions.”
Despite attorney Gardner’s advocacy for Johnson’s freedom, she is unable to secure him a new trial due to the ongoing politics surrounding the case. The case has become less about Johnson’s freedom and innocence and more about a struggle between a conservative state attorney general and a progressive prosecutor.
Attorney Dwight Warren, the former prosecutor in the Johnson case, defends his work on the case and does not see an error in the handling of the trial. While attorney Warren is retired and thus can’t face repercussions for his work in the case, Joe Nickerson, the detective in the case, is still working in St. Louis County and is being targeted to be fired by many activists.