By Casey Rawlings and Elizabeth Garabedian
ST. LOUIS, MO – Missouri governor Mike Parson has now announced 14 pardons and commutations, but excluded from those pardoned was Lamar Johnson, a man incarcerated for 26 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
Lamar Johnson was wrongfully convicted of killing Marcus Boyd in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Since his conviction, the responsible perpetrators Phillip Campbell and James Howard have come forward and confessed to the crime, but Johnson has still not been exonerated.
Lamar maintains his innocence and has worked tirelessly to gather evidence with the help of the Midwest Innocence Project to support his case. Since then, Johnson has petitioned for a new trial, in which he maintained his innocence and argued that his right to due process under the 14th amendment was violated through the state’s interference.
Johnson had provided the police with an alibi of his whereabouts the night of the murder, which was validated by his girlfriend and other individuals. During Johnson’s trial Joseph Nickerson, the lead detective who investigated the murder of Boyd was called to the stand and gave an incorrect account, which invalidated Johnson’s alibi.
Nickerson testified that Johnson could have committed the murder, even though it was not possible for Johnson to travel from his location to the crime scene within the time frame of the shooting.
Greg Elking, the witness that falsely identified Johnson as the shooter, had been pressured and intimidated by police, and had received material benefits exceeding $4,000 for his testimony that the state failed to disclose.
Elking later amended his testimony in 2003, but no action was taken to overturn the conviction. Additionally, the state failed to disclose information regarding William Mock, a prison informant, who had provided false information against Johnson and was compensated for his testimony.
Despite DA Gardner’s attempts to correct this mistake of the criminal justice system, 30 elected Missouri prosecutors have an amicus brief claiming that Gardner’s request for a new trial is unethical, adding that because Johnson has run out of appeals, he should remain in prison.
The prosecutors that filed this brief are suggesting that Gardner’s actions and involvement in the case violate the duties and responsibilities of her prosecutorial position. Their brief also alleges that despite Johnson’s likely innocence, his petition is in violation of the state’s laws and is therefore not reasonable.
Former prosecuting attorney Dwight Warren upholds his efforts and refuses to acknowledge any miscarriage of justice.
In early 2019, Gardner filed a motion in the lower courts of Missouri to vacate Johnson’s conviction based on the overwhelming evidence indicating his innocence. However, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt opposed the motion, prompting a judge to deny the request.
Schmitt’s work to ensure Johnson wasn’t afforded a new trial is evidence of the corruption involved in maintaining a “tough-on-crime” punitive culture. This is further illustrated by countless prosecutors furthering their amicus brief against Gardner as an attempt to preserve Johnson’s incarceration.
In their denial, the court’s statement did not address evidence of Johnson’s innocence, instead it prioritized a technicality, contending that Johnson’s attorney “filed the motion years past a long-established 15-day deadline-” a deadline set in 1994.
The court also questioned Gardner’s authority to file a motion because similar motions are “usually made by the defendant in a case,” stated St. Louis Public Radio.
Despite this deterrence, Johnson persisted, and in April of 2020, he petitioned the Supreme Court of Missouri for a new trial. With the help of Gardner, he argued that he had a wrongful conviction 26 years prior which should constitute grounds for a new trial.
Despite mounting evidence and countless advocates organizing on Johnson’s behalf, the court rejected the appeal – once more, not due to insufficient evidence, but due to a technicality.
The court didn’t find evidence relevant to their analysis, stating, “this case is not about whether Johnson is innocent or whether there exists a remedy for someone who is innocent and did not receive a constitutionally fair trial.”
Instead, the court focused on the question of whether there is authority to appeal a new trial after a conviction has been finalized. It ruled that no such authority exists, dismissing Johnson’s appeal for justice.
Johnson and his community of advocates persevered, and requested for a pardon by Missouri governor Parson, who released his decision on July 30 of this year. Despite announcing 14 pardons and communications, Johnson was excluded.
Currently, Lamar Johnson remains incarcerated at a maximum-security facility in Missouri.