A Baltimore man rejoiced Monday as he walked free after spending nearly three decades behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.
Jerome Johnson, 50, was wrongfully charged and convicted for his role in the 1988 murder of Aaron Taylor inside the Nite Owl liquor store near Woodland Avenue in Park Heights, local station WBAL-TV reported. Johnson’s conviction was hinged on the faulty testimony of a 15-year-old girl who claimed she saw him at the bar at the time of the shooting.
A judge finally exonerated him this week after a five-year legal battle by his defense attorney to prove his innocence.
With help from the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby said their re-investigation of the case revealed Johnson was not at the liquor store that night, as confirmed by two co-defendants, and that police never positively IDd him as a witness. She said they also located the real shooter, who has since died.
“On behalf of the criminal justice system, I must tell you I apologize to you and your family for the pain that you’ve endured because of this wrongful conviction,” Mosby said outside the courthouse Monday.
She later apologized to victim’s family, saying, “My heart breaks for the family of Aaron Taylor … I thank them for their wisdom and their grace.”
Defense attorneys and prosecutors said Johnson was ultimately convicted on “inconsistent and faulty” witness testimony from a 15-year-old who solely named him as a witness. The girl changed her story twice, however, once claiming she saw Johnson had the shooter the gun and another suggesting the gunman pulled the weapon from his own waistband, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Through it all, Johnson maintained his innocence and tried 15 times to have his conviction overturned. He dreams finally came true Monday when Mosby dropped all charges against him.
“Today marks the first time in 30 years that the criminal justice system has worked for Jerome,” said Shawn Armbrust, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project.
Armbrust continued, “… We’re all happy you’re finally home, but we also need to recognize that it shouldn’t take this long — that when the system inevitably makes mistakes, it needs to be able to correct them and it needs to have the humility to do so.”
Johnson is the third wrongly convicted person in 3 1/2 years to be exonerated under Mosby’s administration, according to The Baltimore Sun. Malcolm Bryant and Lamar Johnson were exonerated for murder in 2016 and 2017, respectively after spending over 10 years in jail.
Johnson said he has no ill feelings over his wrongful conviction and is looking forward to moving forward with his life. When asked what’s he’ll do next, he replied, “I think I’m going to go get a home-cooked meal.”