Two Detroit men were greeted with cheers, smiles and hugs as they emerged from a Michigan courthouse Wednesday after being exonerated for a 1999 murder they didn’t commit.
Justly Johnson, 44, and Kendrick Scott, 40, walked away free men after the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office elected to vacate their murder charges following a Michigan Supreme Court ruling that granted the men a new trial for the 1999 murder of Lisa Kindred.
Kindred, 35, was shot in the heart while sitting in her van with her children on Mother’s Day in what authorities now believe was a murder-for-hire plot.
“It was good to see everybody here and see faces I haven’t seen in 20 years,” Scott said, beaming with joy as he stood outside the courthouse. “I knew I didn’t do anything … and when you are falsely accused of a crime all you can do is hope and you know it’s going to come one day.”
Johnson told the jubilant crowd of supporters, “I haven’t lived for 20 years. “I haven’t smiled or relaxed for 20 years and I want to be able to do that.”
According to FOX 2 Detroit, it was the testimony from two eyewitnesses that landed the pair behind bars for Kindred’s murder. Witnesses Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson acknowledged they were high on drugs the night of the shooting and later recanted, alleging they were forced into providing false testimony.
Johnson said he felt “vindicated” after serving time for a crime he had no part in. At one point, his glee turned to anger as he dwelled on all that he and Scott had missed out on during their incarceration.
“It’s a tragedy, and it’s sickening that we had to suffer 20 years in the first place for the mistakes of the Detroit Police Department and anybody that was involved in this,” he said.
The men’s release comes just four months after a Michigan Supreme Court ordered them a new trial. Through it all, Johnson and Scott maintained their innocence.
“It’s a blessing because we never lied on each other like the other people lied on us to get us in jail,” said Scott. “We stayed strong and now we are out together at the same time. It’s a blessing.”
With the help of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, attorneys working the men’s case realized that the victim’s son, Charmous Skinner Jr., was never questioned by authorities, Skinner, now 27, was 8-years-old at the time and sat as his mother died of a gunshot wound in the front seat.
Kindred’s 10-month-old was also present. The family was waiting for her husband outside her in-laws’ house when the fatal shooting occurred.
It was this discovery, along with the recanting of witness testimony, that prompted the Supreme Court’s decision to toss Johnson and Scott’s murder convictions and grant them a new trial, the Detroit News reported.
Under Michigan law, the men are eligible to receive $50,000 for each year they were wrongly convicted for the murder.
Watch more in the clip below.