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Judge Rules Against New Trial for Black Man Prosecutors Admit Was Wrongfully Convicted of 1994 Murder

Even though prosecutors themselves requested a new trial, a Missouri judge has turned down the request, leaving a man in prison for a murder advocates argue he didn’t commit.

Lamar Johnson is serving a life sentence for the 1994 murder of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.

The man died of multiple gunshot wounds after a drug dispute in the 3900 block of Louisiana Avenue in St. Louis, the newspaper reported.

Man convicted
Lamar Johnson says he’s been sitting in prison for a 1994 crime he didn’t commit. (Photo by Midwest Innocence Project)

Even during his 1995 trial, Johnson was allowed to present what was apparently a persuasive argument for his actual innocence, a fact illustrated well by the Washington Post: “Prosecutors acknowledged his alibi, that he was socializing with friends at an apartment. But they said he committed the murder when he stepped outside, claiming Johnson traveled three miles to Boyd’s front porch, shot him, fled on foot and arrived back at the apartment — all in ‘no more than five minutes.’”

The trial jury somehow found the testimony of the sole witness — the one later discovered to have been tainted by payoffs from prosecutors — to be more persuasive than Johnson’s alibi.

But even though Johnson was convicted of killing Boyd, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s Conviction Integrity Unit collaborated with the Midwest Innocence Project to announce last month that Johnson had been wrongly convicted as a result of misconduct by police and former St. Louis prosecutor Dwight Warren.

Warren decried the accusation in media reports as “nonsense,” but that hasn’t stopped Gardner from publicly saying she believes it is her duty to “correct the wrong.”

In the motion for a new trial the Post Dispatch obtained, Gardner’s office claimed a former prosecutor concealed an effort to pay a witness for his testimony against Johnson and that the witness lied on the stand.

Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan, however wrote in her ruling that Gardner’s claims are inconclusive, and the judge also noted Johnson has unsuccessfully sought an appeal three times.

Still, Hogan said Johnson may appeal to a higher court, which Gardner plans to do, according to the Post Dispatch.

Hogan, who has accused Gardner of having a conflict of interest, also said in her order lawyers in Gardner’s office and the Midwest Innocence Project may have violated court rules when they contacted jurors two years ago to present evidence withheld at trial.

“The court has never received a request, nor did it, in its discretion, allow any individual to contact any of the jurors for any purpose in this matter,” Hogan wrote. “This conduct has caused the court to be concerned about the integrity of the legal process in this case.”

The Post Dispatch reported that 43 prosecutors backed Gardner’s push for a new trial.

Lindsay Runnels, of the Morgan Pilate law firm in Kansas City and the Midwest Innocence Project, said in an email the newspaper obtained that “[for] all the discussion by the Court, not a single word addresses the clear, convincing, and overwhelming evidence that Mr. Johnson is innocent.”

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