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On Tuesday, a Missouri judge ruled to vacate the murder sentence of Lamar Johnson, who spent nearly 30 years behind bars for the 1994 slaying of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd — a murder he always said he didn’t commit.
Judge David Mason said the decision to vacate required “reliable evidence of actual innocence — evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing,” The Associated Press reported.
“This combined testimony amounts to clear and convincing evidence that Lamar Johnson is innocent and did not commit the murder of Marcus Boyd either individually or acting with another,” Mason wrote. “Consequently, this Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence of Lamar Johnson’s actual innocence and that there was constitutional error at the original trial that undermines confidence in the judgment.”
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the ruling was handed down in a packed courtroom, including a television camera from the CBS show “48 Hours,” as Johnson’s fight for innocence became a national news story, in part because the state of Missouri made it so hard for a man with so much evidence that he was wrongfully convicted to get that evidence before a judge.
“This is unbelievable,” Johnson, 50, said to reporters as he left the courthouse.
In 1995, Johnson was convicted of fatally shooting Boyd over a $40 drug debt and received a life sentence.
Another suspect, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term.
Johnson claimed he was with his girlfriend miles away when Boyd was killed.
Years later, the state’s only witness recanted his identification of Johnson and Campbell as the shooters. Two other men have since confessed and said Johnson was not involved.
CBS News reports St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched an investigation in collaboration with lawyers at the Midwest Innocence Project.
Their investigation found misconduct by a prosecutor, falsified police reports and perjured testimony.
The former prosecutor and the detective who investigated the case rejected Gardner’s allegations, but on Tuesday, Judge Mason said he was overturning the conviction.
In a statement after the ruling, Gardner said the decision “righted a wrong.”
“This case says that in the state of Missouri, a person’s right to justice and liberty is valued more than the finality of an unjust conviction,” Gardner said. “My office fought long and hard … We are pleased that Mr. Johnson will have the opportunity to be the man and member of our community that he desires.”
According to CBS KMOV 4, while other states offer compensation for people whose criminal convictions are vacated, in Missouri, it’s very limited and Lamar Johnson will not qualify because the case did not hinge on DNA.
“In Missouri, that ability is really just non-existent. So Missouri does not provide compensation for individuals who are wrongfully convicted unless they’re exonerated through a very specific procedure in which that person is requesting DNA testing and that DNA testing leads to evidence that proves their innocence,” explained Tricia Rojo Bushnell with the Midwest Innocence Project.
The Midwest Innocence Project has launched a GoFundMe to help Lamar Johnson re-establish his livelihood.