By Andy Rose and Ray Sanchez, CNN
Prosecutors in St. Louis County, Missouri, have filed a request to vacate the murder conviction of Lamar Johnson, who has been behind bars for more than 27 years for a crime they believe he didn’t commit, officials said Wednesday.
Johnson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole after he was convicted of murder in the killing of Marcus Boyd in 1995.
But an investigation by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner alleged misconduct by prosecutors and police at the time. The sole eyewitness who testified at trial later recanted, and two other people later signed sworn affidavits confessing to involvement in Boyd’s murder.
Gardner’s office had previously asked for a new trial for Johnson, but a judge ruled in August 2019 that the court did not have the authority to do so because the motion was filed after the mandated deadline of 15 days after the verdict.
The new motion from the circuit attorney’s office invokes a year-old state law that allows a judge to set aside a judgment at the request of prosecutors when there is “clear and convincing evidence of actual innocence.”
“We are hopeful that the court will hear our motion and correct this manifest injustice on behalf of Mr. Johnson to strengthen the integrity of our criminal justice system,” Gardner said Wednesday in a statement.
Johnson’s defense attorneys echoed those sentiments in a statement Wednesday.
“We hope that today’s detailed motion marks the beginning of the end of Lamar’s road to freedom,” Johnson’s defense attorneys said in a statement. “We have long said the truth always finds a way, and that Lamar only needed a chance to tell it. The time has finally come.”
Dwight Warren, the prosecutor who led the case at the time, told CNN in 2019 that the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct were “outlandish” and a “one-sided hatchet job.”
Johnson, who is from St. Louis, already spent more than half his life in prison over the killing of Boyd, who was fatally shot in 1994 on the front porch of his apartment by two masked men.
At the time, police said Johnson and another man, Phillip Campbell, shot Boyd after what witnesses suggested was a drug dispute.
But Campbell and a man named James Howard later signed sworn affidavits admitting they killed Boyd and that Johnson was not involved, according to court documents.
Campbell, who died in recent years, was sentenced to seven years for his role in Boyd’s death, according to Johnson’s attorney, Lindsay Runnels. He served less than six years, she said. Howard was serving a life sentence for a homicide committed after Boyd’s murder, she said.
A 2019 report from the Conviction Integrity Unit in Gardner’s office cited many errors and examples of misconduct by police and prosecutors that deprived Johnson of a fair trial. Conviction integrity units have been created in various US cities to review post-conviction claims of innocence and exonerate wrongfully convicted defendants.
“Johnson’s case is ultimately about innocence,” the report said. “Johnson did not shoot Boyd and had nothing to do with Boyd’s murder, and he should not be in prison for the crime. Imprisonment of an innocent person constitutes a ‘manifest injustice.'”
The 70-page report concluded that the lone eyewitness to the shooting received more than $4,000 in payments from prosecutors “to identify Johnson as one of the shooters.” The payments were listed as moving expenses, utilities, storage and other items.
The witness, Greg Elking, later said the state also helped him resolve several outstanding traffic violations. The report highlighted that information was not disclosed to Johnson’s defense lawyers at the time of his trial.
Warren in 2019 told CNN the witness “may have been compensated out of fear for his life and we may have relocated him, but this was 25 years ago and I cannot tell you with certainty.”
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CNN’s Jennifer Feldman and Dave Cera contributed to this report.