Judge Vacates Conviction of Man Imprisoned for 28 Years

Lamar Johnson always said he didn't commit 1994 murder
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 14, 2023 5:50 PM CST
Judge Vacates Conviction of Man Imprisoned for 28 Years
Lamar Johnson, left, embraces St. Louis Prosecutor Kim Garner on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023.   (Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

A Missouri judge on Tuesday overturned the conviction of a man who has served nearly 28 years of a life sentence for a killing that he has always said he didn't commit. Lamar Johnson, 50, closed his eyes and shook his head slightly as a member of his legal team patted him on the back when Circuit Judge David Mason issued his ruling, the AP reports. In coming to his decision, Mason explained that there had to be "reliable evidence of actual innocence—evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing." Johnson walked free after he was processed out at the courthouse. Beaming, he walked up to reporters in the courthouse lobby about two hours after the ruling and thanked everyone who worked on his case, as well as the judge.

"This is unbelievable," said Johnson. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who filed a motion in August seeking Johnson's release after an investigation her office conducted with help from the Innocence Project convinced her he was telling the truth, applauded the ruling. "Mr. Lamar Johnson. Thank you. You’re free," she said before the gathered press. Gardner said this is a time for Johnson to spend with his attorneys and family. "This is Valentine’s Day and this is historical," she said. The Republican-led state attorney general's office fought to keep Johnson locked up. A spokeswoman for the office, Madeline Sieren, said the office will take no further action in the case.

Johnson was convicted of murder for the October 1994 killing of Marcus Boyd, who was shot to death on his front porch by two masked men. Police and prosecutors blamed the killing on a dispute over drug money. Johnson maintained his innocence from the outset, saying he was with his girlfriend miles away when the crime occurred. While Johnson was convicted and sentenced to life, a second suspect, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term. The case for Johnson's release was centered around a key witness who recanted his testimony and a prison inmate who says it was he—not Johnson—who joined Campbell in the killing.

story continues below

James Howard, 46, is serving a life sentence for murder and several other crimes that happened three years after Boyd was killed. He testified at a December hearing that he and Campbell decided to rob Boyd, who owed one of their friends money from the sale of drugs. He also said Johnson wasn't there. Howard testified that he shot Boyd in the back of the head and neck, and that Campbell shot Boyd in the side. Howard and Campbell years ago signed affidavits admitting to the crime and claiming Johnson was not involved. James Gregory Elking, who was with Boyd, testified that when he was "bullied" and "pressured" into naming Johnson when he couldn't identify anybody from a lineup. (More Missouri stories.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.