Lamar Johnson’s murder conviction vacated

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 6:27 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 14, 2023 at 2:32 PM CST
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Judge David Mason has ruled to vacate Lamar Johnson’s murder conviction.

“It’s hereby ruled that the motion of the Circuit Attorney is granted,” he announced in court Tuesday.

There were cheers in the courtroom as the judge spoke. Johnson is expected to be freed Tuesday afternoon.

After the judge ruled, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner released the following statement:

“Today the courts righted a wrong – vacating the sentence of Mr. Lamar Johnson following his wrongful conviction in 1995. Most importantly, we celebrate with Mr. Johnson and his family as he walks out of the courtroom as a free man.

This case was about the ability of an elected prosecutor to address a manifest injustice. 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. My office fought long and hard, we took this case all the way to the Missouri Supreme Court. We are pleased that Mr. Johnson will have the opportunity to be the man and member of our community that he desires.

I want to thank our partners at the Midwest Innocence Project and the attorneys at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner for their tireless work in the pursuit of correcting the wrongful conviction of Mr. Johnson. It is always in the best interest of our City, State and Nation to ensure that convictions levied on individuals are correct according to the available evidence and constitutional law. My office takes claims of manifest injustice seriously, and we will continue our work every day on behalf of all the people of the City of St. Louis.”

The Missouri Attorney General’s Office sent the below statement:

“As he stated when he was sworn in, Attorney General Bailey is committed to enforcing the laws as written. Our office defended the rule of law and worked to uphold the original verdict that a jury of Johnson’s peers deemed to be appropriate based on the facts presented at trial.

The court has spoken, and no further action will be taken in this case.”

State Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis, also released a statement after the conviction was overturned:

“After having the opportunity and privilege to meet with Mr. Johnson in the Jefferson City Correctional Center several times, I am overjoyed that he will return home as one of my constituents. The overturning of his conviction illustrates how a system can own up to its mistakes. However, to truly right the wrong that has been done to Mr. Johnson, this same system must take full accountability for its actions as he deserves restitution for nearly three decades of wrongful imprisonment that took away valuable time spent with his family and community.”

This follows a week-long December hearing into Johnson’s current murder conviction of Marcus Boyd, who was shot and killed on a St. Louis porch in 1994.

Johnson swore his innocence in the case and has spent 28 years in prison. He previously expressed confidence that if the case ever returned to court, he would be freed.

“I mean, I believe in God. I believe that he had a purpose for me other than to spend the rest of my life in prison,” said Johnson.

He quoted scripture Numbers 32:23: “Be sure your sins will find you out.”

“I think you can lie, you can deny you can hide the truth, but eventually it’s going to find a way…. I’m comforted in that,” said Johnson.

Prior to the judge’s announcement, Johnson said he believed any impartial judge will be able to see his innocence.

Johnson’s legal team pointed out that two others have confessed to the crime, clearing Johnson. One testified in the December hearing detailing how and why the murder took place. The only eyewitness to the crime also testified he couldn’t really see anything that night and felt pressured to pick Johnson.

But it took years to even get the case before a judge even when the prosecutor admitted it was a wrongful conviction. Johnson’s current legal team, which includes Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, describes a hostile process in court records.

Attorneys for the Missouri Attorney General’s office submitted a final brief containing eight pictures where black or red lines are drawn on Johnson’s face. They continue to argue there is something unique about his face where a person could credibly identify a masked gunman running in the dark even if that person could only see the eyes.

It’s a highly anticipated legal decision that has drawn national attention.

Johnson’s legal team includes the Midwest Innocent Project and civil rights attorney Lindsay Runnels with Morgan Pilate.

His legal team has already begun fundraising in anticipation of his release.