A Missouri Circuit Court judge on Tuesday overturned the murder conviction of Lamar Johnson after he spent 28 years in prison for a crime he says he never committed. Even though Johnson is now a free man, he is not eligible for compensation per state law, CNN reported. The Midwest Innocence Project has since launched a GoFundMe to raise funds to help Johnson get back on his feet after spending decades in prison.
Johnson was convicted of the 1994 killing of Markus Boyd. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole the following year. In the wake of the fatal incident, police claimed Johnson and another suspect were behind Boyd’s shooting death. The other suspect was identified as Phillip Campbell.
But during Tuesday’s hearing, Judge David Mason ruled there was a “constitutional error” in Johnson’s trial, adding that “there is clear and convincing evidence of Lamar Johnson’s actual innocence.”
A new hearing for Johnson was approved, after a 2022 motion that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner filed, claimed the Black man’s conviction was heavily based on false testimonies from eyewitnesses. Gardner also alleged prosecutors and investigators were unprofessional.
Johnson’s murder conviction was overturned after the only eyewitness at his trial recanted, CNN reported. Campbell, who has since passed away, also admitted to playing a part in Boyd’s murder in sworn affidavits that he signed.
The other suspect, identified as James Howard, also told the court in December that he and Campbell fatally shot Boyd after they got into a drug dispute. But one of Johnson’s lawyers said Howard received a life sentence for a different homicide while Campbell was convicted for Boyd’s killing. The latter, however, served barely six years in prison.
Per Mason’s order, Johnson had an alibi at the time Boyd was killed. The order also said no physical evidence implicating Johnson in the fatal incident was presented by prosecutors. The sole eyewitness who identified Johnson as one of the murderers was identified as James Elking. The document stated that prosecutors heavily depended on Elking.
During Johnson’s new trial, Elking recanted his initial claim that Johnson was the person who opened fire on Boyd, the order stated. Prior to his trial, the order stated Elking also received over $4,000 as “witness compensation.” The money, which was paid by prosecutors, was not communicated at the time, CNN reported.
“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,” Tricia Rojo Bushnell, who is with the Midwest Innocence Project, said.
Had Johnson been wrongfully convicted in Kansas, he would have been paid $1.82 million – that is $65,000 for each year. The Midwest Innocence Project’s GoFundMe for Johnson has so far raised over $120,000.