The story of Lorenzo Johnson, who was wrongfully convicted and served 22 years in prison

Lorenzo Johnson was 22 years old when he was wrongfully convicted. Photo credit: Pennsylvania Innocence Project

Lorenzo Johnson was 22 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of the 1995 shooting death of Tarajay Williams in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Johnson, who was sentenced to life in prison without parole in March 1997, had maintained his innocence, claiming he was in New York when the fatal incident happened.

He was, nevertheless convicted, despite several witnesses also confirming his alibi. Johnson was ultimately released after he served 22 years in prison

Per the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, the fatal December 1995 shooting occurred in an alley close to 14th and Market streets in Harrisburg. Johnson was arrested and charged in connection with Williams’ murder some months later, and authorities claimed he was an accomplice in the fatal shooting. 

Authorities also claimed Johnson’s friend Corey Walker was the shooter. He was similarly sentenced to life in prison without parole in March 1997. But the Pennsylvania Innocence Project highlighted multiple discrepancies during Johnson’s trial, stating that the prosecution mainly depended on evidence from a witness identified as Carla Brown.

Brown, during the trial, claimed that she saw Johnson looking out for Walker while he opened fire on Williams. Brown also claimed that Williams and the two friends got into a fight at a bar before the victim was gunned down. But the bartender and bouncer did not recall seeing Johnson.

Brown was also said to be the lone witness to accuse Johnson of being involved in the fatal shooting, and she had even admitted to being under the influence of alcohol or drugs on the night the victim was killed.

Besides that, Brown was also named as a suspect in the shooting. But the Pennsylvania Innocence Project stated that she “did not come forward implicating Lorenzo [Johnson] right after the incident; instead, Detective Kevin Duffin solicited a statement from her four months after the fact.]”

During the trial, the testimonies from Brown as well as several of the prosecution’s witnesses were said to be contradictory. Meanwhile, Johnson continued to maintain his innocence and even rejected a plea deal that would have seen him being handed a 5-year prison sentence. 

Johnson also reiterated he was in New York the night the victim was gunned down. And though several witnesses corroborated his Alibi, only one of them – Suquan Ripply – took the stand. Ripply claimed Detective Duffin threatened he was going to face perjury charges if he confirmed Johnson was indeed in New York during the trial. But unlike the other witnesses, that did not deter Ripply from testifying.

Another witness who opted not to testify out of fear was Johnson’s former girlfriend. She claimed Detective Duffin similarly threatened her with a perjury charge and told her she was going to lose custody of her children if she took the stand.

“In addition to this intimidation, the prosecution in Lorenzo’s case was responsible for several Brady violations, meaning some evidence was not disclosed to the defense at the time of trial,” the Pennsylvania Innocence Project stated. “Some of this undisclosed evidence included contradictory pre-trial statements from witnesses, plea agreements offered to witnesses, and the fact that a witness was a god sibling of Detective Duffin.”

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals court ultimately vacated Johnson’s conviction due to lack of evidence on October 5, 2011. “After several failed appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court by the prosecuting deputy attorney general, Lorenzo was released on Jan. 18, 2012, after 16 and a half years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit,” per the Pennsylvania Innocence Project.

But that wasn’t the end of Johnson’s ordeal. Johnson’s attorney, Michael Wiseman, towards the end of May 2012, called him to inform him that his conviction had been reinstated by the U.S. Supreme Court “without briefings or arguments, all in one day.”

Johnson went back to New York on June 14, 2012, and turned himself in. “The Pennsylvania Innocence Project assisted Lorenzo [Johnson] and his attorney in fighting to get him out of prison for a second time,” the organization stated. “It is during this period of investigation when Lorenzo’s legal team uncovered the previously mentioned Brady violations and undisclosed evidence.”

“In July 2017, Lorenzo agreed to a deal with the state attorney general’s office in which his original first-degree murder conviction and life prison term were vacated. In exchange, Lorenzo pleaded no contest to lesser charges of third-degree murder and conspiracy,” the organization added.

“No contest is not an admission of guilt; it just means the defendant isn’t contesting the charges brought against them. Lorenzo still maintains his innocence, but took the deal to see his family, he said.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 11, 2024

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