ST. LOUIS– A hearing begins Monday in a case that will decide whether the conviction should be overturned for a Missouri man who spent nearly three decades in prison for a murder two other people later confessed to committing.
Lamar Johnson has long claimed his innocence, and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner supports his request to have his conviction overturned. However, the Missouri attorney general’s office maintains that Johnson was legitimately convicted of the 1994 murder of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd and should remain in jail.
The hearing in St. Louis Circuit Court is expected to last up to five days.
Johnson was convicted in 1995 of shooting Boyd for a $40 drug debt and received a life sentence. Another suspect, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison sentence.
Johnson claimed he was with his girlfriend miles away when Boyd was killed. Years later, the state’s only witness recanted his identification of Johnson and Campbell as the shooters. Two other men have since confessed and said Johnson was not involved.
Gardner launched an investigation in conjunction with attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project. Their investigation revealed misconduct on the part of a prosecutor, secret payments made to witnesses, falsified police reports and false testimony.
The former prosecutor and the detective who investigated the case dismissed Gardner’s allegations.
Last week, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt asked the court to sanction Gardner, accusing him of withholding evidence. Schmitt said Gardner’s office did not notify the attorney general’s office of gunshot residue testing on a jacket found in the trunk of Johnson’s car after his arrest. Schmitt’s filing said the evidence was withheld “because it tends to prove Johnson guilty.”
Gardner, a Democrat, responded by accusing Schmitt, a Republican, of grandstanding. She said the failure to deliver a lab report on the jacket was due to an overlooked email. She also called it irrelevant since the jacket was not used in the crime.
Johnson’s claims of innocence were compelling enough to prompt a 2021 state law that makes it easier for prosecutors to obtain new hearings in cases where there is new evidence of a wrongful conviction. That law freed another long-time inmate, Kevin Strickland, last year after a prosecutor told a court evidence used to convict him had been recanted or refuted. He served over 40 years for a triple murder in Kansas City before a judge released him.