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Missouri Supreme Court to decide if Lamar Johnson will get a new trial

By Dan Greenwald, KMOV4

The Missouri Supreme Court will decide if a man who has spent 25 years in prison for a murder he says he did not commit will get a new trial.

An appeals court handed down the ruling Tuesday.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner requested a new trial for Lamar Johnson, who was convicted in 1995 in connection with the death of Marcus Boyd. He was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

At the time, authorities said that Johnson and his co-defendant Philip Campbell fatally shot Boyd over a fight about drug dealing. Campbell and another man who admitted to a role in the murder have since said that Johnson was not involved.

A report from Gardner’s office says police pressured the only eye witness to identify Johnson in a lineup of possible suspects. Most of the two shooters’ faces were covered by masks. The witness retracted the claim in a letter to a pastor in 2003.

In August, a judge denied Johnson’s request for a new trial because she said it was filed long after the deadline, which is 15 days after the verdict.

Gardner then tried to appeal but the office of Attorney General Eric Schmitt said she did not have legal standing the case.

The Court of Appeals for Missouri’s Eastern District says it “must dismiss the appeal,” but is transferring it to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Gardner’s office released the following statement:

“To our knowledge, before this case, no court in the country had held that a prosecutor does not have the ability to free an innocent person from prison after prosecutorial misconduct has come to light. In other jurisdictions, including other jurisdictions in Missouri, when a prosecutor comes into court and says an innocent person is in prison, the court immediately grants relief. The court reached the opposite conclusion in this case after inviting the attorney general into the case – also a move unprecedented in the state of Missouri.

Now the court of appeals is saying that they can’t even hear the appeal from the trial court’s unprecedented order. The court of appeals opinion recognizes that this case presents a number of questions that are of extreme importance to our criminal justice system, including the duties and power of the Circuit Attorney, and the ability for the courts to correct the grave injustice of an innocent man being in prison.

We look forward to the Missouri Supreme Court having an opportunity to review this important case”
Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization, applauded Gardner’s actions. The Senior Director of Criminal Justice Campaigns released the following statement:
“While it is disappointing to have the appeals court dismiss Lamar Johnson’s request for a new trial, we are encouraged the court has recognized the need for review. Lamar is an innocent man that has been imprisoned for more than two decades because of corrupt prosecutors.
We applaud St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner for standing up for Lamar and fighting against clear attempts to undermine justice. We need prosecutors like Gardner and her Conviction Integrity Unit to end mass incarceration so we can achieve real community safety. We fear Attorney General Schmitt’s opposition to a new trial is part of a larger effort to undermine reform-oriented prosecutors like Gardner. Schmitt is playing politics with an innocent man’s life.
Lamar’s family and supporters will continue to push for his freedom. Earlier this month Color Of Change and several organizations delivered 25,000 petition signatures calling on Attorney General Eric Schmitt to stop blocking Mr. Johnson’s efforts for a new trial. Implications of this decision could have wide-ranging impact on hundreds of people wrongfully convicted in Missouri and across the country, so community pressure will continue.”

This article originally appeared on KMOV4.

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