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MO Prisoner Freed After Decadeslong Battle

The man whose claims inspired a Missouri law giving prosecutors a legal avenue to appeal cases in which they believe defendants were wrongfully convicted was freed after nearly 30 years in prison and a decadeslong fight, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Lamar Johnson walked out of the downtown St. Louis courthouse Tuesday afternoon following a ruling by 22nd Circuit Court Judge David Mason that came roughly two months after a weeklong hearing in December during which another man confessed to the 1994 killing of Marcus Boyd — the crime that sent Johnson to prison with a life sentence. “These cases are not easy, and they shouldn’t be,” said Mason.

Much of Mason’s decision centered on the main witness in Johnson’s 1995 trial, Greg Elking, who said at the December hearing that police coerced his original identification of Johnson as the man who wore a ski mask and shot Boyd. Mason described that identification as “suspect at best.” Without Elking’s identification, there was no case, according to the December testimony of former assistant circuit attorney Dwight Warren and former detective Joe Nickerson. After years of being turned down on appeals and habeas corpus petitions, Johnson’s case attracted national attention in 2019 when Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner’s Conviction Integrity Unit reported misconduct by the investigation’s lead detective and other constitutional errors in the 1995 trial. Johnson was represented by attorneys from the Midwest Innocence Project along with attorneys from the Circuit Attorney’s Office. Opposing Johnson’s bid to overturn his conviction were prosecutors from the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, who claimed in their final arguments after the hearing in December that none of the new evidence was credible. After the ruling Tuesday, the AG's office released a statement: “The court has spoken, and no further action will be taken in this case.”


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