On Valentine’s Day, Lamar Johnson was released into a new and strange world - one that he’s looking forward to making old and familiar. Judge David C. Mason vacated the life sentence Johnson was serving for a 1995 murder he did not commit. The judge ruled that there was “reliable evidence of actual innocence – evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing.”

The ruling was a judicial punch in the gut for the Republican-led state attorney general’s office which fought viciously to keep this man behind bars, just as it has done in other cases.

Johnson’s attorneys didn’t hold back on karate kicks to the state AG’s office. In a statement, they rightfully accused the office of not seeking justice even in light of “the overwhelming body of evidence” put together by them and St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Johnson’s attorneys further blasted the state for being comfortable with Lamar languishing in prison until his death.

Race is important in criminal matters, so you should know the race of the all the parties in this case. Lamar Johnson is African American as is Judge Mason and prosecutor Kim Gardner. The Missouri Attorney General has always been white. This was a showdown for racial justice.

Gardner attempted to right this egregious injustice in 2019 after her office’s investigation of the Johnson case. The AG’s office argued successfully that Gardner lacked the authority to seek a new trial so many years after the case was decided. The state supreme court cow-towed to the AG and denied Johnson’s request for a new trial.

This set into motion a successful grassroots movement to pass legislation to close this loophole. We are sick and tired of the state playing these games with people’s lives. The new legislation empowers local prosecutors to re-open innocence cases, no matter how old the case. Since its passage, the Kansas City reform prosecutor used the new law to free Kevin Strickland who had more than 40 years snatched out of his life for a triple killing. And now, Lamar Johnson has been freed on the eastern side of the state.

Last November, Judge Mason made the unprecedented decision to allow Lamar Johnson’s hearing to be live-streamed. The world got a ring-side seat to the prosecutorial corruption rampant in the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office during the years of the crack-cocaine epidemic. This was a time when racking up convictions by any means necessary reigned supreme, and the incestuous relationship between police and prosecutors went unchecked.

What was learned from the hearing was that Lamar Johnson was convicted on the testimony of Greg Elking who repeatedly testified he felt coerced and “bullied” by police to finger Johnson. The murder of Boyd was committed at night in an area with no streetlights by two assailants in dark clothes and masks that only had the eyes cut out.

Further, two men confessed to the killing of Boyd. Phillip Campbell pleaded guilty after Johnson’s trial and got a seven-year sentence. Johnson had received life without the possibility of parole. James Howard was never charged with the murder but admitted his involvement under oath at the hearing.

During the hearing, Judge Mason had pointed questions for Joseph Nickerson, the homicide detective on the case, and then-assistant prosecutor, Dwight Warren. Both had to admit they had no evidence against Johnson and had relied heavily on Elking’s testimony.

It was abundantly clear from the testimonies that the police investigation was shoddy, and that the prosecutor’s office engaged in unethical and probably illegal conduct. There were many victims of the Circuit Attorney’s office during the 1990s who were either wrongfully convicted or who received harsh and unreasonable sentences. The cases from this period need to be thoroughly reviewed and judiciously expedited.

The Lamar Johnson case is just the tip of the iceberg that I describe as the criminality of the justice system. Millions of taxpayer dollars are squandered, and many lives ruined by a system sworn to uphold the law. It’s no wonder why St. Louis voters believed the whole damn system is guilty as hell and were absolutely driven to bring credibility to the Circuit Attorney’s office by electing and re-electing Kim Gardner.

Since taking over the prosecutor’s office, Kim Gardner has faced relentless attacks - both personally and professionally. Last week, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation to appoint a special prosecutor in St. Louis when the crime rate reaches a certain threshold.

BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, founder and Chair Emeritus of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis. She is an organizer, trainer and speaker. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Other writings by Ms. Rogers can be found on her blog jamalarogers.com. Contact Ms. Rogers and BC.

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