Prosecutors in St. Louis are seeking a new trial for a black man sentenced to life without parole in a 1994 murder case after finding that prosecutors and police fabricated evidence and paid the only eyewitness over $4,000.
The St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office filed a motion on Monday seeking a new trial for Lamar Johnson.
A report recently made public by the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit said it had “discovered errors so prejudicial that it is compelled to correct them” in Johnson’s conviction.
Among the errors the unit outlined in its review include “the concealment of more than $4,000 in payments to the sole eyewitness, the failure to disclose the complete criminal and informant history of the state’s jailhouse informant,” and “the fabrication of false witness accounts during the law enforcement investigation used to provide a motive that did not exist.”
The department said it also discovered a failure by local authorities “to conduct a thorough and competent investigation into the facts of the case, the use of improper and unconstitutional police investigation tactics” and the presentation of “false and misleading evidence to the jury" as well as "prosecutorial misconduct that further prejudiced Johnson and rendered the result of the trial fundamentally unfair.”
The Conviction Integrity Unit was created by Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner in 2017 and is responsible for reviewing old cases with credible claims of a wrongful conviction. The office began its review of Johnson's case in 2018.
Johnson conviction stems from the 1994 murder of Marcus Boyd. Boyd was fatally shot outside his house Oct. 30, 1994 when two “black men wearing masks and dark clothing, each armed with a gun, ran up to the porch from the side of the house without warning,” the office said in the report.
“The black ski masks concealed all facial characteristics of the two men, except for their eyes,” the report continued. “The masked assailants shot Boyd several times and he was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.”
After a short investigation, the office said, Johnson was charged with Boyd’s murder along with a man named Phillip Campbell. The charges came after more than $4,000 in payments were found to have been made to an eyewitness "in exchange for his identification and testimony."
Johnson was tried before Campbell and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
Campbell was given a deal in which he pleaded guilty to a voluntary manslaughter charge and was only required to serve a seven-year sentence. The office said he was later found to be “one of the true perpetrators” behind the murder.
According to the office, Campbell and another man named James “BA” Howard “credibly confessed to the shooting of Boyd in signed sworn affidavits, personal writings dating back to 1996, and in interviews with counsel for Johnson and the CIU.”
“Letters from Campbell denying Johnson’s involvement were confiscated by and in the possession of the state, however, no action was taken to correct the wrongful conviction of Johnson,” the office stated.
Johnson has maintained his innocence over the years. He repeatedly petitioned the court with new evidence based on letters and affidavits signed by Campbell and Howard and pointing to facts uncovered since his trial about police and prosecutorial conduct in his case. Each of his petitions have been denied.