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Missouri Supreme Court: No new trial for Lamar Johnson

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Posted at 3:03 PM, Mar 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-02 16:03:08-05

O'FALLON, Mo. — The effort to free Lamar Johnson, who has spent 26 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn't commit, hit another roadblock Tuesday when the Missouri Supreme Court refused to grant a new trial.

The case "is not about whether Johnson is innocent or whether there exists a remedy for someone who is innocent and did not receive a constitutionally fair trial," the ruling stated. "This case presents only the issue of whether there is any authority to appeal the dismissal of a motion for a new trial filed decades after a criminal conviction became final.

"No such authority exists; therefore, this Court dismisses the appeal," the ruling stated.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has sought a new trial for Johnson, who was convicted in the 1994 killing of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd in an alleged drug dispute in St. Louis. Gardner, a Democrat elected in 2016 and reelected last year, has said she is duty bound to correct past wrongs, including what she believes is the wrongful conviction of Johnson.

Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office argued successfully that Gardner lacked authority to seek a new trial so many years after the case was adjudicated.

It's unclear if Gardner will appeal the U.S. Supreme Court. Representatives of Gardner and Schmitt said they would put out statements later Tuesday.

Johnson was convicted of killing Boyd over a $40 drug debt and received a life sentence while another suspect, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term.

Johnson has long proclaimed his innocence. Gardner agreed with his alibi that he was with his girlfriend miles away when Boyd was killed. Meanwhile, years after the killing, the state's only witness recanted his identification of Johnson and Campbell as the shooters. Two other men have confessed to Boyd's killing and said Johnson was not involved.

Gardner asked for a new trial [apnews.com] in July 2019 after investigating Johnson's case in collaboration with his lawyers at the Midwest Innocence Project. Gardner said there was misconduct by one of her office's former prosecutors, that secret payments were made to the witness, that police reports were falsified and testimony perjured.

The former prosecutor and the detective who investigated the case rejected Gardner's allegations.

A circuit judge rejected Gardner's motion for a new trial, and an appeals court ruled in December 2019 that the state Supreme Court should decide the case.

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