Judge says she can’t order new trial for convicted murderer
ST. LOUIS (AP) — A judge on Friday denied a motion for a new trial for a St. Louis man serving a life sentence for murder, despite an investigation that contended misconduct by police and prosecutors led to his conviction.
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan said in her order that she doesn’t have the authority to grant a new trial for Lamar Johnson, 45, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole for a 1994 murder related to a drug dispute.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s office, in collaboration with the Midwest Innocence Project, issued a report last month that said police pressured the only eyewitness to implicate Johnson in the shooting death of 25-year-old Marcus L. Boyd, even though two shooters wore masks. The witness recanted his identification in 2003. His co-defendant, Philip Campbell, and another man, James Howard, who confessed to participating in Boyd’s death, have signed affidavits saying Johnson was not involved.
Police also promised to help the witness move to St. Louis County and gave him more than $4,000 for moving expenses, according to the report from Gardner’s Conviction Integrity Unit.
Campbell was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for voluntary manslaughter. Howard was never charged.
But Hogan wrote that Gardner’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct over the alleged payments are inconclusive.
Gardner’s spokeswoman, Susan Ryan, said the office will appeal Hogan’s ruling. The Midwest Innocence Project said in a statement that it “respectfully disagrees” with Hogan’s ruling.
“For all the discussion by the Court, not a single word addresses the clear, convincing, and overwhelming evidence that Mr. Johnson is innocent,” the statement said.
Last week, 43 prosecutors from across the country, including St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, filed a brief supporting Gardner’s request for a new trial “to remedy the injustice uncovered in this case,” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Dwight Warren, the assistant circuit attorney who prosecuted the case, has told The Post-Dispatch that Gardner’s motion for a new trial is “nonsense.” Warren retired from after Gardner’s election in 2016.
The judge also wrote that Gardner’s office and the Midwest Innocence Project may have violated court rules two years ago when they contacted jurors from Johnson’s trial to discuss evidence they said had been withheld at his trial.
“The court has never received a request, nor did it, in its discretion, allow any individual to contact any of the jurors for any purpose in this matter,” Hogan wrote. “This conduct has caused the court to be concerned about the integrity of the legal process in this case.”
Hogan’s noted in her ruling that Johnson still may appeal to a higher court, although he has been unsuccessful in three previous appeals.
The judge also dismissed a motion by Gardner’s office to remove the Missouri Attorney General’s office from the case. Hogan appointed the attorney general earlier this month to represent the state in the call for a new trial, after noting a potential conflict because Gardner is accusing her own office of misconduct by declaring that she believes Johnson was wrongly convicted.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com