ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis prosecutors are seeking a new trial for a man serving a life sentence for murder after an internal investigation found authorities fabricated evidence and paid a key witness.
The request for a new trial filed last week comes after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner created a Conviction Integrity Unit that took another look at the case against Lamar Allen Johnson. Gardner is one of several prosecutors around the U.S. who has been elected in recent years while promising criminal justice reform.
Johnson, 45, was convicted in 1995 and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the death of Marcus Boyd. Police and St. Louis prosecutors at the time alleged that he and co-defendant Phillip Campbell fatally shot Boyd over a fight about drug dealing. Campbell and another man who confessed to his role in the slaying, James Howard, have since signed sworn affidavits stating that Johnson was not involved.
According to a report from Gardner’s office, police pressured the only eyewitness to identify Johnson in a lineup, even though the two shooters wore masks that covered most of their faces. The witness took back his identification in a 2003 letter to a pastor.
Police also promised to help the witness move to St. Louis County and gave him more than $4,000 for moving expenses, the report says.
“The violation of Johnson’s constitutional rights enabled the State of Missouri to obtain a conviction and sentence of life without the possibility of parole against Johnson despite overwhelming evidence of innocence,” attorneys for Gardner’s office wrote in their request for a new trial.
Gardner spokeswoman Susan Ryan said because Johnson has already been convicted, the office cannot move to dismiss charges against him until a new trial is opened.
Dwight Warren, the assistant circuit attorney who prosecuted the case, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Gardner’s motion is “nonsense.” Warren retired from after Gardner’s election in 2016.
St. Louis police spokesman Sgt. Keith Barrett in an email said the agency did not comment on pending litigation.
A hearing on the request for a new trial is set for Aug. 1
Campbell was sentenced to a seven-year prison term for voluntary manslaughter. Howard was never charged.
“Lamar Johnson was not involved in the death of Marcus Boyd,” Howard wrote in an excerpt from an affidavit included in the report. “I know Lamar Johnson is innocent of that crime because I was there and Lamar Johnson was not there.”