ST. LOUIS — A decision on whether a man convicted of murder in 1995 will get another day in court should be made by the Missouri Supreme Court, an appeals court determined Tuesday.
The Missouri Court of Appeals in the Eastern District dismissed the appeal of Lamar Johnson and sent it to the Supreme Court, stating, “The issues in this case are undeniably important and include questions fundamental to our criminal justice system,” including to what extent an elected prosecutor such as Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has the “duty to correct wrongful convictions,” and whether or not it matters that the case is decades old.
Johnson was convicted of murder in the first degree in the 1994 shooting death of Marcus Boyd, killed by two masked gunmen. He received a life sentence without the possibility of parole and has been in prison since. Johnson has maintained that he was miles away at the time of the shooting and has lost state and federal appeals three times.
Johnson’s case has been taken up by the Midwest Innocence Project as well as Gardner’s Conviction Integrity Unit. Johnson’s supporters believe he was wrongly convicted as the result of an unethical prosecutor.
Gardner filed a motion for a new trial based on the strength of “newly discovered evidence of actual innocence,” including the confessions of two other men who admitted to shooting Boyd and the recantation of testimony by the sole eyewitness.
But a lower court found that “it lacked authority to entertain the motion for new trial because the state was not permitted to file such a motion and, in any event, it was untimely,” according to the decision of the appeals court.
“We are bound by the rules regarding the statutory right to appeal and cannot bend them for the convenience of expediently reaching the merits of the important issues presented in this appeal,” the appeals court decision reads. “To do so would disrupt established law.”
Gardner’s office released a statement saying they “look forward to” the state high court reviewing the case.
“To our knowledge, before this case, no court in the country has held that a prosecutor does not have the ability to free an innocent person from prison after prosecutorial misconduct has come to light,” the circuit attorney’s statement read.