ST. LOUIS — A judge on Friday filed an order saying she has no authority to grant a new trial for a man serving a life prison term for a murder he says he didn’t commit.
The decision leaves Lamar Johnson in prison, despite efforts from the city prosecutor and a regional criminal justice advocacy group to win him a new trial.
Johnson, 45, is serving a life sentence for the 1994 murder of Marcus L. Boyd, 25, who died after being shot multiple times over a drug dispute in the 3900 block of Louisiana Avenue.
Last month, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner’s Conviction Integrity Unit, in collaboration with the Midwest Innocence Project, declared that Johnson had been wrongly convicted as a result of misconduct by police and a former longtime St. Louis prosecutor. That former prosecutor, Dwight Warren, has called the allegations “nonsense.”
Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan’s ruling on Friday said Johnson may still appeal to a higher court.
“The conclusion that this court has no authority to entertain this new trial motion does not mean persons raising claims such as defendant’s here are without a remedy,” Hogan wrote.
She notes in her ruling, however, that Johnson has tried three times before to appeal, always unsuccessfully.
Her order also said lawyers in Gardner’s office and the Midwest Innocence Project may have violated court rules when, two years ago, they contacted jurors who served on Johnson’s trial and told them they had evidence that had been withheld at 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.”
A spokeswoman for Gardner said Friday that the office would appeal Hogan’s ruling. Lindsay Runnels, of the Morgan Pilate law firm in Kansas City and the Midwest Innocence Project, said in an email that they “respectfully disagree” with the ruling. “For all the discussion by the Court, not a single word addresses the clear, convincing, and overwhelming evidence that Mr. Johnson is innocent,” she wrote.
Gardner’s office and Johnson’s lawyers said St. Louis police had coerced the only eyewitness into identifying Johnson in a lineup despite that witness’s claims that he couldn’t identify either of two shooters because they wore ski masks.
In the motion for a new trial, Gardner’s office claimed a former prosecutor had concealed an effort to pay a witness for his testimony against Johnson and that the witness lied on the stand.
But Hogan wrote in her ruling on Friday that Gardner’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct over alleged payments are inconclusive.
Gardner has said publicly that she believes it is her duty to fight for Johnson to “correct the wrong.”
Earlier this month, Hogan appointed the attorney general’s office to join the case, saying Gardner might have a conflict because of Gardner’s claims against the prosecutor in her own office.
Last week, 43 prosecutors from across the country, including St. Louis County Prosecutor Wesley Bell, filed a brief in the case supporting Gardner’s push for a new trial “to remedy the injustice uncovered in this case.”
In a filing last week, the Missouri attorney general’s office said the St. Louis Circuit Court’s jurisdiction over the case expired when Johnson was sentenced in 1995.