JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Just days after being released from prison after serving 28 years behind bars, Lamar Johnson testified in front of lawmakers in favor of legislation to give compensation to those wrongfully convicted.
Johnson told a Senate panel when he was exonerated last Tuesday, he walked out with only the clothes his attorney and friends gave him. During the committee hearing Monday, Johnson wasn’t the only who told members he’s struggling after being wrongfully convicted.
“You can only imagine what it cost for someone like me to get mental care,” Joseph Amrine said. “Twenty-seven years in prison and on death row to a man. Everyday is a struggle.”
Currently, under state law, only those who have their sentence exonerated through DNA testing can receive restitution from the state, which Johnson’s case was not. Sens. Brian Williams, D-University City, and Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, are looking to expand the types of cases where those wrongfully convicted can receive compensation.
“If someone breaks the law, they should be held accountable, but no one should be punished for a crime that they did not commit,” Williams said. “Often, wrongfully convicted people have even less assistance transitioning home than those that were guilty of crimes and released with post-released services, such as through parole.”
“I cannot imagine anyone believing they should not be compenseated by the state that wrongfully convicted them and imprisoned them for nearly three decades,” Roberts said.
Last Tuesday, Johnson walked out of the courtroom a free man after serving 28 years behind bars. He benefited from a new law allowing a prosecutor to file a motion asking the judge to vacate or set aside a guilty verdict based on new information or evidence. Johnson was wrongfully convicted for the 1994 murder of Markus Boyd and was sent to prison back in 1995 before the judge exonerated him last week.
“Having being home just a few days, the difficultly of starting life anew, after a wrongful conviction, is fresh in my mind,” Johnson said.
Johnson’s family had tears of joy last week as they embraced Johnson for the first time since he was sent to prison back in 1995.
“Nothing can ever give me back what I have lost,” Johnson told senators. “I will never get back the time I should have had with my daughters, the career I could have had, or the holidays with my loved ones, but this bill would provide the security for me to get back on my feet and to be there for my family in ways I could not.”
Senate Bills 146 and 253 would allow a judge to order the payment of $179 per day of imprisonment up to $65,000 a year.
Last April, Keith Carnes, a Kansas City man, was released after spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
“The lack of housing, medical care, education and financial stability are just some that after being found not guilty that we should have to get out and have those struggles,” Carnes said.
Richard Kidd was exonerated in 2019 after spending 23 years in prison for a double homicide he said he did not commit. Kidd was arrested in 1996 when he was 21.
“Despite all that I lost, I haven’t gotten a penny from the state that wrongfully imprisoned me, however, the State of Missouri took away decades of my prime-earning years,” Kidd said.
Under the bill, those exonerated could also receive tuition, counseling, and housing assistance.
“It’s just not fair,” Amrine said. “I feel like I’m being punished twice for something I didn’t actually do the first time.”
After spending 27 years in prison, 17 of which were on death row, Amrine was exonerated in 2003. His case also did not involve DNA testing, meaning he did not qualify for restitution.
There’s also a provision in the legislation that would allow the person wrongfully convicted to have attorney’s and court fees covered as long as the cost do not exceed a total of $25,000. Additionally, the person who is exonerated could receive $25,000 for each additional year served on parole.
The committee did not vote on the bills Monday but could in the coming weeks.