ST. LOUIS – Lamar Johnson entered a St. Louis courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, confident his prayers would be answered. After sitting behind bars for 28 years for a murder he said he did not commit, Johnson was greeted with smiles from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project.

Shortly after 1:30 p.m., St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason entered the chambers and, after making brief remarks, signed paperwork officially vacating Johnson’s conviction, making the 49-year-old a free man. Johnson buried his face in his hands and wept tears of vindication before getting up and hugging the lawyers who worked toward his release.

Lamar Johnson hugs attorneys after his conviction is tossed.

“This is an amazing day. That we showed the city of St. Louis and the state of Missouri is about justice and not defending the finality of a conviction,” Gardner said. “And I would love for Mr. Lamar Johnson to spend time with his family and to live life, so thank you.”

Before walking out of the courthouse a free man, Johnson thanked Judge Mason for looking at the facts of the case and overturning the murder conviction.

In a statement, Missouri State Senator Brian Williams (D-University City) lauded the decision and praised lawmakers for making it easier for prosecutors to review cases and get new hearings if there is evidence of a wrongful conviction.

Today, an innocent man will finally walk free after 28 years of imprisonment, injustice, and an inexcusable failure by our state to correct its mistakes.

When we passed Senate Bills 53 & 60 in 2021, we did so with the resolute knowledge that Lamar Johnson was innocent, and our bill would finally help set him free.

I hope more innocent men and women who are wrongfully imprisoned will win back their freedom through this law. We cannot change the past, but we have an obligation to fix what we can, where we can.

State Sen. Brian Williams

Johnson was arrested and charged in the Oct. 30, 1994, killing of Marcus Boyd over a $40 drug debt. Boyd was 25.

Johnson was found guilty in July 1995, and in September of that year, he was given a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole. From his cell at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, Johnson has maintained that he was not involved in the killing. He claimed he was with his girlfriend the night Boyd was shot to death, except for a brief period when he was out selling drugs, which was blocks from the scene of the shooting.

For years, Gardner sought to toss Johnson’s conviction and have him released from prison. The case gained national attention after the circuit attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit published a report in 2019 outlining the claims for Johnson’s innocence. However, the Missouri Attorney General’s Office has long maintained that Johnson’s conviction was fair.

After Gardner’s request for a new trial was turned down, she filed paperwork in August 2022 to revoke the conviction. The Midwest Innocence Project has been involved on Johnson’s behalf. In a 67-page report, Gardner said police and prosecutors made up evidence and secretly paid a witness.

Johnson was moved to the St. Louis County Justice Center in December 2022 while the matter was adjudicated.

During a five-day hearing in December, the lead detective in the case said that there was no physical proof that Johnson was involved in the murder. In addition, the only person to identify Johnson as the murderer recanted his testimony.

Since Johnson’s conviction, two other men have come forward, admitting to Boyd’s murder.

Phil Campbell, the other man convicted in the killing, was sentenced to seven years on reduced charges for his cooperation in Johnson’s case. However, Campbell later signed an affidavit saying he and another man, James Howard, were responsible for the Boyd murder.

For his part, Howard, who is already serving a life sentence for other crimes, testified in that December hearing that he and Campbell decided to rob Boyd that night and that Johnson was not present.

Judge’s order in Lamar Johnson case by KevinSeanHeld on Scribd