ST. LOUIS — It's not often you see prosecutors and defense attorneys backing the same defendant, but that's what happened in St. Louis Circuit Court Thursday as the attorneys — usually on opposites of the courtroom — worked to change the results of a 1994 murder case.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said her Conviction Integrity Unit — a group tasked with questioning the results of old cases — found several errors in the original prosecution against Lamar Johnson for the October 30, 1994 shooting death of Marcus Boyd.
"The issue is the prosecutor's duty to correct a case where there is clear and convincing evidence this man is innocent," Gardner said in a press conference following a 9 a.m. court appearance. "That's where we need to be today."
Witnesses told police Marcus Boyd was fatally shot by two men, their faces hidden by ski masks. In the days that followed, investigators narrowed in on suspects, including Johnson.
Gardner's Conviction Integrity Unit recently outlined several alleged errors in the original prosecution, including "concealment of more than $4,000 to the sole witness" and "fabrication of false witness accounts... to provide a motive that did not exist."
One man in court Thursday morning had the unique perspective to understand Johnson's current situation.
Rodney Lincoln was recently granted time served after spending more than 36 years in prison for a crime he said he didn't commit.
"The transition from inmate to being a free man was overwhelming, to say the least," Lincoln said.
Lincoln and Johnson got to know each other while serving time, and Lincoln calls him a friend adding "there's no doubt in my mind that Lamar Johnson is an innocent man doing time for somebody else."
He said justice can come slowly. He was convicted of manslaughter and two counts of first-degree assault within 535 days of his 1982 arrest. Lincoln spent more than 13 years fighting for his release.
"You try not to get too hopeful, but you try not to lose all hope," Lincoln said.
Defense attorneys from Midwest Innocence Project said working with the prosecution's office to free their client is an increasingly common practice as more jurisdictions adopt conviction review units.
"For jurisdictions that have Conviction Integrity Units and are really committed to what justice is, it's simple: we work together, we come to a conclusion together, it's a joint search for the truth," Midwest Innocence Project Executive Director Tricia Bushnell said.
Judge Elizabeth Hogan said in a Thursday court appearance that it's unclear if she has the authority to preside over the request for a new trial. She asked attorneys from both sides to file examples of precedent cases that would allow her to consider moving the case forward.