ST. LOUIS — A case tried in St. Louis is gaining national attention.
The battle over a 25-year-old murder case could ultimately decide if prosecutors have the right to undo wrongful convictions.
"This case is not just going to the Supreme Court. This case is setting the tone. Do we have the will, to do what's right, an innocent man is in prison and that should not exist in this state or in any other state?" said Gardner.
Police arrested Lamar Johnson for killing Marcus Boyd in 1994.
he was convicted a year later and sentenced to life.
Now, 25 years later, new evidence — including a recanted eyewitness statement, discovered payments from prosecutors to that sole witness and confessions from others claiming to have committed the crime — is bringing his case to the forefront.
"Justice does not end when that person is convicted or serves time. We have to continue to pursue justice and that's why Lamar Johnson is key." Gardner said.
Gardner's Conviction Integrity Unit uncovered the new information. In August, a circuit judge decided Gardner's office was 24 years too late.
"It's not just Lamar Johnson. It's actually whether the prosecutor can utilize their discretion being ministers of justice to do their job to relook at these cases," said Gardner.
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt says there is a process to retry cases.. that Garnder's office has not followed.
His office sent us this statement.
“Put simply: there is a process in which someone can follow to retry cases, and that’s a process that the Circuit Attorney’s Office has not followed in this case, actually delaying Mr. Johnson’s day in court. If Mr. Johnson, with the Circuit Attorney’s support, wishes to introduce new evidence he may do so in the proper court by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Prosecutors and courts are indeed human, but the concerning precedent here would be if the Circuit Attorney were permitted to ignore these clearly established procedures, which all of us are required to follow and that protect the rights of everyone in the justice system. The court ordered our office in to this case and concluded that the law does not allow the Circuit Attorney’s Office to file a motion for new trial almost 25 years too late. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Eastern District agreed when it ruled in our favor in December of last year. Our role in this case at this time is not to comment on innocence or guilt, but to simply ensure that the proper processes are followed. If the Circuit Attorney does not agree with the law as established, she can petition the legislature to have it changed.”
Lawyers for the state say there's no way to know how much time, effort and money it would take to revisit this case and others like it.
"An innocent man is incarcerated and we have to do whatever we can, to make sure we correct the wrongs and free a Lamar Johnson, because that's what it's about," said Gardner.
Right now, there's no set date for the trial to begin.