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Advocates energized after St. Louis' top attorney files motion to free Lamar Johnson

Lamar Johnson has been behind bars for nearly 30 years for a crime he says he didn't commit.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis' top prosecutor is trying to set a convicted murderer free.

Lamar Johnson has been behind bars for nearly 30 years for a crime he says he didn't commit and serves a life sentence.

Since then, Johnson has claimed his innocence.

With a recanted witness testimony and new evidence, this convinced Gardner that Johnson was wrongfully convicted back in 2019.

But when she asked for a new trial, the Missouri Supreme Court did not side with her.

Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office argued Gardner lacked authority to do this after so many years of the case being adjudicated. The courts ruled in Schmitt's favor.

"The court told her, 'You can’t do that," said Michelle Smith, who created the Missouri Justice Coalition. "There was no apparatus, no law or entity where prosecutors can bring cases back to court."

Because of this, the legislature formed a new law that went into effect in August of 2021, which gives prosecuting attorneys a chance to right past wrongs. 

Now, Gardner hopes to free him.

RELATED: Kim Gardner again seeks to clear murder conviction of Lamar Johnson

Social justice activist Reverend Darryl Gray is motivated now more than ever.

His organization, Missouri Faith Voices, has been fighting for Johnson's exoneration for years.

"These organizations asked to get clergy more vocal around the issues wrongfully convicted," Gray said.

Gray, along with other advocates like Smith, have been a voice for Johnson.

Smith created Missouri Justice Coalition in April because she felt there was a gap in advocacy in state prisons dealing with wrongful convictions.

She even hosted a rally on the one-year anniversary of the law kicking in.

She's hoping more will be done.

"The law was pushed because of Lamar. It's only been used once," she said. 

She said the law has already worked for Kevin Strickland. Strickland was wrongfully convicted and just released in November, after 40 years.

Now, she believes this could work for Johnson.

That's why Gray and Smith are encouraged once again to keep up the fight.

"We'll continue to give testimony, support litigation and advocate. We'll advocate with our feet, pray with our feet, we'll do whatever necessary because these are human lives," Gray said.

Smith adds, "We will just uplift him until he gets him out of prison, we will make sure to keep Lamar's name out. Say his name."

Last year, Johnson spoke to NBC Nightly News and said he hopes he can be with his family again.

He said this would be a chance for his mother to rest knowing that he didn't have to spend the rest of his life in prison for something he did not do.

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