Thursday, May 7, 2020

Lamar Johnson: Missouri: The Intercept's Jordan Smith on how State Attorney General Eric Schmitt (to his everlasting shame; (HL) is fighting for the right to keep this innocent man in prison. (And how Prosecutor Kimberly Gardner, who says he is innocent and was framed by local police and prosecutors is fighting to get him out.)

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Kudos to reporter Jordan Smith - for her   report on this baffling case which pits a reform prosecutor against Missouri's Attorney General in a jurisdictional battle - and leaves Lamar Johnson, a likely innocent man on death row,  caught in the middle. It is a lengthy story that should be read in its entirety - a story about the ever-present  intersection between justice and politics in Missouri. Guess which one tends to win.

Harold levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


BACKGROUND: "Eleven retired Missouri judges, including a former state supreme court justice, contend a St. Louis judge wrongly denied a hearing for a man convicted of murder even though the prosecutor has concluded he is innocent and was framed by local police and prosecutors. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed before the state Supreme Court this week, the retired judges joined a growing chorus of support including 45 elected prosecutors, legal scholars, criminal defense attorneys and the American Civil Liberties Union who support the effort by St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner to overturn the conviction of Lamar Johnson. Last July, Gardner filed a motion for a new trial in Johnson’s case after her conviction integrity unit re-investigated the 25-year-old murder investigation into the death of Marcus Boyd. The review found that in 1994 and 1995 police fabricated evidence that linked Johnson to the crime. And during Johnson’s trial, the motion for a new trial states, prosecutors failed to disclose the extensive criminal history of a jailhouse informant and more than $4,000 in payments to the only known living eyewitness to the shooting. But Missouri 22nd Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Hogan never considered the merits of the motion. Instead, Hogan appointed the Missouri attorney general’s office to also represent the state in the matter, questioning Gardner’s authority to even ask that the case be reopened. That set off a clash between the two prosecutorial agencies, and the attorney general’s office sought to dismiss the motion for a new trial. Hogan ultimately declared she had no authority to consider the motion. On appeal, the appellate court upheld Hogan’s ruling, but the court transferred the case to the Missouri Supreme Court for further review. In its opinion, the appellate court cited the fundamental questions about the criminal justice system the case raised, including the appropriate role of a prosecutor in correcting wrongful convictions. Johnson, who has served more than 25 years of a lifetime prison term with no opportunity for parole, remains incarcerated. The friend-of-the-court brief submitted this week by the retired judges noted that prosecutor’s obligations include “taking appropriate action when the prosecutor obtains evidence—even after a conviction is final—that casts doubt on the conviction.”
From Injustice Watch story by reporter Emily Hoerner.


PASSAGE OF THE DAY: "And even if Johnson’s appeal were to survive a procedural challenge, the process would only draw out his already wrongful incarceration. O’Brien ticked off a list of cases where innocent men had waded through years of litigation before being freed. There’s Ricky Kidd, who spent 10 additional years behind bars after bringing evidence of his innocence to court; Dale Helmig, who spent nearly six extra years in prison; and Darryl Burton, who did an additional eight years. At times, the AG’s office has taken its opposition in these cases to the extreme. In 2003, the Missouri Supreme Court considered the case of Joseph Amrine, who was on death row for a murder he did not commit. The issue before the judges was whether Amrine, who had exhausted his regular avenues of appeal, had the right to court consideration of his innocence claim. The AG argued that he did not. Are you suggesting that “if we find that Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?” Judge Laura Denvir Stith asked. “That’s correct, your honor,” the assistant attorney general replied.“The whole court was just stunned by that argument,” O’Brien, who represented Amrine, recalled."


PASSAGE TWO  OF THE DAY: "Since 1991, 47 people have been exonerated in Missouri, including Amrine, Kidd, Helmig, and Burton. To date, none of those exonerations has been attributed to the work of a conviction integrity unit, which have become crucial to freeing the wrongfully convicted. There are 59 such units in operation across the nation, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. In 2019, conviction integrity units were involved in 55 exonerations, nearly 40 percent of the year’s total; in all, they have been involved in more than 400 exonerationsAnd unless the Missouri Supreme Court steps in, prosecutors in the state may remain hobbled, which is essentially what Schmitt is advocating: Keep the power to vet these claims in his hands and dismiss from the process elected prosecutors like Gardner, who vowed on the campaign trail to work toward a more equitable criminal justice system.

GIST: "Aside from a narrow and vengeful reading of the law and procedural rules, there is likely one other element underpinning Schmitt’s position: politics. Since taking office, Gardner has been battling the status quo. She is hardly alone. Reform prosecutors across the country have faced varying degrees of backlash from the entrenched power structures they’ve challenged, and they’ve repeatedly had their discretion questioned as they’ve sought changes that upset the old guard. And, as has also happened in other jurisdictions, Missouri lawmakers are now pushing a bill that would give the AG power to wrest from Gardner any number of criminal cases for prosecution. This kind of pushback has been especially brutal against prosecutors of color, like Gardner, who have been the target of racist attacks and death threats. “I’ve not seen a prosecutor as disrespected as Kim Gardner,” O’Brien said. It does appear that Gardner’s actions are being singled out........ So even though there is ample evidence of Lamar Johnson’s innocence, he remains locked up in Missouri’s Jefferson City Correctional Center as the Covid-19 pandemic maintains its stranglehold on the nation, including in prisons and jails, which are ill-equipped to contain its spread. To date, there are no confirmed coronavirus cases where Johnson is housed. Since March 23, the Missouri Department of Corrections has confirmed that just 30 inmates and 13 staff members have become infected — though, as a general rule, testing throughout the nation’s correctional systems has been limited. “Things are definitely crazy with the coronavirus,” Johnson wrote in an email to a Kansas City television reporter. “But I’m staying strong and faithful and of course, prayed up. A just result has to happen.”
That’s the result O’Brien is hoping for too. “In Lamar Johnson’s case, you’ve got a prosecutor who was confronted with hard evidence that this guy doesn’t belong in prison. She did the right thing,” he said. “The question here is whether the system is going to do the right thing.""

The entire story can be read at:

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;