Lawmakers seek restitution legislation after Black man freed following 28 years in prison

Missouri state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley believes Lamar Johnson is owed more than an apology from the governor and the attorney general's office.

This week’s release of a Black man wrongly imprisoned for 28 years has prompted Missouri lawmakers to push for restitution legislation.

Lamar Johnson, 50, who was in his 20s when he was last a free man, as of Tuesday is now able to rebuild his life with the support of his loved ones, friends and supporters — but not with assistance from the government, some lawmakers claim, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We have to restore people back to the place where the wrong has occurred,” St. Louis Democratic state Rep. LaKeySha Bosley said, The Post-Dispatch reported. “We’re seeing more released for wrongful convictions, and we shouldn’t send them out to fend for themselves.”

Lamar Johnson (center) and his attorneys react on Tuesday after St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason vacated his murder conviction. Johnson served nearly 28 years of a life sentence for a killing he has always said he didn’t commit. (Photo: Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

Bosley sponsored a measure passed in 2019 that raised the amount of restitution paid to exonerated individuals from $50 to $100 for each day they were incarcerated. However, it only applies in cases using DNA evidence, on which neither Johnson’s conviction nor release were based.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, has sponsored House Bill 374 so prison exonerees such as Johnson can get financial compensation from the state.

Based on the testimony and materials produced during a hearing in December, Circuit Court Judge David Mason on Tuesday granted the St. Louis circuit attorney’s motion to reverse Johnson’s murder conviction. The key witness in his initial trial claimed that after Marcus Boyd was shot and murdered in 1994, police forced him to name Johnson. A different individual, currently behind bars, admitted in court to murdering Boyd.

In addition to legislation to recompense Missourians who have been cleared of wrongdoing and released from its institutions, Bosley believes Johnson is owed an apology from Gov. Mike Parson and the state attorney general’s office, among other parties.

According to The Associated Press, Johnson’s lawyers slammed the AG’s office after the hearing, accusing them of maintaining his guilt and being comfortable with Johnson dying in prison.

“While today brings joy, nothing can restore all that the state stole from him,” they said of his Valentine’s Day release, AP reported. “Nothing will give him back the nearly three decades he lost while separated from his daughters and family.”

Johnson’s counsel said the evidence demonstrating his innocence was available at his 1995 trial, but it was concealed or disregarded by individuals who placed no value on the lives of two young Black men from the South Side.

Mason noted several constitutional mistakes from Johnson’s initial trial in his ruling and found the case to have “actual innocence,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Johnson’s legal team is collecting donations to help him rebuild his life, and as of Thursday, a GoFundMe effort for him had amassed more than $190,000.

His case inspired a recent law that allows prosecutors to request the reversal of murder convictions for individuals they believe were unfairly convicted, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Mr. Johnson and other Missourians deemed innocent after serving time,” state Rep. Quade opined in a statement, “deserve nothing less than Missouri’s best efforts to right the wrongs the state has inflicted.”

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