Why has Missouri Attorney General Attorney Eric Schmitt declined to release Lamar Johnson despite “overwhelming evidence of innocence”?
Why has Kevin Strickland remained behind bars even though “the real killers pleaded guilty, and have already served their time for the murders”?
Why has Missouri Governor Mike Parson declined to pardon either man?
In an episode of the CBS news show, 48 Hours, reporter Erin Moriarty examines the justifications the state of Missouri uses in keeping both men in prison despite their innocence.
Two months ago, in the Jackson County courthouse, prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker said this:
“My job is to apologize. It is important to recognize when the system has made wrongs … and what we did in this case was wrong. So, to Mr. Strickland, I am profoundly sorry.”
“Kevin Strickland,” Moriarty reports, “sentenced to life without parole in 1979 for a triple murder, has waited a lifetime to hear those words.”
But as Moriarty points out, Baker’s apology is all he gets. Strickland remains in prison. And Strickland is not the only wrongfully-convicted prisoner who remains behind bars.
Lamar Johnson was convicted of the murder of Marcus Boyd in 1994.
“I did not kill Marcus,” Lamar Johnson tells Moriarty. “He was one of my best friends and I loved him.”
St. Louis prosecutor, Kim Gardner agreed, stating that there was “overwhelming evidence of innocence.” Gardner filed a motion to have Johnson released and he remains in prison, as well.
“‘We have a longstanding so-called innocence problem here in Missouri,’ said Lindsay Runnels, Johnson’s attorney. ‘It doesn’t stop and start with Lamar Johnson and Kevin Strickland. It’s decades old and administrations old.’
“Runnels and Trish Rojo Bushnell, Strickland’s lawyer, point out that, in both cases, the real killers pleaded guilty, and have already served their time for the murders.”
“Attorney General of Missouri, Eric Schmitt, successfully fought the motion, arguing that because Johnson’s verdict was final and he had run out of appeals, prosecutors like Gardner don’t have the power to ask for his release.”
“‘It’s not the merits that’s ever challenged,’ Johnson’s attorney says, ‘it’s the procedure that’s challenged. “They’re too late,” the Attorney General argues.”
But it’s not only Missouri’s attorney general that stands behind that “process.”
Last March, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled against the release of Lamar Johnson, stating, ‘This case is not about whether Johnson is innocent … This case presents only the issue of whether there is any authority to appeal … No such authority exists.’”
No such authority exists.
Bushnell, Strickland’s lawyer, said, “We have a system that cares so much about finality over fairness, that we have an innocent person that we have known for decades is innocent, and is still sitting there today.”
But the unfairness, doesn’t end with the Missouri Supreme Court. “Missouri Governor Mike Parson has the power to pardon both men but has so far declined to do so.”
While Missouri state legislators recently passed a law allowing prosecutors like Gardner and Baker to request a hearing for wrongfully convicted inmates, Moriarty says, there’s “still no guarantee of freedom.”
Why does Missouri Attorney General Attorney Eric Schmitt continue to decline the release of Lamar Johnson, and Kevin Strickland despite “overwhelming evidence of innocence”?
Why does Missouri Governor Mike Parson continue to decline to pardon either man?
Because fairness does not exist in the state of Missouri.