Today, the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) at the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office announced that it would agree to vacate the conviction and dismiss all charges against Jerome Johnson, a 50-year-old client of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) and defense lawyer Nancy Forster. Jerome has spent the last 30 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
Jerome was convicted in 1988 of being a participant in the shooting of a man at a Baltimore liquor store. No physical evidence connected him to the incident, and the case against him was far weaker than the case against his co-defendants.
Jerome always proclaimed his innocence and attempted to challenge his conviction in court more than 15 times over the years. His luck changed when well-known defense attorney Nancy Forster began representing him. Her initial investigation made clear that Jerome had a strong innocence claim, and she approached the Baltimore CIU about the case earlier this year. The CIU, in turn, approached MAIP because of MAIP’s investigative expertise.
After a few months of intense investigation, the CIU, MAIP, and Forster discovered evidence proving his innocence. That evidence includes: (1) statements from each of his co-defendants affirming Jerome’s innocence; (2) alibi witnesses who were not available at the time of trial and make clear that Jerome was not at the scene; and (3) new evidence undercutting the one eyewitness who directly linked Jerome to the crime.
“Jerome Johnson has proclaimed his innocence for 30 years, but those proclamations fell on deaf ears in the courts until today,” said Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, MAIP Legal Director. “We’re thrilled that Nancy Forster and the CIU both recognized the seriousness of his innocence claim and got us involved to help free Mr. Johnson.”
Although Jerome was convicted nearly 30 years ago, the problems that led to his conviction are still present today. Those problems include reluctant witnesses, police pressure on vulnerable witnesses that can result in false statements, the failure of the state to disclose evidence that could help prove innocence, and a police officer who lied about the existence of that evidence.
“Jerome Johnson lost 30 years of his life because the criminal justice system failed him,” said Shawn Armbrust, MAIP’s Executive Director. “We’re lucky to have such a committed group of lawyers in the CIU, and I hope we can continue working together to learn from the mistakes that led to his conviction so others do not have to suffer the same fate.”
Founded in 2000, the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project corrects and prevents the conviction of innocent people in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. We are one of the most successful of the 54 innocence organizations in the country. We have helped to secure the release and/or exoneration of 28 innocent men who spent a total of 494 years in prison for crimes they did not do. We have also helped pass 13 laws that help improve the criminal justice system.
To support MAIP’s work in freeing innocent men like Jerome, please text EXONERATE to 41444 or click here.