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 Lamar Johnson, a 33-year-old Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) client who has spent the last 13 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.
“This case cried out for intervention, and we’re thrilled that the state did the right thing,” said Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, MAIP Legal Director. “The criminal justice system had failed Lamar every step of the way until today, so it’s a tremendous relief to see the system finally right this wrong.”
Mr. Johnson was convicted in 2004 of shooting a man several times in broad daylight. No physical evidence connected him to the incident and he had no motive to commit the crime. He became a suspect only when an informant identified the shooter by nickname. Mr. Johnson was misidentifed as that person, even though he did not share the nickname. Two teenage eyewitnesses to the crime later identified Mr. Johnson as the killer, but their testimony was riddled with problems.
Many of the victim’s family have long believed that Mr. Johnson was not the killer. Said one member, “We don’t want to let Carlos’s murder create two tragedies.”
A credible witness identified the real perpetrator at trial as another man, who fought with and threatened the victim with a knife 15 minutes before the shooting. The witness was credible enough that it helped this witness obtain a lighter sentence in a pending case. Several other witnesses have subsequently come forward to corroborate that testimony. Despite the weak case and evidence pointing to the real perpetrator, Mr. Johnson was still prosecuted and convicted.
MAIP has been working on Mr. Johnson’s case since 2010. Although an obvious case of innocence, there were roadblocks making it difficult to pursue in court. After investigating everything within our power, in 2016 MAIP brought the case to the Conviction Integrity Unit, which exhaustively investigated his case. Their investigation convinced them to join a request by MAIP to the trial court that Mr. Johnson’s convictions be vacated.
“Lamar’s case underscores the benefits of true collaboration between innocence organizations and real, robust conviction review units that look beyond procedural problems and dig for the truth,” said Shawn Armbrust, MAIP Executive Director. “This case should serve as a model for other units around the country.”
The number of people and thousands of hours required to right this wrong included Ms. Dehghani-Tafti and MAIP co-counsel David Benowitz of Price Benowitz, LLP, who represented Mr. Johnson; MAIP Screening Director Eily Raman and Staff Investigator Donald Stoop; and students from The George Washington University Law School (Benjamin Flick, Caroline Bielak, Sophia Herbst, Katelyn Young, and Isabel Corngold); Boston College School of Law (Sean McCauley); Washington College of Law (Jacqueline Erb and Brian Doyle); and Stanford University Law School (Zehava Robbins).
To support MAIP’s work in freeing innocent men like Lamar, please text LAMAR to 41444 or click here.