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Man Freed After Nearly 14 Years In Prison; Falsely Accused Of Murder

BALTIMORE (WJZ)-- A 34-year-old man was freed from prison Tuesday, after he was falsely accused of murder nearly 14 years ago, according to the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City.

In 2005, Lamar Johnson was convicted of the first degree murder of Carlos Sawyer, 31, and sentenced to life in prison in 2006. But even after being sentenced to life, lawyers say Johnson never changed the story.

After investigations by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP) and the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) within the Office of the State's Attorney for Baltimore City, it was determined that Johnson did not murder Sawyer on March 26, 2004.

"And our screening director who is extraordinarily talented, wrote a note in our file that said, this guy is probably innocent, I don't know how we are going to prove it," said Parisa Tafti of MAIP.

"First I want to thank God for blessing me with my freedom, then I want to thank my mother for always having my back and believing in my innocence" Johnson said. "Then I would like to thank the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project for believing in my innocence and taking my case."

In order to free Johnson from prison, the MAIP filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence with the Circuit Court of Baltimore City.  In a hearing, both the State and the defense presented their discovery of new evidence that pointed to Johnson's innocence.

"It's a fresh start, because I made some mistakes before I got locked up, but I'm not a murderer," Johnson said.

According to a joint motion filed by CIU chief Lauren Lipscomb, on March 26, 2004, the day Sawyer was shot, police began to follow a lead given to them hours after the shooting that identified the shooter by a certain nickname. The motion says that Johnson was misidentified as the person who went by the nickname, and ultimately became the primary suspect of the murder investigation.

"My heart breaks for the family of Carlos Sawyer," said State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby. "They now must face the unsettling reality that Carlos' attacker has not been brought to justice. Please know that Carlos is not forgotten, and my office will be working with Commissioner Davis and the Baltimore Police Department to do all that we can to investigate and prosecute the person who is truly responsible for Carlos' death."

"On behalf of the criminal justice system, I'd like to apologize to Mr. Lamar Johnson and his family," said Mosby. "It is my hope that now that he is set free, that he is able to return home, heal, adjust to his rightly-deserved freedom, and live his life to its fullest potential. So long as I am at the helm of the State's Attorney's Office, we will remain committed to pursuing justice equally and fairly under the law for victims, witnesses, accusers, and the accused."

The Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project said they've helped to exonerate more than 20 people who were wrongfully incarcerated.

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