Watch CBS News

Missouri judge vacates Lamar Johnson's murder conviction

Lamar Johnson freed after 28 years
Lamar Johnson freed after 28 years in prison, conviction thrown out 06:38

A Missouri judge has ruled to vacate Lamar Johnson's murder conviction. 

Johnson, who spent nearly 30 years behind bars for the 1994 slaying of 25-year-old Markus Boyd — a murder he always said he didn't commit — walked free on Tuesday.

Judge David Mason said the decision to vacate required "reliable evidence of actual innocence — evidence so reliable that it actually passes the standard of clear and convincing," The Associated Press reported.

"This is unbelievable," Johnson, 50, said to reporters as he left the courthouse.

APTOPIX Wrongful Conviction Missouri
Lamar Johnson, center and his attorneys react on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023, after St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason vacated his murder conviction during a hearing in St. Louis, Mo.  Christian Gooden / AP

In 1995, Johnson was convicted of fatally shooting Boyd over a $40 drug debt and received a life sentence. Another suspect, Phil Campbell, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge in exchange for a seven-year prison term.

Johnson claimed he was with his girlfriend miles away when Boyd was killed. Years later, the state's only witness recanted his identification of Johnson and Campbell as the shooters. Two other men have since confessed and said Johnson was not involved.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner launched an investigation in collaboration with lawyers at the Midwest Innocence Project. Their investigation found misconduct by a prosecutor, falsified police reports and perjured testimony.

The former prosecutor and the detective who investigated the case rejected Gardner's allegations, but on Tuesday, Judge Mason said he was overturning the conviction. 

In a statement after the ruling, Gardner said the decision "righted a wrong." 

"This case says that in the state of Missouri, a person's right to justice and liberty is valued more than the finality of an unjust conviction," Gardner said. "My office fought long and hard ... We are pleased that Mr. Johnson will have the opportunity to be the man and member of our community that he desires." 

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.