Like many St. Louisans, I vigorously applauded Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner's efforts and actions to develop, fund, and staff a Conviction Integrity Unit. This unit was a crucial step in a much-needed healing and restorative belief in the St. Louis criminal justice system. Its agenda ensured that our prosecutors as well as our police officers would work in the public interest with the highest level of integrity.
In the Lamar Johnson case, resulting from the Conviction Integrity Unit review, sadly we see that not much has changed.
I cannot fully express my dismay at the decision handed down by Circuit Judge Elizabeth B. Hogan. Judge Hogan chose to operate in contravention of a sense of justice that courts usually display and uphold.
New evidence uncovered by Gardner's Conviction Integrity Unit detail fabricated evidence, secret payments, and undue pressure placed upon a witness. Further, the sole eyewitness recanted his testimony in 2003. Due to prosecutorial misconduct, there is no way a reliable verdict could be had.
However, Judge Hogan seemed unusually more concerned about a potential "conflict of interest" in the Circuit Attorney's Office than in the interest of justice for a man wrongfully convicted.
This cannot be the state of justice in America.
The courts cannot turn a blind eye to newly discovered evidence that exonerates those wrongly convicted. The court has an obligation to intervene and right the wrongs. This court clings to procedural rules as opposed to a sense of justice and fair play. Such an antiquated stance has no place in the modern era of criminal justice.
It is never the wrong time to do the right thing for Lamar Johnson. I support Kimberly Gardner's efforts to restore our faith in the impartiality and honor of our public servants.
Judge Hogan's ruling further erodes the public's trust in the courts, police and the entire justice process. I am equally dismayed by the attitude and actions of Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt. Upon receiving my call, Missouri's attorney general had no sense of urgency to weigh in and assist an innocent man who has sat in jail for over 20 years.
Lamar Johnson deserves better. It is never too late to do the right thing.
The actions of these officials are shameful and should not be what equity, impartiality, and justice for all looks like.
U.S. Rep. Wm. Lacy Clay (D-St. Louis) represents Missouri’s 1st Congressional District.