Missouri man seeks exoneration in murder; 2 others confessed

Dec 11, 2022, 8:00 AM | Updated: Dec 12, 2022, 10:45 pm
Lamar Johnson takes a seat in court at the start of his wrongful conviction hearing in St. Louis on...

Lamar Johnson takes a seat in court at the start of his wrongful conviction hearing in St. Louis on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022. (David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

(David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, Pool)

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Lamar Johnson has wrongly spent nearly three decades in prison for a St. Louis killing after a witness was coerced into falsely identifying him as the shooter, an attorney for the local prosecutor’s office told a judge Monday.

But Assistant Missouri Attorney General Miranda Loesch said detectives will testify that they never threatened or coerced anyone. “They did their job” and followed leads that pointed to Johnson as the killer, Loesch said.

Kim Gardner, who leads the same St. Louis circuit attorney’s office that secured Johnson’s 1995 murder conviction, believes he is innocent and is seeking to set him free after nearly 28 years in prison for the shooting death of Marcus Boyd. The state attorney general’s office maintains that Johnson was rightfully convicted.

St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason is presiding over the hearing, which is expected to last all week. Johnson was in the courtroom on Monday, dressed in a blue shirt and tie with brown slacks. He sat quietly next to his attorneys and listened to testimony.

Boyd was shot to death on the front porch of his home by two men wearing ski masks on Oct. 30, 1994. A man who was with Boyd, James Gregory Elking, got away.

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

Charles Weiss, an attorney for the St. Louis prosecutor’s office, described for Mason the circumstances that led to Johnson’s arrest.

A woman who lived nearby told police Johnson was the only person she knew who might have had a problem with Boyd. Police put Johnson in a lineup, but Elking didn’t initially identify him, only doing so after detectives coerced him, Weiss said.

Another detective alleged that Johnson at one point blurted out to him, “I shouldn’t have let the white guy live,” referring to Elking. Weiss said there was no recording of that conversation, but Loesch cited it as evidence of Johnson’s guilt.

Johnson contended he was with his girlfriend, miles away, when the shooting happened. Elking recanted his identification of Johnson about 20 years ago. Campbell and another man, James Howard, later signed sworn affidavits admitting to the killing and said Johnson wasn’t involved.

Campbell is now dead and Howard is serving a life sentence for an unrelated murder and nearly a dozen other crimes committed during an incident in 1997. He wore handcuffs and an orange prison outfit as he testified Monday.

“How did Marcus die?” Johnson’s attorney, Jonathan Potts, asked.

“Me and Phillip Campbell killed him on his front porch,” Howard answered.

Howard, 46, was 17 at the time of Boyd’s killing. He testified that he and Campbell decided to go to Boyd’s house and rob him since Boyd owed drug money to another friend. They put on black clothing and black ski masks, and found Boyd and a second man on the front porch, he said.

Howard said he grabbed Boyd. When they struggled, Campbell intervened. Howard said Campbell shot Boyd in the side, while Howard shot him in the back of the head and neck. He said they didn’t shoot the witness, Elking, because they didn’t think he could identify them.

“Was Lamar Johnson there?” Potts asked.

“No,” Howard answered. He said he decided around 2002 to admit to the crime and try to help Johnson get freed.

“I was trying to right my wrongs that I had done him,” Howard said.

While cross-examining Howard, Loesch cited inconsistencies in his version of events. Affidavits signed by Howard said he and Campbell ran back to Howard’s home after the killing and that Campbell stayed at the house for three days. Howard now says Campbell left the home on the night of the killing. Howard also admitted that an affidavit gave the wrong route the men took to Boyd’s house.

Howard said he can’t remember every detail from 28 years ago.

“What I can tell you is I shot him,” he said.

Elking testified that he was at Boyd’s house trying to buy crack cocaine when two armed men in black masks ran up. He saw both gunmen shoot Boyd, then leave.

Elking was called to view lineups of potential suspects. When he was still unable to identify anyone, he said Detective Joseph Nickerson told him, “I know you know who it is,” and urged him to “help get these guys off the street.”

Feeling “bullied” and wanting to help police, Elking said that if investigators would tell him who they suspected, he would identify them as the shooters.

“I hate it, and I’ve been living with it for 30, 28 years. I just wish I could change time,” Elking said, fighting back tears.

Gardner’s investigation in collaboration with the Midwest Innocence Project also alleged prosecutor misconduct and secret payments to Elking, along with falsified police reports and perjured testimony.

Nickerson denied Gardner’s allegations and told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he still believed Johnson was guilty.

In March 2021, the Missouri Supreme Court denied Johnson’s request for a new trial after Schmitt’s office argued successfully that Gardner lacked the authority to seek one so many years after the case was adjudicated.

The case led to passage of a state law that makes it easier for prosecutors to get new hearings in cases where there is fresh evidence of a wrongful conviction. That law freed another longtime inmate, Kevin Strickland, last year. He had served more than 40 years for a Kansas City triple murder.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - A staff of Nissan car showroom wipes a car on Jan. 31, 2022, in Tokyo. Nissan reported a 55%...
Associated Press

Japan’s Nissan reports better profit as chip crunch eases

TOKYO (AP) — Nissan reported a 55% jump in October-December profit Thursday, as the Japanese automaker seeks to embark on a less bumpy journey with its French alliance partner Renault. Profit for the quarter at Yokohama-based Nissan Motor Co. totaled 50.6 billion yen ($386 million), up from 32.7 billion yen the previous year. Quarterly sales […]
1 day ago
Search teams and emergency aid from around the world are pouring into
Turkey and Syria as rescuers ...
Associated Press

Afghan women, children chase false rumor to Kabul airport

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Hundreds of Afghans, including women and children, dashed toward the Kabul airport after a false rumor spread that flights were leaving for Turkey to help rescue earthquake victims. Videos and photos posted on social media since Wednesday showed dozens of desperate people running on foot in the darkness and cold towards the […]
1 day ago
People warm up with fire in front of destroyed buildings in Antakya, southern Turkey, Wednesday, Fe...
Associated Press

Live Updates I Turkish president to visit quake-hit areas

Rescuers pulled more survivors from beneath the rubble of collapsed buildings Thursday, but hopes were starting to fade of finding many more people alive more than three days after a catastrophic earthquake and series of aftershocks hit Turkey and Syria, killing more than 16,000. The earthquake that razed thousands of buildings in Turkey and Syria […]
1 day ago
FILE - Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning gestures during a press conference at the Min...
Associated Press

Beijing calls US claims over balloons ‘information warfare’

BEIJING (AP) — China on Thursday said U.S. accusations that a downed Chinese balloon was part of an extensive surveillance program amount to “information warfare against China.” The Pentagon on Wednesday said the Chinese balloon shot down off the South Carolina coast Saturday was part of a program involving a number of such airships that […]
1 day ago
A worker stretches the Ukrainian flag before Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy arrival at the...
Associated Press

Zelenskyy wraps up European tour with visit to EU summit

BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, already heading home with heaps of goodwill, promises of more military aid and, as hardware goes, France’s highest medal of honor. Zelenskyy arrived at the European Union’s legislature in Brussels on Thursday. The Ukrainian anthem was played […]
1 day ago
Heavy machinery moves coal as it is poured onto a stack near Muswellbrook in the Hunter Valley, Aus...
Associated Press

Australia rejects new coal mine on environmental grounds

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia has for the first time rejected a coal mining application based on environmental law. The government is under pressure to curb climate change by blocking all new coal and gas extraction projects. Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of both fossil fuels, which are major sources of the […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Missouri man seeks exoneration in murder; 2 others confessed