Mo. Man Who Was Wrongfully Convicted and Imprisoned for 28 Years Sues St. Louis, Claims Officers Framed Him

Lamar Johnson, 50, was freed from prison last year after serving nearly 30 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn't commit

<p>AP Photo/ Jim Salter</p> Lamar Johnson

AP Photo/ Jim Salter

Lamar Johnson
  • Lamar Johnson, 49, had a solid alibi when his friend, Markus Boyd, was shot and killed by a pair of masked men in 1994. However, he still spent 28 years behind bars for the crime

  • A new lawsuit alleges that St. Louis police coerced a witness into pointing the finger at Johnson for the slaying

  • Freed from prison in 2023, Johnson is now suing St. Louis and the officers who allegedly framed him for punitive and monetary damages 

A Missouri man who was exonerated after spending nearly three decades in prison has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of St. Louis and the eight officers he claims framed him for a murder he did not commit.

On Wednesday, a wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Missouri on behalf of Lamar Johnson, 50, who spent 28 years in prison for the 1994 murder of his friend Markus Boyd.

On October 30, 1994, Johnson, then 20, was miles away with his girlfriend when two masked men shot Boyd while he was sitting on his front porch in St. Louis, his attorneys at the national civil rights firm Neufeld, Sheck, Brustin, Hoffman & Freudenberger said in a statement.

“But police coerced an eyewitness into a false ID and manufactured false evidence from a racist and unreliable jailhouse informant while failing to interview numerous people who could have testified to Johnson’s whereabouts, seek a single search warrant, or investigate other obvious evidence of his innocence,” Emma Fruedenberger, a partner at NSBHF, said in a statement.

Johnson and another man, Phillip Campbell, now deceased, were convicted of shooting Marcus Boyd over an alleged drug debt and sentenced to life in prison. However, Johnson was freed in 2023 after a judge found he had been wrongfully convicted, the Associated Press reports.

Now Johnson is seeking punitive and an undisclosed amount of monetary damages as retribution for the 28 years he lost.

“I am grateful to be free and I’m doing my best to make up for all the time that was stolen from me and my family, especially my daughters,” Johnson said in a statement. “I want to put this dark and painful chapter behind me, but there can be no healing without answers and accountability. I deserved better and so did Markus. I intend to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

His attorneys agree. “This lawsuit is about accountability,” Emma Freudenberger, a partner with NSBHF, said in the statement.

“The defendant officers framed a young man with his life ahead of him. Even after the Court declared his innocence, there have been no apologies and no consequences," the statement continues. "The City of St. Louis cannot continue to simply ignore the glaring police misconduct that has caused Mr. Johnson and his family so much harm.”

Related: Mo. Man Seeks Exoneration in 1994 Murder 2 Others Confessed to, Witness Alleges Police Misconduct

Johnson, a father of two who worked at Jiffy Lube while taking classes at a community college, admitted to selling small amounts of drugs, CBS News reports. But from the start, he maintained his innocence.

Determined to clear his name and be released from prison, he sought help from the Midwest Innocence Project. They worked with then-Circuit Attorney Kim Garner to investigate the slaying, the AP reports.

In August 2022, Gardner filed a motion asking a judge to vacate Johnson’s conviction, according to the AP.

At a Dec. 2022, hearing in St. Louis Circuit Court, a man named James Howard reportedly confessed to Boyd's murder, saying he and Campbell killed Boyd and that Johnson had nothing to do with it, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Howard said he and Campbell killed Boyd because he'd "disrespected Howard's partner, Sirone Spates, aka Puffy," the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports.

Evidence was also presented indicating that Greg Elking, a star witness in Johnson's trial, which began in 1995, may have been pressured or coerced into identifying Johnson as a suspect. Elking told the court that, when authorities questioned him after the killing, he was pushed into naming Johnson.

“The same evidence that proved Lamar Johnson’s innocence in the Circuit Court in 2023 was available at his criminal trial almost thirty years ago,” said attorney Lindsay Runnels of Morgan Pilate LLC. She was an intern with the Midwest Innocence Project when Johnson first approached the organization and helped him get exonerated.

“But it was hidden and ignored by those who saw no value in the lives of two young Black men from the South Side,” she said. “It is time for the City of St. Louis to reckon with the harm it has caused Lamar Johnson and so many others.”

The lawsuit, the attorneys said in the statement, “seeks unspecified compensatory damages for the violation of Mr. Johnson’s constitutional rights and for the years of pain and loss he suffered behind bars.”

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department officers Joseph Nickerson, Clyde Bailey, Ronald Jackson, Gary Stittum, Jeffrey Crawford, Robert Oldani and Joseph Burgoon, as well as the estate of deceased officer Ralph Campbell, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

St. Louis Police declined to comment.

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