The nightmare is over for a Baltimore man who served nearly 14 years of a life sentence for a murder he didn’t commit.
WJZ-TV reports that a judge on Tuesday threw out the wrongful conviction of Lamar Johnson after three new witnesses came forward to say he was not the gunman who killed Carlos Sawyer in 2004. He walked out the courtroom a free man.
Johnson, 34, called his release “a fresh start” in a life spotted with mistakes that did not include murder.
“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,” he said outside the courthouse.
Johnson, who always maintained his innocence, also praised the hard work of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which spearheaded the exoneration effort.
This is a case of mistaken identity. After the fatal shooting, the police made Johnson the main target of their investigation because he had the same nickname as the alleged suspect, the Baltimore Sun reported.
Several witnesses testified that Johnson resembled the shooter, and the jury, swayed by the eyewitnesses, dismissed evidence of Johnson’s innocence, the newspaper said.
Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, legal director of the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, told The Sun that these types of case have numerous obstacles, including overcoming a culture that discourages snitching.
They hunted down scores of possible witnesses and discovered one man who saw the shooter. Later, another man revealed that he heard someone confess. The third witness said the gunman ran past her after the shooting.
The newspaper said Johnson is the second man exonerated during Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby’s tenure. Her office cooperated with the organization.
In a statement, she apologized to Johnson and his family on behalf of the city’s criminal justice system, according to WJZ-TV.
“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,” she said, noting that her office is “committed to pursuing justice equally and fairly.”
Mosby also stated that her office will work with law enforcement to track down and convict the man who killed Sawyer.