25-Year-Old St. Louis Murder Case Is Headed To Missouri's Highest Court
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
A battle over a 25-year-old murder case is headed to Missouri's highest court. On one side - St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Even though it was her office who convicted Lamar Johnson back in 1995, she argues that he should get a new trial because of new evidence. On the other side, Missouri State Attorney General Eric Schmitt says Gardner doesn't have the right to demand that new trial. Joining us now to explain why she disagrees with that is the St. Louis circuit attorney, Kim Gardner.
KIM GARDNER: Hello. How are you doing?
CHANG: Very good. Can we just first have you recount what was Lamar Johnson originally accused of back then and what was he convicted of back in 1995?
GARDNER: Mr. Lamar Johnson was convicted of killing Mr. Marcus Boyd, and he was convicted of murdering Mr. Marcus Boyd. But we have new evidence that came about in this case.
CHANG: And what is that new evidence now?
GARDNER: The new evidence that came about was not only the sole eyewitness recanted his story; we also discovered payments to that sole witness from our office in certain amounts that was never disclosed to the defense. There was also letters that other individuals wrote to Mr. Lamar Johnson stating that they were the ones that committed the crime of killing Mr. Marcus Boyd, which was never disclosed later and after the trial, as well as credibility issues with another witness that was never disclosed to the defense that was used against Mr. Lamar Johnson.
CHANG: The prosecutor from your office who originally handled the case back in July 1995, he's called your office's report, quote, "utter nonsense and ridiculous." What is your response to him?
GARDNER: Well, my response is not directly to him. I asked all prosecutors around the country as well as in my jurisdiction, when you review a case and you find information that if you looked at it now, you would not use to go forward on a case - we all make mistakes. And in this question, it's utterly ridiculous to think that prosecutors do not make mistakes. And as ministers of justice, it is our job that we correct the wrongs of past practices. And in Mr. Lamar Johnson's case, I believe an innocent man was wrongfully convicted.
CHANG: Is it your argument that Missouri needs a mechanism to revisit an old case, or is your argument that under current law in Missouri, there is a mechanism and that the state attorney general, Eric Schmitt is simply misinterpreting the law, is wrong about the law?
GARDNER: I believe we have a mechanism. I believe...
CHANG: And what is that mechanism?
GARDNER: I believe the mechanism was motion for new trial. That is an issue for the Supreme Court to decide, but I also believe that if the courts are saying we have no mechanism, then we have to have the will to create that mechanism. So I say both.
CHANG: Let me ask you, though, short of legislative action in legislating an explicit mechanism for a case like this to get retried, if the court in this case does side with the state attorney general, does that close the door on revisiting other old convictions in Missouri?
GARDNER: I think it would make it difficult, but I think it will close the door on other old convictions, which is disturbing to me because as a prosecutor, we have to pursue justice, and we have to have a mechanism to review these convictions where we believe that innocent people are held in jail.
CHANG: More than 30 other prosecutors across the country have joined you in your push for a new trial for Lamar Johnson. Are we seeing a shift here in how prosecutors think about their jobs, their willingness to reexamine old cases? Do you think there has been a shift over the last few years?
GARDNER: Yes, I believe there's been a shift. I've had over 34 prosecutors around this country support me. They're from many different jurisdictions, many different political affiliations. And we have to relook at old cases. We know that reforming the criminal justice system also means admitting that we've done things wrong as prosecutors, and that's why the conviction integrity units are so important not only in Missouri but around this country.
CHANG: Kim Gardner is the circuit attorney for St. Louis, Mo.
Thank you very much for joining us today.
GARDNER: Thank you so much.
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