A MISSOURI man was exonerated and released after 25 years of wrongful imprisonment in time for his youngest daughter’s wedding.
Lamar Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder in 1995 for the shooting death of his friend Markus Boyd after an eyewitness picked him from a lineup.
At the age of 21, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Boyd was fatally shot by two gunmen on his porch in St. Louis, Missouri on October 30, 1994.
Though Johnson had an alibi at the time — he was with then-girlfriend Erika Barrow the entire night of the shooting, except for five minutes, which isn’t long enough to even drive to the crime scene about three miles away — police spoke never with Barrow.
Instead, they investigated an eyewitness, Greg Elking, who was with Boyd that night and said two men had attacked Boyd. Elking later selected Johnson from a lineup.
Elking said the men were hurrying up the porch steps as he and Boyd sat together and shot his friend.
“It was the scariest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he told 48 Hours. “With the third shot, I saw Markus’ soul just leave.”
Elking’s testimony played an important role in Johnson’s sentencing, reports CBS News.
Although Elking later recanted his claims and two other men confessed to the crime after Johnson’s conviction, Johnson remained in prison for decades.
“The problem is I don’t know what else to do,” Johnson told 48 Hours during a prison interview in 2021. “I mean, what else is needed?”
Speaking to 48 Hours, Elking admitted he never really thought Johnson committed the crime, but that he felt pressured by investigators to pick someone.
Elking said he could only see one of the attackers and that he could only see his eyes because he was masked.
Elking did not initially identify Johnson in the lineup, in fact he was shown the lineup three times before selecting Johnson.
He claimed at the time that he could only identify Johnson by his eyes, but that wasn’t true.
“You didn’t know at all, did you?” 48-hour correspondent Erin Moriarty asked Elking.
“I didn’t know that,” Elking replied.
Elking claimed he felt pressure from detectives to identify someone and when he refused, he claimed investigators told him his own life was in danger.
Investigators allegedly told Elking that Johnson was a violent man who may have been involved in up to six other murders, Elkig claimed.
However, the claims were never proven and Johnson was not charged with any further murder.
Joseph Nickerson, the lead investigator on the case, denied under oath that he pressured Elking to identify Johnson.
“I lied about the statement,” Elking said. “I lied because I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Nearly three decades after Johnson’s conviction, the Missouri man was granted an innocence hearing in December 2022, at which Elking again took the stand, this time in favor of Johnson.
Elking told the court that he lied under oath and could not identify Johnson.
James “BA” Howard, a man in Boyd’s neighborhood, testified that he and a friend were the real killers.
Johnson was exonerated on February 14, 2023, and was able to walk his youngest daughter, Kiera Barrow, down the aisle during their April 21 wedding.
Barrow, the daughter of Johnson and his then-girlfriend Erika, was just five months old when her father was imprisoned.
But the father-daughter duo was still able to develop a relationship while Johnson was in lockdown.
“I think despite what he’s experienced, who he is and who he’s coming out as, it’s just — it’s remarkable,” she told 48 Hours.
Johnson told the outlet that he considers himself a blessed man.
“It was like a weight just fell off me,” Johnson said a day after his release. “Just the justification, just that someone finally heard me.”
Johnson was allowed to meet his pen pal for the first time since his release, which was shown in a video by The Guardian.
For 25 years, Ginny Schrappen has exchanged letters with Johnson in prison, and when they finally met, Schrappen immediately started hugging and kissing him on the cheek.
“Especially when someone is innocent, you want someone to believe in you,” Johnson told the Guardian.
“And they won’t give up on you, then it makes it harder for you to give up on yourself.”
The full 48-hour episode of Lamar Johnson: Standing in Truth airs Saturday at 10 p.m.