Missouri appeals court weighs wrongful conviction allegation

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A Missouri appeals court will decide if St. Louis' top prosecutor has the authority to request a new trial for a man who has spent nearly 25 years in prison for a murder she believes he didn't commit.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that lawyers for Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner on Wednesday told the Missouri Court of Appeals that Gardner is duty bound to correct past wrongs, including what she believes is the wrongful conviction of 46-year-old Lamar Johnson.

A lawyer for the Missouri Attorney General's Office argued that Gardner has no authority to seek a new trial for Johnson, who was convicted in the 1994 killing of 25-year-old Marcus Boyd in an alleged drug dispute. Assistant Attorney General Shaun Mackelprang said state law also bars Johnson from asking for a new trial all these years later.

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

Johnson has long proclaimed his innocence. Gardner agreed with his alibi that he was with his girlfriend miles away when Boyd was killed. Meanwhile, years after the killing, the state's only witness recanted his identification of Johnson and Campbell as the shooters. Two other men have confessed to Boyd's killing and said Johnson was not involved.

Gardner asked for a new trial in July after investigating Johnson's case in collaboration with his lawyers at the Midwest Innocence Project. Gardner claimed misconduct by one of her office's former prosecutors, secret payments to the witness, falsified police reports and perjured testimony.

The former prosecutor and the detective who investigated the case have rejected Gardner's claims.

A circuit judge rejected Gardner's motion for a new trial, and she appealed to the appellate court. A ruling isn't expected for several weeks.

"The circuit attorney needs to have a means to correct that injustice," Gardner's attorney, Daniel Harawa, told the appeals court.

Mackelprang said the court's jurisdiction over Johnson's case expired when he was convicted and sentenced in 1995.

"Our laws have meaning and our rules have meaning, and for people to operate within those boundaries," Mackelprang said.

Several advocates for Johnson delivered more than 25,000 petition signatures to Attorney General Eric Schmitt on Tuesday. They accused police and prosecutors of zealousness in rushing to convict black suspects like Johnson.