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If you’re tough on crime, you better celebrate Missouri by freeing Lamar Johnson

Ricky Kidd. Carrody Buchhorn. Keith Carnes. Floyd Bledsoe. Kevin Strickland. Lamonte McIntyre. Olin “Pete” Coones Jr. Missouri or Kansas put them all behind bars, many of them for a long, long time, for crimes they swore they hadn’t committed.

And all have only been freed in recent years after a string of injustices have come to light — perjury, official misconduct, bad forensic science — making it clear that states got it wrong the first time around.

Add to that shameful list Lamar Johnson, who will finally go free after St. Louis area circuit judge David C. Mason reviewed the evidence against his guilt Tuesday and found it “clear and convincing.” The wrongful conviction will be reversed after Johnson has spent more than half his life locked up.

The National Registry of Exonerations counts 52 exonerated people in Missouri since 1991 (again not including Johnson) and 18 in Kansas since 1992. , then those 70 wrong convictions we know of are probably already infuriating you. And what, then, of the other innocents surely now in prison cells whose circumstances have not been reexamined?

In Johnson’s case, the two men who confessed to the fatal shooting of Markus Boyd in 1994 were also convicted (albeit one of an unrelated crime). But in too many other cases, when an innocent is incarcerated, that means the guilty still walk among us.

How is this justice? If your loved one were a victim, wouldn’t you be outraged that the real culprit was set free while someone else paid the price?

Don’t confuse pleas for mercy with pleas for justice. It is one thing for principled opponents of the death penalty to ask a governor to grant clemency to a prisoner sentenced to death. It is entirely different to insist that the government prove its case when serious doubts are raised that someone has been wrongfully locked up.

Missouri has a long history of resolutely standing up for beliefs and being wrong. A state attorney famously testified in Missouri Supreme Court in 2001 that yes, “even if we find that (the defendant) is indeed innocent,” the attorney general’s office would continue to press for his execution.

Lamar Johnson will never get back the years he lost. And it remains to be seen whether he will get the immense recompense he deserves for the iniquity. That relief is far from assured.

But if you consider yourself a law and order guy, you have no right to grumble today. Bad convictions do not reduce crime. In fact, they invite more by keeping the wrong people on the street. And when a dishonest police officer is caught and removed from law enforcement, he’s nothing but a net asset to the department.

Fighting crime is obviously one of the most important parts of self-government. Reviewing the work of law enforcement and the courts we respect to correct their mistakes — and then working to prevent more — is a huge part of supporting that fight.

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