JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Just days after being released from prison after serving 28 years behind bars, Lamar Johnson testified before lawmakers in favor of legislation to give reparations to those wrongly convicted.
Johnson told a Senate panel when he was sacked last Tuesday, he walked away with only the clothes his lawyer and friends gave him. During the committee hearing on Monday, Johnson wasn’t the only one who told members he is struggling after being wrongfully convicted.
“You can only imagine how much it cost someone like me to get mental treatment,” said Joseph Amrine. “Twenty-seven years in prison and on death row for one man. Every day is a struggle.”
Currently, under state law, only those who have their conviction exonerated through DNA testing can receive restitution from the state, which in Johnson’s case it was not. Sens. Brian Williams, D-University City, and Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, are looking to broaden the types of cases in which those who have been wrongly convicted can receive compensation.
“If someone breaks the law, they should be held accountable, but no one should be punished for a crime they didn’t commit,” Williams said. “Often, wrongfully convicted individuals have even less assistance moving home than those convicted of felonies and released with post-release services, such as through parole.”
“I can’t imagine anyone believing they shouldn’t be compensated by the state that wrongfully convicted and jailed them for nearly three decades,” Roberts said.
On Tuesday, Johnson walked out of the courtroom a free man after serving 28 years behind bars. He benefited from a new law that allows a prosecutor to file a motion asking the judge to overturn or reverse a guilty verdict based on new information or evidence. Johnson was wrongly convicted of the 1994 murder of Markus Boyd and was sent to prison in 1995 before a judge cleared him last week.
“Having only been home for a few days, the difficulty of starting a new life after a wrongful conviction is fresh in my mind,” Johnson said.
Last week Johnson’s family wept with joy as they gave Johnson their first hug since he was sent to prison in 1995.
“Nothing can ever give me back what I’ve lost,” Johnson told Senators. “I will never get back the time I should have had with my daughters, the career I could have had or the holidays with my loved ones, but this bill would give me the confidence to get back on my feet and be there for my family. in ways I couldn’t.
Senate Bills 146 and 253 would allow a judge to order the payment of $179 per day of jail time up to $65,000 per year.
Last April, Keith Carnes, a Kansas City man, was released after spending 20 years behind bars for a crime he didn’t commit.
“Lack of housing, medical care, education and financial stability are just some of the things that, after being pleaded not guilty, we would have to go out and deal with those struggles,” Carnes said.
Richard Kidd was acquitted in 2019 after spending 23 years in prison for a double murder he claimed he did not commit. Kidd was arrested in 1996 when he was 21 years old.
“Despite all that I have lost, I have not received a dime from the state that wrongfully imprisoned me, however, the State of Missouri took decades of my early earnings from me,” Kidd said.
Under the bill, waivers could also receive tuition, counseling, and housing assistance.
“It’s not fair,” Amrine said. “I feel like I’ve been punished twice for something I didn’t actually do the first time.”
After spending 27 years in prison, including 17 on death row, Amrine was acquitted in 2003. Her case also didn’t involve DNA testing, meaning she was not eligible for restitution.
There is also a provision in the legislation that would allow the wrongly convicted person to have attorney and court costs covered as long as the cost does not exceed a total of $25,000. Additionally, the person being exonerated could receive $25,000 for each additional year served on probation.
The commission did not vote on the bills on Monday, but could do so in the coming weeks.