A piece in today’s Times:
After spending his adult life in prison for a killing he did not commit and mounting more than a dozen attempts to overturn his conviction, a 50-year-old man from Baltimore has been freed.
Jerome Johnson cheered as he left a city courthouse, emerging in a pink striped shirt to breathe in the air as a free man for the first time in 30 years. The first thing he would do, Mr Johnson said, would be to “get me a home-cooked meal”.
He was the 2,245th man to have his conviction overturned in the US since 1989, the first year that DNA evidence was used in murder cases, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Mr Johnson was found guilty of shooting dead Aaron Taylor in a bar in Baltimore in 1988 after an altercation. He had tried to challenged the verdict 15 times.
His conviction hinged on the testimony of a 15-year-old girl who said that she had seen Mr Johnson enter the Nite Owl with a gun. [J4MB emphasis] Mr Johnson maintained that he was innocent and his case was taken up by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, a charity that works to exonerate those whom it deems to have been wrongly accused of murder.
Lawyers spent nine months reinvestigating the case and discovered evidence proving that Mr Johnson had not been at the scene of the murder.
Standing with Mr Johnson outside the courthouse Shawn Armbrust, the charity’s executive director, said: “Today represents the first time in 30 years the criminal justice system has worked for Jerome Johnson. The wrong was finally righted and it was righted in a way that we can all be proud of.”
Mr Johnson was given a biography of Nelson Mandela and a diary to record his life as a free man by his lawyers.
The number of wrongful convictions overturned each year has been rising, setting new records. In 2016 there was an average of three exonerations per week — more than double the rate in 2011 — for violent and other crimes.
About a third of the convictions overturned were for homicide. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, misconduct and false accusations were factors that had led to wrongful convictions in more than 60 per cent of the cases.
The overturned convictions have contributed to a shift in attitudes on the death penalty, with more Americans saying that they do not support capital punishment because of the risk of error, according to Gallup.
Last year support for the death penalty fell to a 45-year low, although a poll suggested that 55 per cent of people continued to back capital punishment.
Mr Johnson was the third man in three years to be cleared of murder in Baltimore. Malcolm Bryant, 44, was cleared of the 1998 killing of a teenager when DNA evidence presented in 2016 proved that he was not the murderer, 17 years into his life sentence. He died last year. Lamar Johnson, 34, was freed in September having served 13 years for a murder he did not commit.
The wronged prisoner who served longest behind bars before being released was Richard Phillips, from Detroit, who served 45 years in prison for a murder in 1971 that he did not commit.
“I wish you nothing but the best in the future,” the judge told him on his release in March. “I hope that other people can benefit from your . . . story.”
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