A Baltimore man who served 13 years in prison for a murder he did not commit was released Tuesday after prosecutors asked for his conviction to be vacated and dropped the charges because of newly-discovered exonerating evidence.
Lamar Johnson, 33, was convicted of first-degree murder for the 2004 shooting of a man several times in broad daylight, but he was misidentified by witnesses.
“I’m not a murderer and I never was,” Johnson said outside Baltimore City Circuit Court after his release. “This has been a long time coming.”
Attorneys with the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project, which took the case in 2010, say they believed in Johnson’s innocence almost immediately.
“The evidence at trial made it obvious that he was innocent,” said Eily Raman, assistant director of the MAIP.
No physical evidence connected Johnson to the shooting, and he became a suspect when an informant identified the shooter by a nickname even though Johnson did not share the nickname, according to the Innocence Project. Two teenage eyewitnesses later identified Johnson as the shooter but another witness identified another man at trial. Several other witnesses have since come forward to corroborate the trial testimony.
Johnson said he grew frustrated while in prison — where he was serving a life sentence plus 20 years — but his mother encouraged him to have faith because he was innocent.
“I’m just so blessed right now,” he said.
Johnson’s attorney, David Benowitz, said Johnson has had a “fantastic” attitude and credited the Innocence Project taking the case for giving him hope during the seven-year process.
“I think, particularly in this kind of situation, what clients want to hear is you believe them,” said Benowitz, a partner at Price Benowitz LLP in Washington.
The Innocence Project brought the case to the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit in 2016 for review. After a 15-month investigation, the office joined the Innocence Project in requesting the conviction be vacated.
“Nobody thought he was guilty,” Benowitz said, noting that the family of the victim, Carlos Sawyer, assisted the Innocence Project investigation because they did not believe Johnson was the killer.
State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby said Johnson’s release was bittersweet for several reasons, including the fact that Sawyer’s killer has not yet been brought to justice.
“Carlos is not forgotten,” she said.
Johnson thanked Mosby and the Conviction Integrity Unit for their work on his case.
“I finally got justice,” he said.