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Gardner Says It’s Her Duty To Ask For New Trial In 1995 Murder Case

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner takes the oath of office at the Old Courthouse on January 6, 2017.
File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, shown here taking the oath of office in 2017, says it's her duty to ask for a new trial in a murder case where she believes the defendant is innocent.

The St. Louis prosecutor is defending her authority to ask for a new trial for a man she says was wrongfully convicted of murder and armed criminal action 24 years ago.

Kim Gardner last month filed a motion for a new trial in the case of Lamar Johnson. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1995 for shooting and killing Marcus Boyd — a conviction that Gardner’s office argued was tainted by police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Lamar Johnson inmate photo
Credit Missouri Department of Corrections
Lamar Johnson is serving life without parole for a 1994 murder that both prosecutors and defense attorneys say he did not commit.

The Midwest Innocence Project has worked on Johnson’s case since 2010, so the request for a new trial from Gardner’s office marks a rare instance in which prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that a defendant is innocent. But late last month, Circuit Judge Elizabeth Hogan ordered the Missouri Attorney General’s Office to “appear on behalf of the state” in Johnson’s case, essentially taking the place of Gardner. 

Hogan is also asking all of the attorneys to lay out whether Gardner even has the right to ask for a new trial.

“It’s crucial as a minister of justice to correct the wrongs of a wrongfully convicted person, and it’s our duty,” Gardner said at a news conference after a hearing on the matter Thursday. “Under the ethics of a prosecutor, when the evidence shows that an individual is innocent, we must correct the wrong.”

Asked whether her office could be fair in handling a case of prosecutorial misconduct that she uncovered, Gardner said it remained her duty to report misconduct wherever it happened.

“If you’re saying that a prosecutor doesn’t have a duty to do that, then that puts into conflict any law enforcement agency’s ability to investigate wrongdoing in their office,” she said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric Schmitt said the office would file the documents Hogan requested, but had no further comment about the case.

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Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.