22 Years Later: Still Chasing Justice

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I’ve been in prison for more than twenty years for a crime I didn’t commit. My nightmare began when I was just 20 years old. I was arrested for an unrelated charge that was eventually dismissed. At that moment, I fell into the hands of a corrupt cop and the kidnapping of my life began. Being in a state—Pennsylvania—that was not my own, and with no family here, I was in over my head.

Never in a million years did I think I would be sentenced to a Natural Life sentence for a crime I never committed. Let me not leave out, I was in my home state of New York when this crime occurred in Pennsylvania. Being illiterate in education and to the law at that time led to me being easy prey for a wrongful conviction. When I didn't agree to lie about someone else and blame this murder on them, I became the target/scapegoat myself.

I was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. I was identified by a crack abuser, whom I never seen in my life. This witness stated I didn't commit the murder but that I was present when it happened. I was under the impression that when I go to court, they would see they had the wrong person and free me. This was wishful thinking on my part--it never happened.

This would lead to the criminal justice system failing me twice, and me being subjected to a grave case of prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel. To make a long story short, I was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to Natural Life—or, life without parole--for a crime I was innocent of. Upon entering state prison, I quickly enrolled in school and later earned my GED and began taking college courses. At the same time, I began studying the law. That's when for the first time I understood what was done to me.

Over the years, a couple of underpaid attorneys were appointed to my case--their representation proved to be of little assistance. I would end up representing myself on state and federal appeals. I wrote between 300-500 Innocence Projects, attorneys and other organizations for assistance. My cries went unheard until a mutual attorney friend named William Costopolous introduced me to an attorney named Michael Wiseman. Upon reviewing my case and believing in my innocence, Mr. Wiseman agreed to represent me.

Since I already filed my appeal pro se in federal Court, Mr. Wiseman amended my appeal and adopted the issues I raised. A couple years later, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on vacated my sentence October 4, 2011 on the grounds of “insufficient evidence,” which bars a retrial. I was released on January 18, 2012 pending the prosecution’s last appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

I returned home to New York and quickly begun to get my life back together: reuniting with my family, meeting the woman who would become my wife, and working. I started speaking about wrongful convictions at colleges and with exonerees I met when I was released. My freedom lasted a mere 148 days. On May 29, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated my conviction with a per curiam decision. My legal team was not allowed to file briefs or oral argue my case.

I had to turn myself back into prison on June 14, 2012. I drove from New York with exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic to a Pennsylvania State Prison to once again fight to prove my innocence.

A year after my return to prison, my legal team concluded their reinvestigation into my case and came up with a treasure trove of evidence of my innocence, from witnesses who were threatened not to come forth to clear me, to witnesses who were forced to change their original statements to make new ones against me. This led to the filing of my current actual innocence appeal. After 18½ years, the prosecution turned over over 100 missing pages from my case discovery that were never turned over to me or any of my prior attorneys.

Reading this suppressed case discovery, for the first time we found out that the prosecution’s main witness had originally been labeled a suspect in this same case. I was also told for 18½ years that this same witness never made a written statement. So for all these years, a police summary had been believed instead.

In the missing case discovery, lies a ten-page typed statement from this witness. This statement not only clears me, it shows how the prosecution in my case knowingly allowed false testimony to go uncorrected from my preliminary hearing all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, who relied on this testimony to reinstate my conviction.

The Dauphin County, Pennsylvania Senior Judge in Common Pleas Court has Granted me an evidentiary hearing on these claims. It will take place on July 11, 12, and 13, 2017 at 9:00 A.M., in Courtroom No.8 at the Dauphin County Courthouse, 101 Market Street, 5th Floor, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Hopefully, justice will finally be served.

Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence until 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for four months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered him back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Though he does not have internet access himself, you can email his campaign, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html. He is scheduled for a court hearing in July, 2017 to present evidence of innocence and prosecutorial misconduct.

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