Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is in the national spotlight. What started as a pornographic email scandal among government officials uncovered by Kane has turned into two felony perjury charges of her own. But there's another scandal deep within Kane's office no one is talking about. It involves prosecutorial misconduct by one of the very same officials who left me behind bars for twenty years for a crime I didn't commit -- misconduct that the Attorney General is still failing to acknowledge or atone for. A corrupt culture of racism and misogyny between officials created the conditions for my wrongful conviction.
But first, the email scandal. In September of 2014, Kane released a batch of heavily redacted emails sent between prosecutors, judges, and other officials with overtly racial and sexual content. These emails were sent and received by government officials on government computers. Almost immediately, these officials began to resign once these emails went public.
It began with eight employees of the Attorney General's office sending and receiving interoffice emails. The ex-employees identified by Kane's office included top state officials: Environmental Protection Secretary Christopher Abruzzo and Board of Probation and Parole member Randy Feathers. It didn't stop there: Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery had forwarded at least eight sexually explicit emails to an employee of the Attorney General's office.
Kane uncovered the emails while reviewing how the Attorney General's office handled the investigation of child sexual abuse by former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky. These emails were sent between 2008 and 2012, under the tenure of three Attorneys General, including former Governor Tom Corbett. Thirty current workers in the Attorney General's office were also involved.
At first, Mr. Abruzzo, appointed by Corbett to lead the Department of Environmental Protection, denied any wrongdoing, but that changed when these emails went public. In his resignation letter, Mr. Abruzzo stated: "While I have no recollection of the specific accounts described by the media, I accept full responsibility for any lack of judgment I may have exhibited in 2009. I do not condone that behavior and it is not a reflection of the person or professional that I am."
Such behavior violates the judicial code of conduct. It paints a none-too-flattering picture of how these government officials interact in private. They chose to take a form of "mental break" that shows degrading attitudes toward women, racial insensitivity, and religious bigotry. Ultimately, many other officials also either resigned or were disciplined. This has raised many questions about this biased and ex parte communication.
Fast-forward to 2015, when Attorney General Kane herself was charged with two counts of felony perjury for her handling of the case, and has been temporarily stripped of her law license. Kane faces a penalty of seven years in prison. Although this scandal rocked Pennsylvania starting in 2014, it revealed a corrupt judicial culture that goes way back. There's a hidden scandal that's not being spoken about and only slowly addressed. Long before Christopher Abruzzo became Secretary of Environmental Protection, he was a prosecutor. Nearly twenty years ago, he led the prosecution against me for a crime I did not commit, and I've been fighting for my life ever since. In 1997. I was sentenced to life without parole for a murder that took place in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. I was not accused of being the perpetrator but of being present when this crime occurred. The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office initially prosecuted my case, with Tom Corbett at the helm. After sixteen and a half years, I won my release in Federal court on the grounds of insufficient evidence, which barred a retrial. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered my immediate release, and I came home on January 18, 2012.
I was free for a mere 148 days. The Attorney General's office immediately filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in turn reinstated my life sentence on May 29, 2012. I turned myself back in to once again fight to prove my innocence.
My legal team went back to work and uncovered more evidence of my innocence. This led to a meeting with members of the Attorney General's office concerning my innocence. Kane's office promised to do a "good faith" investigation into my innocence claims. My legal team had over fifteen affidavits that supported my innocence and prosecution misconduct claims.
Evidence was withheld from me at trial that prosecutors were legally obligated to turn over to my defense. In 2014, after almost two decades, I finally received the first eight pages of my case discovery. Among other things, this revealed that the prosecution's only witness was initially labelled a suspect in the case herself. Abruzzo assured the jury that this witness had "no reason to lie." What he failed to tell them was that this witness had been a suspect, that her early statements contradicted what she said at trial, and that the police said they had to "work on" her for months before they were satisfied with her testimony. They have yet to turn over the initial statements she made that they did not believe. These statements will confirm my innocence.
Instead of doing the right thing, after almost two years of stalling, the Attorney General's office filed their response to my claims. Instead of addressing my innocence, they argued that my appeal should not even be heard. They said I filed it too late and blamed me for not finding the missing documents sooner -- documents their own office had hid from me all these years. There was no "good faith" investigation as promised.
When prosecutors and judges feel comfortable sending each other racist and sexually explicit emails for fun, something is wrong. This same cozy and corrupt system allowed my innocence to be swept under the rug for years. It's time for accountability and justice for me and so many others who have suffered from wrongful convictions.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence, from 1995 to 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 Lorenzo back to prison to resume the sentence. With the support of The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Email him, make a donation, or sign his petition and learn more at: http://www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.