The Missouri Supreme Court will hear oral arguments Tuesday morning in a high-profile case of a man who’s served 25 years in prison for murder, a man the St. Louis Circuit Attorney says was convicted based on police and prosecutorial misconduct.

46-year-old Lamar Johnson is serving a life sentence for first degree murder at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has filed a motion for a new trial (2019 file photo courtesy of the Missouri Department of Corrections)

Because of COVID-19 concerns, the court will hear the case remotely, with only Chief Justice George Draper in the Jefferson City courtroom. The other six judges and the attorneys for both sides will participate remotely via videoconference.

Oral arguments will begin at 9:30 a.m.

46-year-old Lamar Johnson is serving a life sentence for killing Marcus Boyd in 1994. Johnson remains incarcerated at the maximum-security Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Johnson’s co-defendant, Phillip Campbell, signed an affidavit saying that Johnson wasn’t involved in the murder. An eyewitness recanted his identification of Johnson, and signed an affidavit that he received monetary payments from the state.

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has filed a motion for a new trial, saying there is credible evidence of Johnson’s innocence.

Gardner is an intervenor in the case. In a 72-page brief, Gardner counsel Daniel Harawa writes “He (Johnson) is innocent of the crime for which he has spent the last 25 years behind bars.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office argues the circuit court has no jurisdiction to consider Gardner’s motion, especially at this late date.

In their 52-page brief, Attorney General Schmitt’s office writes “This court’s rule 29.11(b) provides that, in a criminal case, (a) motion for new trial … shall be filed within fifteen days after the return of the verdict.”

The attorney general’s office says Johnson and Gardner want the Missouri Supreme Court to “ignore the plain language of its own rules.” Schmitt’s brief also says Johnson acknowledges that Missouri and federal law already provide at least six mechanisms by which an inmate claiming innocence can obtain relief.

The circuit court overruled Gardner’s motion for a new trial, saying it lacked authority to consider it. The circuit court says Gardner’s accusation of prosecutorial misconduct should have been investigated independently. The circuit court also says Johnson’s lawyer improperly contacted jurors.

The case has attracted national media attention from the “New York Times”, “USA Today” and others.

There have also been numerous amici briefs that have been submitted to the Missouri Supreme Court, from people across the country and state.

A group of 45 elected prosecutors from across the nation have filed an amici brief, which says Circuit Attorney Gardner must have a legal mechanism to seek a new trial for a defendant, “when newly discovered evidence shows the conviction was tainted by constitutional violations.”

But a group of 30 elected Missouri prosecutors disagrees, and has also filed an amici brief. They say the circuit attorney’s office has no authority to file a motion for a new trial in a criminal case, on the defendant’s behalf.

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