20th Birthday in Prison While Innocent
My nightmare started a month after I turned 22 years old. Never in a million years would I ever thought I would be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, convicted and sentenced to natural life, and spend decades of my life in State Prison for a crime I never committed.
How could an innocent man get charged and convicted for a crime, when he was not in the state when the crime occurred! That was a question I asked myself for years. It all started when I was arrested for an unrelated charge (that was later dismissed) and I refused to lie and assist a corrupt cop in the framing of a random person for murder…
Shortly after I refused to help frame another innocent man, I was promised my life would be a living hell. True to this detective’s word, my life have been a living hell. Being innocent, I was under the assumption that when I get into court, the truth would come out and I would be freed. That was the furthest from the truth.
When I finally got to my first court appearance, I sat in shock while a crack abuser that I did not know or ever had any dealings with, took the stand and let the court know I was present when an argument took place in a bar, was asked to leave the bar with the person accused of the murder along with the deceased. Shortly after my codefendant and the deceased went into an alley while I stood on the sidewalk and she heard a Boom while she was walking up the block.
This testimony alone got my case bound over for trial. I asked myself why would a person lie and do this to me and my family. I began to get my attorney the names and addresses of all of my alibi witnesses that was with me in New York at the time this murder took place in Pennsylvania.
My attorney sent me a copy of my Case Discovery. It started on page 9 and the majority of pages was missing. The crack abuser statement was not in it. Something else caught my attention. the police had an eye witnesses, who saw this murder take place, got in an unmarked police car and identified the people he saw commit this murder. The police never investigated or locked them up.
I was offered 5–10 years in a plea bargain if I testified falsely against my codefendant, I refused. Around this time, only a couple of my alibi witnesses made statements, I could no longer find the rest. Being illiterate in education and to the law, I had no idea what was taking place. It seemed like every witness this corrupt detective would speak to, they would change their original statement and make a false one supporting the prosecution.
Out of the blue, one of my alibi witnesses who was with me in New York changed her statement and became the prosecution Motive Witness. This made a variance in my indictment. Now the murder was not over the prosecution’s original theory, it was now a drug debt. What was more puzzling, this New motive witness stated that the prosecutor Chief Witness told her she was paid to lure the decease into the alley…
Trial arrived and being the lack of witnesses and evidence, only lasted three (3) days. The owner and bouncer of the bar where the argument was supposed to take place, where we were asked to leave came and testified for me. They stated I was never there that day and I was not a part of the argument. One of my alibi witnesses that changed his statement, testified that his original statement was the truth but, he was forced to change his statement by the corrupt detective, who threatened him with criminal charges.
One witness that never mentioned me in his original statement, on the stand stated he saw me on the scene after the murder. After deliberating from 12 noon to 8:30 at night, the Jury came back with a Verdict–Guilty of First Degree Murder. Fifteen minutes later, at 8:45 pm I was sentenced to Natural Life…
Mentally I was lost, in a State with no family. Upon my arrival to State Prison, I immediately enrolled in GED Classes. I eventually achieved my GED. I enrolled in college courses and other business courses. Once I got my education, I began to teach myself the Law. I started with Criminal Rules and Procedures. It didn’t take long to realize I was thrown out of a plane with no parachute wearing a metal weight tied to my back.
My Direct Appeal was denied but, one Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge filed a dissenting opinion. This judge stated there were no evidence linking me to this crime. I used this opinion in my letter writing campaign I started. I wrote over 300 Innocence Organizations around the World in hopes of getting the assistance I needed.
Shortly after my trial, I found out that my alibi witness who later became the prosecutor motive witness, was given a “Deal” on her pending Robbery Charges in exchange for her testimony in my case. At this time, I had no attorney and couldn’t afford one. With the help of some Jailhouse Lawyers, I filed an appeal on my own raising a variety of issues including some Ineffective Assistance of Counsel claims. An attorney was appointed to represent me. This attorney almost had me forfeit my appeal rights by failing to inform me that my appeal was denied. There are time requirements in regards of filing timely appeals. If you violate them by filing an appeal untimely, you lose your appeal rights. Something I couldn’t afford.
For almost 2 years I represented myself throughout the remainder of my State appeals. At this point, I had a couple months to file my last set of appeals which was a Federal Habeas Corpus. I eventually filed it myself and with the grace of God, a Legal Team believed in me and my innocence agreed to come to my aid and represent me.
In October of 2011, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals Vacated my Life Sentence on my claim of Insufficient Evidence. A retrial was barred because winning my appeal on Insufficient Evidence is the same as a Not Guilty Verdict. I was released from Pennsylvania State Prison on January 18, 2012. I headed back home to New York.
I quickly re-established myself with my family, began working and met my wife. I spoke at events and colleges about Wrongful convictions. The joy of life was great to me. Little did I know, my nightmare would return–It wasn’t over.
May 29, 2012, a mere 148 days of freedom, the U.S. Supreme Court Reinstated my conviction saying: “The Third Circuit Court of Appeals failed to afford due respect to the role of the jury and state court’s of Pennsylvania”. My Attorney’s was denied the right to Oral Arguments and to fully Brief our position (normal proceedings). On June 14, 2012, I along with my friend exoneree Jeffrey Deskovic drove from New York to Pennsylvania so I could turn myself back into a Life Sentence, in hopes that my innocence would free me again once and for all.
My legal team started all over from scratch and began an intensive re-investigation into my case. This investigation would uncover a treasure trove of evidence and witnesses that would show my innocence. We got over 20 statements from Witnesses, even one from a detective that was a part of the investigation in my case.
Numerous witnesses stated how the corrupt detective in my case threatened them into not coming forth to help show my innocence. My female companion at the time of my arrest, contacted the corrupt detective and let him know that I was in New York when this murder occurred, she went on to tell him that he could check her phone records because I called while I was in New York. This detective not only threatened her with false charges if she tried to help, he threatened to take her kids.
The witness who never mentioned me in his statement, but on the witness stand stated I was on the scene after the murder! He now states that the prosecutor made him place me on the Scene. As for my alibi witnesses who became the prosecution motive witness, we now know that she is the “God-Sister” of the corrupt detective and in one point of her life lived under the same roof… This was verified through affidavits from her brother and the corrupt detective brother.
It didn’t stop there. This New Evidence prompted the prosecutor to meet with my attorneys and review my innocence claim. The prosecution turned over portions of my missing Case Discovery (not all) that I never had. I was shock when I finally saw the first eight (8) pages. In these pages, the prosecution’s Chief Witness the crack abuser– was labeled a suspect in this murder. This is the same witness that the prosecutor told the Jury that they must believe–she had no reason to lie… Also enclosed was one of her statements that contradicted her trial testimony. The police stated: “They had to work on her for months, until they felt she told the truth”. They still have not turned over her prior statements that exonerates me.
You would think after all of this was revealed, the prosecution would do what’s right and release me. Not at all. I’m currently awaiting a court date for my pending Actual Innocence Appeal under the Post Conviction Relief Act. Now the Prosecution is not standing behind their false evidence, They are now fighting me claiming my appeal was not filed timely, by blaming me for not finding the evidence they hid from me and ALL of my previous attorneys for 18 years sooner. On November 5, 2015 made it “20th Birthday in prison–while innocent…
“The Pain Within”
Free The Innocent,
Lorenzo ‘Cat’ Johnson