1/18/14

Walking the Yard: A Conversation Between Lorenzo Johnson and Shuja Moore

For those people who don’t know you, who are you? What’s your story?
I’m a New Yorker who was wrongfully convicted of a crime in Pennsylvania that I didn’t commit and was sentenced to a life prison term. I spent 161/2 years in prison before my conviction was vacated on October 3, 2011 by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. They held that there was an insufficient amount of evidence to find me guilty. I was released in January 2012 pending the Attorney General’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. On May 29, 2012 the Supreme Court granted the Attorney General’s appeal and reinstated my conviction without giving my legal team any chance to argue our position.

We were so happy to see you go and devastated to see you return, how’s it been Big Homie?
It’s been a rough ride.

One thing I will say though, since you’re back your fight for justice is on another level.
Fighting is all I know.

What are the lessons learned from spending so much time incarcerated?
Education is everything.

So what’s happening with your case right now?
I have a PCRA petition pending that includes stronger issues than the one that originally freed me. For 18 years the police and prosecutors have withheld evidence that would have cleared me at trial. The prosecution’s main witness made a statement the day of the crime that if turned over to my lawyer would’ve cleared me at trial. One of the detectives involved in the investigation has signed an affidavit supporting this. I also have witnesses coming forward about how they saw other people commit this crime and that the prosecution’s main witness was with them. But the police threatened them to not come forth and help me. And the prosecution’s only witness has even admitted that she wasn’t in the bar where she testified she saw me! This coupled with some other issues raises a solid actual innocence claim.

The question that is on every prisoner’s mind is why did you turn yourself in?
I’m surrounded by a unique support system. People who believe in me and my injustice and who are willing to do all that is necessary to see that I am freed. They are the people I’m dedicated to. I strive for peace, freedom and justice and I’m on my way to exactly that!

Courageous. Speaking of supporters, how were you able to get so many people on your side?
I refuse to be silent and worry about everything but myself. Most of my funds are spent on postage and copies. I try to reach whoever is willing to listen to my story. When I was released I spoke on wrongful convictions. I spoke to troubled youth in different communities. I made allies with people who have been through what I’ve been through and we share the same mission. My case has support from people in 31 states and 11 countries!

What is your strategy for fighting your case?
Since I’m innocent, I stand on truth. I fight my case in the court and through social media. Like I said in one of my recent articles, “Social media is injustice’s worst nightmare.”

What do you think of the criminal appeal process?
Without question I feel that the bar of justice is warped! I’m one of many that the appeal process has failed.

Since coming back, how have inmates responded to you? Prison staff?
Although nothing came directly to me, there has been a lot of gossiping behind my back. And that was disappointing because I’m fighting not only for myself but all of us. I could have been selfish and ran but my supporters mean everything to me. If I would have run not only would I have lost my appeal rights, I would’ve been labeled the new “Mud Man” because it would be that much harder for others to get bail while on appeal. Everybody has different concerns. Now that the juvenile lifer issue is on the forefront I hope my actions help them in their struggle because they can’t make the excuse about them not being able to operate in society or return if they violate. Those who think strictly about themselves are normally the ones wondering why all their bridges are burned. As for the prison staff—some do their eight and roll, some have their preconceived notions of me whether good or bad. I don’t get caught up in that.

What do you recommend for that 20-year-old kid with a life sentence and no clue who has just arrived upstate?
If you do not have an education make that a priority. Never stop learning. Get in the law library and learn the basic procedures of law and continue learning from there. Do not take everything that your lawyer says at face value. Learn your case inside out because there’s nobody who is going to fight for you better than you. Do not get
caught up in prison politics. Surround yourself with people who share the same goal as you. It’s about getting back to family as soon as possible. Don’t view yourself as a lifer; always have the state of mind that you will return to your family.

I agree. I suggest to people to first learn how to learn. Then study the book the Rules of Court(sections: criminal procedure, rules of evidence, appellate procedure); the PCRA statute; and legal analysis, research, writing and how to craft a legal document. Well, any last words?
All is well with me and if we as a whole continue to fight against injustice and not ourselves we got something special coming. Rumble, young man, rumble!

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