Exoneree Lamar Johnson celebrates his first month of freedom

Published: Mar. 14, 2023 at 4:00 PM CDT
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - Lamar Johnson is celebrating his first month of freedom after spending close to three decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.

He calls Kansas City home, at least for now.

He’s sleeping on an air mattress inside his own place and says it’s better than the Four Seasons.

Kansas City is not a surprising stop. It’s the home base for his lawyers and his best friend, Ricky Kidd, also an exoneree.

Kidd and Johnson met in prison while serving life sentences in separate cases. They helped support each other through their legal battles. They are now doing “life” together on the outside.

Johnson said he’s getting used to new technology like phones and cars. He quickly passed his driver’s license test and bought a new-to-him car.

He smiles when he talks about just watching people walk around wearing different clothes and having mundane conversations which involve the present.

He’s enjoyed restaurants where a person can decide what they want to eat and loves being in nature. He’s even hugged a tree (there are no trees in prison).

“I haven’t seen a tree in 28 years! So, when I went to the park that day. It was such a beautiful day, and I saw that tree just went out and hugged it,” explained Johnson.

He hasn’t watched any television and expresses concern for how “plugged in” people are. He notices people pay more attention to phones than each other and vows he won’t slip into that technology abyss.

Johnson receives no compensation for the decades he spent in prison. A GoFundMe has raised more than half a million dollars and he’s floored by the generosity.

“I could never thank them enough. I’m extremely grateful to them. And I think it says a lot about how people feel about injustices. I’m really grateful for them for giving me that,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the support means he can catch his breath and figure out where he wants to permanently settle and find the right job for his skills. He has office work experience and worked in the law library while in prison. He also knows how to translate braille.

Someone gave him a book of the 100 top things to do in Kansas City, and he plans to give it a shot.

Johnson recently visited Jefferson City to thank lawmakers who changed the law allowing prosecutors the right to take old cases back to court. He feels more work needs to be done for exonerees like himself who receive less state support than parolees.

“The person who gets out on parole, he gets all these he has all these resources like transportation, housing, job, training, even employment. But the person who got out because he was exonerated, none of this available to him, and it just seems like the person who didn’t commit the crime has been criminalized,” he said. “And those who did commit the crime are rewarded in some sense. And it just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

Johnson is grateful to the team of attorneys who helped free him including civil rights attorney Lindsay Runnells with Morgan Pilate, Tricia Rojo Bushnell with the Midwest Innocence Project, pro-bono attorneys from Lathrop and Gage and the Saint Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office.

“I don’t know if people realize the amount of work that it takes. It took an army. It’s just scary. It’s scary. And if that’s what it takes for there to be justice, then there’s something seriously wrong with the justice system,” said Johnson.

For more wrongful conviction stories, click here.