BALTIMORE - Lamar Johnson walked into the sunlight and into the arms of his family this week after 13 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.
“I can't stop smiling,” Johnson told FOX 5 on Wednesday. “This feeling, it's amazing.”
The 33-year-old Baltimore man was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a 2004 shooting, despite a lack of physical evidence. An informant misidentified Johnson as the gunman who killed Carlos Sawyer in Baltimore.
While he was locked up, Johnson happened to see a poster for the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project and decided to write a letter.
“If you [don’t] got the right resources, it's hard to prove your innocence,” Johnson said. “There were times I thought I was going to die in there.”
“It really just struck home to me that Mr. Johnson was absolutely innocent from the start,” Benowitz said.
He said the hardest part of joining the case was knowing they might not be successful.
“To know that someone is innocent and sitting in prison potentially for the rest of their life, I mean, it kept me up many nights,” said Benowitz.
Johnson says in the years he has waited behind bars, his mother was the only one who never lost faith.
“At times, before the Innocence Project and before Mr. Benowitz took my case, it was like me and Mom, it was like us against the world,” Johnson said.
He says his mother, Kathy Taylor, was always there to reassure him when he was frustrated. It was just last week they found out their prayers had been answered.
“I can't even describe what I'm feeling,” Taylor said. “But I knew he was innocent and I knew he would return.”
The investigation by Johnson’s legal team revealed several witnesses who exonerated Johnson, and corroborated the trial testimony about the identity of the real killer. They also found information that undercut the testimony of the original eyewitnesses.
“I have been doing criminal defense work for 22 years and this is the highlight of my career,” Benowitz said.
After walking free on Tuesday, Johnson says when he woke up the following morning, he could not believe he was home. Instead of focusing on the years he lost, he says he is looking to the future.
“All I can do is just, now that I have got a second chance at life and have freedom again, [is] be a better productive citizen in society,” he said.
Johnson got his GED while incarcerated, something he does not think he would have done otherwise. He admits he was no angel before he got locked up, but is looking for a different kind of life now.
“I want to get my degree in business management and buy into the McDonald's franchise one day,” Johnson said. “I want to be an entrepreneur. And I also want to be an advocate for the wrongly convicted.”
There is no word yet on any financial settlement for his wrongful conviction.