Thursday, 17 January 2008

Rickey Johnson freed in Louisiana after a quarter-century in prison

Innocence Project client Rickey Johnson was freed this morning in northwest Louisiana after serving half his life in prison for a rape he didn’t commit. DNA testing on evidence from the crime proved Johnson’s innocence and matched another man, who is serving life in prison for a rape committed in the same apartment complex as the crime for which Johnson was convicted. Johnson is the 10th person to be exonerated by DNA testing in Louisiana and the 211th nationwide.

Johnson, who was 26 when he was arrested and is now 52, was embraced by more than 30 family members after a judge fully cleared him at a hearing this morning. He had three young children when he was arrested, and a fourth was born shortly after he was incarcerated; all of those children are now adults, and he has grandchildren he’s never met. (Above: Johnson with his sister, left, and his niece, right. Shreveport Times photo by Vickie Welborn)

Johnson was wrongfully convicted in 1983 after the victim misidentified him in a deeply flawed photo lineup consisting of an eight-year-old photo of Johnson and just two other photos. Misidentifications — often due to suggestive lineups or procedures — were involved in more than 75 percent of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA testing. Since his wrongful conviction, Johnson has been at Louisiana’s massive state penitentiary at Angola.

He is free today because prosecutors in Sabine Parish where he was convicted cooperated with the Innocence Project in locating the evidence and seeking DNA testing. Other Innocence Project clients remain in prison, seeking DNA testing that could prove their innocence. East Baton Rouge District Attorney Doug Moreau has fought DNA testing in several cases for years. Tomorrow, Johnson will join other Louisiana exonerees at a press conference to call for statewide access to DNA testing and preservation of evidence.

Also tomorrow, Johnson will meet with the family of Archie Williams, an Innocence Project client in East Baton Rouge who has sought DNA testing for 13 years. Johnson, Williams’ family and Innocence Project Co-Director Barry Scheck will call on Moreau to end years of unnecessary litigation and finally consent to DNA testing in cases where it can prove guilt or innocence.

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