Womenz Magazine

US man freed from prison after wrongful conviction meets pen pal, 25 years on

Photograph: Christian Gooden/AP

Ginny Schrappen wrote to a guy who was incarcerated for a murder that he has consistently said he did not commit for over three decades because she trusted him.

She was rewarded for her belief in Lamar Johnson when a court in Missouri reversed his conviction earlier this year when it was discovered that the real murderer was someone else; as a result, the pen pals have now finally met.

The emotional visit at Schrappen’s residence was covered by CBS News late last week, with Johnson expressing his gratitude for the confidence his correspondent’s letters gave him while he was unjustly imprisoned for such a long time.

You want someone to believe in you, said Johnson to CBS, “especially when somebody is innocent.” “Because it’s harder to give up on yourself when you have people who believe in you and won’t give up on you,” she said.

In an interview that also provided a status report on Johnson’s activities since his release from prison made headlines across the country, Schrappen recalled how, about 25 years ago, a deacon at her church in the St. Louis region gave her a letter from a local man who was incarcerated and had written to the local diocese in hopes of receiving a response from a member.

Marcus Boyd was shot dead on his front doorstep by two masked men in October 1994, and Johnson had been found guilty of his murder. Despite Boyd’s protests of innocence and assurances that he was miles away with his girlfriend when the crime took place, police and prosecutors claimed that Johnson shot and killed Boyd during an argument over drug money.

Johnson responded to Schrappen’s letter, and they continued to correspond throughout the duration of Johnson’s unjust sentence. She claims that she has always felt Johnson was innocent.

Schrappen told CBS, “I’ve been called na├»ve before, and that’s OK. She continued by saying she was never concerned about those critics since she was certain that Johnson “wasn’t going to come and get me.”

Eventually, the Midwest Innocence Project became interested in Johnson’s case. A crucial witness in the case later recanted his testimony accusing Johnson and said that he, not Johnson, was the one who assisted another guy in killing Boyd. This information served as the foundation for the organization’s argument to have Johnson’s conviction overturned.

This witness attested that Johnson was not even there when Boyd was killed. Johnson was released from jail on February 14 when local St. Louis judge David Mason overturned his murder conviction.

The incident was a vindication for Johnson, who had submitted records requests from his jail cell, giving the Midwest Innocence Project a significant head start in pursuing his case. Because of Johnson’s case, Missouri legislators passed legislation allowing prosecutors to ask for a judge’s hearing in situations of suspected wrongful conviction. This law has already assisted in freeing another guy who was wrongfully imprisoned.

Johnson, 49, has been involved in a variety of activities since his release. Johnson’s desire to meet one of his closest pals for the first time was at the top of that list.

The 80-year-old Schrappen welcomed Johnson to her house and offered him a hug, a kiss on the cheek, a tour of her home, a box of his favorite cereal, and one more letter, according to CBS.

Johnson reading the letter was caught on camera by the network. The sentence included the phrase “You deserve the best, Lamar.”

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