Bobby Bostic speaks at a rally for Lamar Johnson just 33 days after his release from a life-long prison sentence.
On Monday, Bobby Bostic drove on a highway for the first time in nearly 30 years. He was on his way to the Carnahan Courthouse in St. Louis. There, 27 years ago, he received a 241-year prison sentence for a crime he committed when he was 16.
A newly passed law liberated Bostic
in November. Now, he has a car, spends time with family and experiences all the things he dreamed of experiencing while growing up in prison.
While he’s grateful for all the trappings of his newfound freedom, he says, his fight isn’t over. But this time, the fight is not his own.
Bostic with about 20 activists and exonerees gathered outside the Carnahan Courthouse in St. Louis yesterday to stand in solidarity with Lamar Johnson as a hearing to determine Johnson’s fate played out inside.
Johnson, 49, was found guilty in 1995 for the murder of Marcus Boyd in 1994. This week, St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner's office will argue two other men killed Boyd and a witness was coerced into identifying Johnson as Boyd's killer. In court on Monday, one of the two accused men, James Howard, confessed to killing Boyd along with his accomplice, Phillip Campbell.
Bostic says he "believes in his soul" that Johnson will be let free. He and Johnson spent about 20 years together in the same prison and became good good friends, Bostic says. They talked daily about getting the chance to leave — to live life outside of the “trapped environment” of prison where everything is always the same.
“Just being here is surreal,” Bostic tells the RFT
on the steps of the Carnahan Courthouse. He gestures to the courthouse behind him. “This where it happened to me, this is where I lost my freedom 27 years ago."
He adds: “To be here, to try to help him get out, is surreal. I wouldn’t be any other place. He deserves it.”
"There are other innocent people in Missouri prisons that need support," says Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. "We need to understand these things are systemic, they're institutional, and it's not just some blip in the system."
Johnson’s wrongful conviction case is one of many, his advocates say; but other than the sheer lack of justice, Johnson’s character in and of itself warrants a fight for his liberation.
Those who know Johnson described him as a sweet, soft-spoken person. He’s mentored younger inmates during his incarceration and helps take care of prison hospice patients, according to Michelle Smith, co-director of Missourians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Even before I looked at who he was in relation to this, Lamar could never do anything like this,” she says. “He is such a gentle and kind person.”
Among those who spoke in Johnson's favor was Rodney Lincoln. Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens commuted Lincoln’s sentence in 2018 after Lincoln, his daughter and the Midwest Innocence Project uncovered exonerating evidence in his case.
“First of all, Lamar is innocent,” Lincoln said while addressing the crowd. “How do I know that? I know Lamar.”
Lincoln and Johnson had spent time in prison together and searched for ways to find a way out, Lincoln recalled.
Rodney Lincoln speaks in support of Lamar Johnson on Monday. Former Missouri Governor Eric Greitens commuted Lincoln's two life sentences in 2018.
Upon his release from prison, Lincoln went skydiving
. He wanted Johnson to share the experience in some small way, so he wore a shirt saying, “This one’s for you, Lamar” as he freefalled toward the ground.
There’s a slight sense of guilt Johnson’s former fellow inmates feel as their friend continues to languish in prison.
It hurt Bostic to leave Johnson behind, he says. But Johnson is in “good spirits," which amazes Bostic. He recalls how difficult it was for him in prison, and he wasn't innocent like Johnson is believed to be. So he's taking time in the first few weeks of his freedom to fight for his friend.
“When you get away from prison, you just want to walk away and forget about it,” Bostic says. “But with [Johnson], you can’t forget about it because he’s still waiting.”
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