ST. LOUIS – Lamar Johnson entered a St. Louis courtroom on Tuesday afternoon, confident his prayers would be answered. After sitting behind bars for 28 years for a murder he said he did not commit, Johnson was greeted with smiles from St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner and attorneys with the Midwest Innocence Project.

St. Louis Circuit Judge David Mason entered the chambers shortly after 1:30 p.m. and, after making brief remarks, signed paperwork officially vacating Johnson’s conviction and making the 49-year-old a free man. Johnson buried his face in his hands and wept; tears of vindication.

Johnson was arrested and charged in the Oct. 30, 1994, killing of Marcus Boyd over a $40 drug debt. Boyd was 25.

Johnson was found guilty in July 1995, and in September of that year, he was given a sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole.

From his cell at the Jefferson City Correctional Center, Johnson has maintained that he was not involved in the killing. He claimed he was with his girlfriend the night Boyd was shot to death, except for a brief period when he was out selling drugs, which was blocks from the scene of the shooting.

For years, Gardner sought to toss Johnson’s conviction and have him released from prison. The Missouri Attorney General’s Office has long maintained Johnson’s conviction was fair.

After Gardner’s 2019 request for a new trial was turned down, she filed paperwork in August 2022 to revoke the conviction. The Midwest Innocence Project has been involved on Johnson’s behalf. In a 67-page report, Gardner said police and prosecutors made up evidence and secretly paid a witness.

Johnson was moved to the St. Louis County Justice Center in December 2022 while the matter was adjudicated.

During a hearing in December, the lead detective in the case said that there was no physical proof that Johnson was involved in the murder. In addition, the only person to identify Johnson as the murderer recanted his testimony.

Since Johnson’s conviction, two other men have come forward, admitting to Boyd’s murder.

Phil Campbell, the other man convicted in the killing, was sentenced to seven years on reduced charges for his cooperation in Johnson’s case. However, Campbell later signed an affidavit saying he and another man, James Howard, were responsible for the Boyd murder.

For his part, Howard, who is already serving a life sentence for other crimes, testified in that December hearing that he and Campbell decided to rob Boyd that night, and that Johnson was not present.