‘Justice demands’ new trial for death row inmate, Alabama district attorney says

A prosecutor in Alabama asked a judge Monday to order a new trial for a death row inmate, saying an investigation found the 1998 conviction was flawed and “cannot be justified or upheld.” to hold.”

Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr filed a letter expressing support for Toforest Johnson’s bid for a new trial. Carr has supported a new trial since 2020, but the latest filing details findings from a post-conviction review of the case.

“A thorough review and investigation of the entire case leaves no confidence in the integrity of Johnson’s conviction. The interests of justice require that Johnson receive a new trial,” Carr wrote in the letter.

Johnson has been on Alabama’s death row since 1998 after he was convicted of the 1995 murder of Jefferson County Deputy Sheriff William Hardy, who was shot twice in the head while working off-duty hotel security. However, Carr, who was elected district attorney for the county in 2018, wrote that the “evidence in this case has unraveled over 20 years.”

Carr said credible alibi witnesses place Johnson elsewhere at the time of the crime. He said there are several reasons to doubt the prosecution’s key witness, a woman who “claimed she heard Johnson confess to the murder during a three-way phone call she was eavesdropping on.”

Carr said the “physical evidence contradicts her story.” He said she was paid $5,000 for her testimony and had been a witness in several cases.

“The lead prosecutor now has such serious concerns about (her) story that he supports a new trial against Johnson,” Carr wrote of the prosecutor who led the case in the 1990s.

The filing was the latest development in the long-running legal effort to win a new trial in the case that has received national attention and is the subject of a podcast. Former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley, former Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, and several former judges and prosecutors filed briefs with the court or wrote editorials in support of a new trial for Johnson.

The current petition was filed in 2020 but was paused as other appeals played out in different courts.

The Alabama attorney general’s office did not respond to the latest filing. The office asked a judge in 2022 to dismiss Johnson’s petition: “Mr. Carr’s opinion that Johnson should get a new trial is just that, his opinion,” attorneys for the attorney general’s office wrote in 2022.

Johnson’s daughter, Shanaye Poole, said she is grateful for Carr’s support of her father in getting a new trial.

“Our hope is that the courts will agree with him. Our hope is that our family will finally be reunited,” Poole said. She said her father has always maintained his innocence. “We had to live in a nightmare for so long,” she said.

The Alabama Supreme Court in 2022 affirmed a lower court’s decision denying a separate request for a new trial. Johnson’s attorneys had argued that the state failed to disclose that the prosecution’s key witness had received a reward. The Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in May that Johnson’s lawyers had not established that the witness knew about the reward or was motivated by it.