After spending nearly two decades in prison for a brutal murder they did not commit, Justly Johnson and Kendrick Smith emerged into the cold Michigan air as free men thanks to a witness’ boyhood memory.
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday it was dropping murder charges against Johnson, 44, and Scott, 40, four months after the Michigan Supreme Court said the men deserved a new trial in the 1999 shooting death of Lisa Kindred.
A short time later, family, friends and supporters greeted Johnson and Scott with loud cheers and applause as they walked out of the Wayne County Jail with smiles on their faces.
Free at last: Kendrick Scott (left) and Justly Johnson (right) are seen walking out of a Detroit jail as free men after 20 years Wednesday
Scott, 40, is seen hugging his wheelchair-bound mother, Earnestine Smith, moments after regaining his freedom
Johnson, 44, embraces his mother outside the jail amid a large crowd of well-wishers and reporters
‘I feel great to finally be home after all these years,’ Scott told the jubilant crowd after embracing his wheelchair-bound mother.
He added that he has not lived, smiled or felt relaxed for 20 years, and now he can finally enjoy life and his newfound freedom.
The 40-year-old said he never lost faith that one day he would walk out of prison because he knew he was innocent.
Johnson and Scott were convicted of murder mostly on the testimony of two people, Antonio Burnette and Raymond Jackson, who were under the influence of alcohol and drugs on the night of the killing.
They later recanted, claiming that they were pressured into giving false testimony, according to the University of Michigan law school’s Innocence Clinic.
‘I’m just happy to be free,’ a beaming Johnson told the assembled press. ‘It’s amazing. It’s awesome. It’s wonderful. I’ve dreamed of this moment for 20 years.’
Scott (left) said he has not lived, smiled or felt relaxed for 20 years. Johnson (right) went on the offensive against the Detroit Police Department, calling the miscarriage of justice ‘sickening’
This photo shows Johnson and Scott with the University of Michigan attorneys and student attorneys who helped exonerate them through the Innocence Clinic
But before long, Johnson’s mood went from celebratory to enraged as he reflected on all the time he and Johnson had lost.
‘It’s a tragedy and it’s sickening that we had to suffer for 20 years in the first place for the mistakes of the Detroit Police Department,’ he declared.
Johnson also had a message for others who may find themselves in a similar situation.
‘I’d like to tell men that’s incarcerated, continue to fight, fight for what’s right, continue to pursue justice,’ he said.
Lisa Kindred, 35, was shot through the heart by a lone gunman while sitting in a van on Mother’s Day in 1999.
Johnson (left) and Scott (right) have been exonerated in the 1999 murder of a mother-of-three in Detroit after spending nearly 20 years in prison
According to court documents, investigators believed the mother-of-three was killed as part of a murder-for-hire plot.
Her son, Charmous Skinner Jr, was eight years old and also in the vehicle with his dying mother.
Lisa Kindred, 35, was shot through the heart on Mother’s Day in front of her three children as part of a suspected murder-for-hire plot
His recollection of the shooter – mid-30s, big nose, short hair – is different than the evidence offered at trial against Johnson and Scott, who were both in their early 20s in 1999.
Skinner, who is now 27 and lives in Pennsylvania, was never interviewed by police or defense attorneys, reported
Scott Lewis, now a private investigator, began investigating the case for Johnson when he was a
After listening to Skinner, a Wayne County judge had rejected a request for new trials, saying the boy probably was asleep in the van and that his testimony was ‘almost impossible to believe.’
Her son Charmous Skinner Jr, was eight years old at the time (left), and it was his recollection of the gunman that played a key role in Wednesday’s exoneration. Skinner is now 27 and lives in Pennsylvania (right)
But Michigan’s highest court in July of this year ruled said Judge James Callahan made the wrong call.
‘When considering Skinner’s testimony in its entirety, it is clear that his testimony is not wholly incredible,’ said Justice Richard Bernstein, writing for the majority.
In court Wednesday, Johnson and Scott, dressed in green jail garb, smiled broadly when it was announced that all charges against them have been dismissed.
Their families and friends were on hand in the audience to witness their exoneration.
Scott’s wheelchair-bound mother, Earnestine Smith, exclaimed: ‘he’s coming home!’