Thirteen years after being wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death in Philadelphia, Kareem Johnson has been exonerated. He’s the 170th death-row exoneree in the U.S. since 1973, and the third so far this year, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, which maintains a database of exonerations from death row.
Mr. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 as a result of official misconduct, false forensic evidence, and ineffective representation, DPIC reports.
The prosecution, police, and a prosecution forensic analyst falsely told Mr. Johnson’s jury that DNA evidence linked him to the murder. Specifically, they told jurors that the victim’s blood was found on a red hat that also had Mr. Johnson’s sweat on it. In fact, there was no blood on the hat and the DNA report on the sweat stain did not link the hat to Mr. Johnson.
After postconviction counsel uncovered this evidence, the Philadelphia district attorney’s office agreed in April 2015 that Mr. Johnson’s conviction should be overturned, but only based on ineffective assistance of counsel.
Mr. Johnson moved to bar his retrial. On May 19, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that the official misconduct was so severe that retrying him would violate his constitutional rights.
The state’s highest court ruled that Pennsylvania law bars retrial not only in cases of intentional misconduct but also where the misconduct “is undertaken recklessly, that is, with a conscious disregard for a substantial risk” that the defendant will be deprived of a fair trial.
The Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas formally dismissed all charges against Mr. Johnson on July 1.
Mr. Johnson is the ninth person to be exonerated from death row in Pennsylvania, and the sixth from Philadelphia. All six of the Philadelphia exonerations have involved official misconduct. Mr. Johnson remains incarcerated on unrelated murder charges, DPIC reports. His innocence claim on those charges is pending in state court.