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Mo. Inmate Freed on DNA Evidence

July 30, 2002

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CAMERON, Mo. (AP) _ A man who spent nearly 18 years behind bars for the rape of a college student was freed Tuesday after DNA tests cleared him.

Prosecutor Jennifer Joyce, who on Friday announced preliminary test results exonerating Larry Johnson, asked a judge to immediately release him after the final tests were completed Tuesday.

Johnson, 47, had no comment as he left the state’s maximum-security Crossroads Correctional Facility, about 50 miles north of Kansas City.

``He is very grateful and he’s looking forward to getting home,″ said Cheryl Pilate, one of his lawyers.

The St. Louis man was convicted of attacking a 20-year-old Saint Louis University student in her car. The victim said her attacker, armed with a knife, kept a sweatshirt pulled over his head but removed a scarf from around his face.

The victim was shown 140 mugshots and identified Johnson, then picked him out of a lineup.

A Missouri law enacted last year lets convicted rapists seek new DNA tests if the technology was not available when they were tried.

In announcing the preliminary DNA results, Joyce said Johnson had been ``horribly wronged″ when he was convicted and sentenced in 1984 to life plus 30 years for rape, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery.

``Absolutely, there is no way I can ever make this up to him,″ said Joyce, who had no role in Johnson’s trial. ``But I’m really relieved and gratified to uncover this miscarriage of justice.″

Joyce said she planned to ask police to reopen the case.

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, which has pushed for DNA tests for Johnson and many other prisoners, applauded the release Monday but accused Joyce of delaying Johnson’s tests.

The prosecutor said it took this long to free Johnson because she had initially been told that DNA evidence from his case had been destroyed.

But after a pipe burst in the basement of a St. Louis court building in February, workers salvaging evidence found bags from Johnson’s case, Joyce said.

Update hourly