05 June 2020 :
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court assured that Kareem Johnson will be exonerated from Pennsylvania’s death row when it ruled on May 19 that his reprosecution would violate the state’s double jeopardy protections. Johnson was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 (see HoC June 27, 2007) in the December 2002 shooting death of Walter Smith, 39. Johnson is also serving a sentence of life without parole for the February 11, 2004 killing of a 10-year-old boy, Faheem Thomas-Childs, during a gunfight that broke out as children arrived at school. The death sentence conviction was based upon evidence and argument falsely informing the jury that DNA evidence linked him to the murder. When post-conviction counsel for Johnson (lawyers Gregory J. Pagano and Marc Bookman) discovered the discrepancies in the Dna evidence, police and prosecutors claimed it had just been a mistake. The Philadelphia DA’s office agreed that Johnson’s conviction should be overturned but stipulated to its reversal in April 2015 based only “on ineffective assistance of counsel at the guilty-innocence phase of trial.” Prosecutors insisted at the time of the stipulation that Johnson “agree to withdraw all other claims … including claims alleging prosecutorial misconduct of District Attorney Michael Barry.” After obtaining additional discovery in preparation for retrial, Johnson moved to bar his retrial on double jeopardy grounds. In February 2016 the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office said it would not to seek the death penalty in the retrial of Johnson. On March 3, 2016 Common Pleas Court Judge Benjamin Lerner, in his final day on the bench, described the prosecution’s mishandling of the evidence in the case as “extremely negligent, perhaps even reckless” and called Johnson’s trial a “farce”. Although he said the evidence error was part of a "gross series of unimaginable mistakes by experienced police officers and experienced prosecutors", he allowed the retrial to proceed. But today the Supreme Court reversed the retrial, finding that the misconduct — even if not deemed intentional — was so severe that retrying Johnson would violate his constitutional rights. The court returned the case to the Pennsylvania Superior Court with directions to enter an order granting Johnson’s motion to bar retrial. He would be Pennsylvania’s eighth death-row exoneration and the fifth from Philadelphia. All five Philadelphia exonerations have involved official misconduct. The Supreme Court case is in Commonwealth v. Johnson.