A Black man in Oregon who was convicted of killing a woman and sentenced to death in 2004 had his conviction cleared after the decision was overturned two years ago.
According to WWAY TV 3, Jesse Johnson, who spent 25 years locked up for a crime he did not commit, has the satisfaction of officially being declared a free man. The Oregon Innocence Project was responsible for the latest victory after fighting for the freedom of Johnson. He has been declaring his innocence for years, even refusing plea deals to assert his innocence.
The organization stated on Wednesday, Sept. 6, that the state of Oregon committed a “heinous injustice” in the way it handled Johnson’s case. On Tuesday, the Marion County District Attorney’s office asked the Marion County Circuit Court to dismiss the case against Jesse Johnson. They made the motion stating that “based upon the amount of time that has passed and the unavailability of critical evidence in this case, the state no longer believes that it can prove the defendant’s guilt.”
The court did grant the motion and allowed the formerly incarcerated Johnson to walk out of the county jail on Tuesday. He had been at the jail while prosecutors were thinking of whether to do a retrial. Johnson was convicted of stabbing a nurse’s aide, Harriet “Sunny” Thompson to death in her Salem home.
“I’m happy and excited and ready for the next phase now. Been a lot of years for something I didn’t do,” Johnson said, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting.
The media outlet reported that the conviction was overturned in 2021 when the Oregon Court of Appeals said that his original defense attorney did not give Johnson adequate legal representation. He also failed to interview at least one key witness who told police officers that it wasn’t him who committed the crime. The neighbor, who was a former neighbor of Thompson’s, said that police officers dismissed her attempts to give them the information clearing Johnson.
She was told, “A n**ger got murdered, and a n**ger is going to pay for it.”
Both Thompson and Johnson are Black.
The Oregon Innocence Project started to work on DNA testing that was related to the case in 2014, to prove Johnson’s innocence through various pieces of evidence left at the crime scene. In a written statement, legal director Steve Wax said the Marion County District Attorney’s Office was more interested in “protecting its own reputation than with uncovering the truth.”
“Jesse Johnson walked out of jail last night a free man but has been left with absolutely nothing by the State of Oregon,” Wax also stated and said that Johnson did not even receive the small amount of “gate money” that is usually given to people leaving prison after they have the case dismissed.
“No resources, no support. We need the community to rally round Mr. Johnson now.”
A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Johnson out. So far, almost half of the $50,000 goal has been reached.