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After 43 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment, Johnny Gates Walks Free

After 43 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment, Johnny Gates Walks Free

We are overjoyed to share that on Friday, May 15, after 43 long years of wrongful imprisonment — 26 of which were spent on death row — Johnny Gates walked out of the Muscogee County Jail a free man. Mr. Gates was welcomed back to freedom by his loving supporters, including his attorneys with the Southern Center for Human Rights and Georgia Innocence Project.

Mr. Gates entered an Alford agreement with the State, in which he maintains his innocence of the charges, and the State agreed to his immediate release. Mr. Gates’ Alford agreement and release follows a recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court, which unanimously affirmed Muscogee County Superior Court Judge John Allen’s 2019 order vacating Mr. Gates’ convictions and granting him a new trial on the basis of new, exculpatory DNA evidence. Judge Allen’s order also found “undeniable” and “overwhelming” evidence of race discrimination in the prosecution’s tactics during jury selection. In order to obtain an all-white jury, the prosecution’s own notes labeled prospective white jurors with a “W” and Black jurors with an “N.”

After his release on Friday, Mr. Gates enjoyed his first meal as a free man (a chili cheese dog and strawberry milkshake from Steak ’n Shake) and he made his first purchase in nearly a half-century (a gently used straw hat with a wide-brim from the Salvation Army). Over the weekend, he went for several long walks, and learned how to take a selfie. The thing he enjoys most is sitting outside, rain or shine.

This hard-fought victory was brought about by the work of generations of attorneys and advocates over the past four+ decades. In addition to Mr. Gates’s attorneys, Patrick Mulvaney and Katherine Moss of SCHR and Clare Gilbert of Georgia Innocence Project, he has been helped and represented by some of our dearest friends and heroes: Ron Tabak, George Kendall, Gary Parker, and Mary Sinclair.

In Mr. Gates’s own words: “I’ve fought for 43 years for this day. I always had faith it would come, even when others weren’t sure. I am an innocent man. I did not commit this crime. I thank God that I am here, and I am happy to be free.”

Mr. Gates will have virtually no support from the State as he transitions into his newfound freedom. By contributing to this MightyCause Fundraiser, you will help build a foundation of support as he rebuilds his life from scratch. Any amount will help him manage basic living expenses, connect with support resources, and better position him to handle the unique challenges posed by re-entry in the midst of a pandemic.