“Fix this Mistake:” Justice for Toforest Johnson
On a Sunday last month, over 400 people filled Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, to support our client Toforest Johnson, who has spent the past 25 years on Alabama’s death row. Hours later, Mr. Johnson’s attorneys from SCHR, Berkeley Law Death Penalty Clinic, and Cardozo Law School filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that Mr. Johnson should receive a new trial. Both the District Attorney and the original trial prosecutor have also called for a new trial for Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Johnson was wrongfully convicted in 1998 for the shooting death of Jefferson County, Alabama, Sheriff Deputy William G. Hardy. No physical evidence was found linking Mr. Johnson to the crime. His conviction was based on the testimony of one witness who claimed she overheard a man on a three-way phone call identify himself as “Toforest” and confess to the crime. The witness had never met or spoken to Mr. Johnson. Attorneys for Mr. Johnson later uncovered that the State paid the witness $5,000 for her testimony — a fact the jury never heard.
Former Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers Jr. and former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley are among a chorus of lawyers, former judges, prosecutors, faith leaders, and community members, including three jurors who served on the case joining the call for a new trial for Toforest Johnson. The event at Highlands United Methodist was hosted by Elliot Spillers of Greater Birmingham Ministries, who is managing a statewide advocacy campaign on Mr. Johnson’s behalf that features a large banner installed outside churches across Alabama for two weeks at a time. The banner is emblazoned with the words: “It’s Not Too Late To Fix This Mistake.”