Philadelphia Man Is Freed After 34 Years in Prison

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Ronald Johnson, who had spent more than three decades behind bars, was freed on Monday after a Philadelphia judge vacated his sentence and reversed his conviction, officials said.

Judge Scott DiClaudio granted Mr. Johnson’s bid for post-conviction relief by doing so. Prosecutors informed the court that they would not pursue a new trial and moved to dismiss all charges, which the judge granted.

That, his lawyer, Jennifer Merrigan, said, meant Mr. Johnson was a free man.

“There’s no way that they could retry him because there is absolutely no evidence against him,” Ms. Merrigan said in an interview on Tuesday.

Mr. Johnson, 61, had served 34 years after he was convicted of the 1990 murder of Joseph Goldsby. The conviction had been based “solely on the false testimony of two witnesses,” the nonprofit public interest law firm Phillips Black, which advises incarcerated individuals, said in a statement.

The police had hidden evidence showing that Mr. Johnson did not participate in the crime, Ms. Merrigan said. She pointed to two witnesses who had given statements to the police after being interviewed multiple times, in which they said Mr. Johnson wasn’t present, and “actually identified a different person.”

“The police then hid that evidence, and so when he went to trial, the jury heard from two witnesses who said that he was there. But he and his lawyers did not know that these witnesses had given many other statements,” she said.

Ms. Merrigan said that “this kind of police misconduct has happened a lot in Philadelphia, and a lot around the country.”

“It is really unfair both to the people who get convicted and lose many years of their lives, but also to the victims, who don’t learn what really happened to their loved one,” she said.

After a Philadelphia judge vacated his sentence and reversed his conviction on Monday, Ronald Johnson hugged his son, Ronald Johnson Jr., left. His sister, Marian Johnson, is at right.Credit…Marg Maguire

Mr. Johnson, who had maintained his innocence throughout his years behind bars, said he had spent the first 24 hours of his newfound freedom taking a bath, shopping for clothes and getting a driver’s license. He enjoyed a big meal with his family, with rib-eye steak, shrimp and steak fries.

“I’m starting a new chapter, and I’m not rushing in,” Mr. Johnson said in an interview on Tuesday, noting that “these long years, they’ve been rough.”

“You might just cry at night,” he said, but “the next day you just got to pick yourself back up.”

Mr. Johnson, who will turn 62 this summer, said he thinks he’s “going to have two birthdays now.”

“The day I got out, and my regular birthday,” he said. “I think I’m going to celebrate them two days the rest of my life.”



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