A Wyoming man was cleared of a 1989 rape Friday when a district court judge dismissed all charges against him following post-conviction DNA testing that excluded him.
Andrew J. Johnson, 63, maintained his innocence from the start and served 23 years behind bars before becoming the first person to be released under a recent state law that allows people to challenge old convictions using DNA evidence, reported the Associated Press.
“It feels good that I got this straightened out at this time through the DNA,” Johnson said in an interview in the lobby of a Cheyenne hotel. Tourists in town for the annual Frontier Days rodeo milled around him as he described how he had refused to quit challenging his conviction.
Johnson’s attorneys at the
Rocky Mountain Innocence Center
have fought for his freedom for more than a decade and played a major role in changing the state’s law in 2008 to allow for post-conviction DNA testing, knowing it could help win Johnson’s release.
Jensie L. Anderson, legal director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, said Friday that the center is thrilled about Homar’s decision to drop the charges. “The DNA we believe showed that Andrew was innocent, and this was the right thing to do,” she said.
“The problem was, early on we recognized that there was DNA evidence that could be tested, but there was no way to get back into court,” Anderson said.
Johnson, who spent his time in prison as a law clerk, plans to bring a civil lawsuit against the state and hopes to find employment with a law firm.
Last week, the state Legislature’s Joint Judiciary Committee recommended approval of a bill that would compensate DNA exonerees $75 a day of imprisonment, up to a cap of $300,000. The pending bill wouldn’t be retroactive and would not apply to Johnson without special legislative action.
Johnson said he believes the state should take emergency action to compensate him. He said he doesn’t have money for a vehicle, insurance or other necessities. “If I was to walk out of here and die, my people couldn’t bury me,” he said.