The Oregon Court of Appeal on Wednesday overturned the death sentence and death sentence for Jesse Lee Johnson, saying he did not receive adequate defense.
Johnson Johnson, 0, was sentenced to death in his Selim apartment for the murder of 2-year-old Harriet Laverne “Sunny” Thompson. Johnson has maintained his innocence for more than 20 years and has made multiple attempts to prove it.
He was given the opportunity on Wednesday when Judge Rex Armstrong wrote that during Johnson’s trial, his lawyer failed to search for evidence that could change the outcome of the case.
After Johnson was convicted, his lawyer learned that Thompson’s neighbor, who lived across the street from the victim, said he saw a white man enter the house at the time of the murder. But the lawyer representing Johnson, who is black, failed to include the neighbor’s testimony in his trial. Police also did not interview the neighbor.
Armstrong writes that this serious error and the “unimaginable performance” of his lawyers could affect the outcome of Johnson’s case.
Johnson’s lawyer, Ryan O’Connor, said in a statement: “Today’s opinion is a long-term step toward avenging a terrible injustice.” “The evidence in this case shows that racism and police misconduct played a key role in proving Mr. Johnson Johnson wrong in 2004.
“I am hopeful that now, in 2021, and taking advantage of this appellate court’s opinion, prosecutors will do the right thing and withdraw the charges against Mr. Johnson,” he said.
Marion County Deputy District Attorney Amy Quinn said the office will review the case to determine next steps.
Mother of 5 stabbed in brutal attack
After Thompson’s landlord discovered his body in 1998, Salem police officers determined that he had died as a result of multiple stabbings. His throat was cut, and his hands were covered with defensive wounds from trying to fight.
Investigators later learned that Thompson, a nursing assistant and mother of five, died of gradual bleeding.
At the time, Marion County Deputy District Attorney Darren Tweedt described the atrocity as “a slaughterhouse scene.”
Tweedt said Thompson’s residence was vandalized and his jewelry was stolen and drugs traded. He said some pieces were found in Johnson’s girlfriend’s home.
Johnson, who was arrested a week later, said he knew Thompson but denied killing him or going to his apartment.
It took Johnson six years to convict Thomson.
Johnson maintained his innocence during the investigation. Prior to the 2004 trial, he rejected the state’s application for first-degree murder and first-degree robbery.
The judge took six hours in two days to reach a unanimous verdict on March 1, 200: Johnson was convicted of serious murder in the Thompson stabbing case. He was sentenced to death.
There have been multiple attempts to prove Johnson’s innocence.
In 2016, Oregon Innocence Project attorneys Steve Wax and Britney Placer submitted a proposal to Marion County requesting 38 pieces of evidence for DNA testing and re-testing.
In a preliminary decision, Judge Channing Bennett rejected the offer. Wax and Plesser’s appeal against Bennett’s decision is pending.
“This is an important step in proving Mr. Johnson’s innocence,” Wax & Pleasure said in a statement Wednesday about the court’s appeal opinion. “He never hesitated to claim innocence. … We are glad that the court withdrew his sentence.”
Lawyers failed to interview the neighbor
In one of his arguments after being convicted, Johnson claimed that he had been deprived of the right to adequate and effective counseling because of the failure of his lawyer to interview Thompson’s neighbor Patricia Hubbard.
Hubbard was sitting on his porch on the night of Thomson’s murder, he said in a statement taken in a 2013 conviction case. He said he saw a white man driving and parked his van on Victim’s driveway, adding that the man had visited Thompson’s home many times before.
Within seconds, he heard screams and screams from inside the house, as well as sounds like pots and pans crashing inside. Then he hears a sound followed by silence.
The man came out the back door and ran, Hubbard said.
A few minutes later, he saw a black man walking down the driveway, though he couldn’t tell if he was coming from inside the house. When attorneys showed him pictures of Johnson almost 12 years after he was convicted of murder, Hubbard said he did not look like the man he saw that night.
A day after the murder, Hubbard went to a Selim police officer to explain what he had seen, but the officer told him he did not need help. He tried to tell police what he saw on another occasion but was told his statement would not be needed.
Hubbard said he would testify to what he saw in the trial.
In the appeal case, the defense argued that the six hours that investigators spent in canvassing around Thompson was sufficient and that initial police reports showed that no one at Hubbard’s address had any useful information.
Johnson’s lawyers argued that any “reasonable” defense attorney knew how important it was to interview residents in the vicinity of Thompson’s home and that it was unreasonable to stop preaching just six hours later.
At the time, after being convicted, the court agreed that lawyers had “failed to use reasonable skill” without interviewing Hubbard, but concluded that the outcome of the case was probably not affected by their “deficient” performance.
The court said the trial provided evidence that matched what Hubbard would testify and that there was a long time between the murder and his interview.
According to him on Wednesday, Armstrong disagreed with the court’s decision after he was convicted.
Armstrong wrote, “A reasonable investigation could probably find Hubbard and interview him, which would provide evidence and testimony that could influence the outcome of the trial.”
Contributed by Whitney Woodworth, Statesman Journal
Follow Virginia Bareda on Twitter bar vbarreda2.