Toforest Johnson Fights Death Sentence With Help Of Former Attorney General


In 1998, 25-year-old Toforest Johnson was convicted of a murder he has maintained that he did not commit. Twenty-three years later, he is still working to fight his conviction, but he now has the support of former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley.

Johnson's fight with the criminal justice system began in 1998 when he was charged with and convicted of murdering a sheriff's deputy in the greater Birmingham, Alabama area. With few clues and no eyewitnesses, authorities offered a cash reward for any information that could aid them in their investigation. Through their efforts, Johnson became a suspect for the murder because of an informant, who later admitted to being motivated by financial gain and changed her story multiple times.

During the first trial, defense attorneys provided an alibi for Johnson, but a hung jury left his freedom in limbo. After a hung jury ended his first trial, Johnson was convicted and sentenced to death row during a second trial. The driving force behind his conviction was not an eye witness, but rather a woman who claimed she heard Johnson tell someone over the phone that he killed the deputy.

"They had no evidence, no reason, no justifiable reason, to say this is our man," Johnson's cousin, Antonio Green, told NPR.

"There was no evidence pointing to him in the first place. It really opened my eyes to the fact that, unfortunately, the justice system is not equal," Johnson's daughter, Shanaye Poole, added.

Johnson is not only supported by members of his family. He is also supported by newly-elected Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr and former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley.

"I couldn't believe what I was reading. It was just unconscionable for this to stand," Baxley said after reading Johnson's case files for the first time.

"This lady that testified to that had never met Toforest Johnson. She had never heard him speak. She didn't, as we used to say when I was young in Alabama, didn't know him from Adam's house cat," he added, referring to the "ear witness" testimony from the second trial.

In support of Johnson's pursuit of a new trial, Baxley has gathered together a group of former prosecutors to form a petition formally requesting a new trial. A separate group of former judges has also issued a petition calling for a new trial.

"My hope is that Toforest Johnson will be the reason why the next man won't have to go through two decades behind bars for something that he or she didn't do," Poole said.


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