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14 former judges, prosecutors urge new trial for Alabama death row inmate, citing 'irregularities' in conviction

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MONTOMERY, Ala. – A group of 14 former judges and prosecutors – including a former Alabama lieutenant governor and a former Alabama Chief Justice – urged a judge in Alabama’s Jefferson County on Tuesday to set a new trial for a death row inmate who was convicted of murder in 1998, though he was not linked to any physical evidence at the scene.

In two of seven friend-of-the-court briefs filed with the Jefferson County Circuit Court, the signatories wrote that the court should follow the guidance of Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, who said the court should grant Toforest Johnson a new trial amid questions about conduct in the first one. 

“The DA’s decision to vacate Mr. Johnson’s conviction is a heavy one made after an exhaustive investigation of the surrounding circumstances and irregularities leading to his conviction; this weighty decision should be given significant deference by the Court,” said one brief signed by former Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers; former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Ralph Cook; former Alabama State Bar President Bill Clark; retired Judge William Bowen and attorney Bobby Segall.

“To disregard District Attorney Carr’s decision would frustrate the exact duties he was elected to perform and further undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system,” the brief says.

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Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, Jr. stands out in front of the Alabama Supreme Court building Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 8, 2005.

Toforest Johnson’s conviction

A jury convicted Johnson in 1998 of the 1995 murder of William Hardy, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff.

Hardy was working as a private security guard at a Birmingham hotel when he was shot and killed in the hotel’s parking lot early in the morning of July 19, 1995. Police arrested Johnson and charged him with murder a few hours later. 

Toforest Johnson

No physical evidence linked Johnson to the scene, and Johnson, 48, maintains his innocence. A jury could not reach a verdict in the first trial, but a jury in a second trial convicted Johnson.

After the conviction, Johnson’s attorneys learned that a witness for the prosecution named Violet Ellison received $5,000 from the state after approaching the police in response to a reward offered. 



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