A Wyoming man who spent 24 years in prison for a crime he did not commit is appealing a federal judge’s decision to throw out his lawsuit seeking compensation for alleged civil rights violations.
A lawyer for Andrew Johnson filed a notice of appeal this week with the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, the attorney announced Friday.
“We fight on,” attorney Robert Schuster said in a written statement. “Andrew Johnson’s case is the single greatest miscarriage of justice in Wyoming’s judicial history. We will ask the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals to finally reverse and correct this tragedy.”
A jury in Cheyenne convicted Johnson in 1989 of breaking into an acquaintance’s home and raping her. Johnson spent more than two decades in prison before a DNA test showed that semen collected from the alleged victim belonged to her then-fiance, not Johnson.
Johnson was granted a new trial in 2013, but prosecutors later dropped the charges and a judge signed an order declaring him innocent.
Despite this, Johnson has never received compensation from the state for his wrongful conviction and time in prison. Wyoming does not pay restitution to people who are wrongfully imprisoned, and attempts to change that have failed in the state Legislature.
“Mr. Johnson was wrongfully convicted and spent 24 years in prison, missing 24 years of freedom, missing the life of his daughter who was only 1 year old when convicted, missing the death of his mother,” Schuster said. “It is an unspeakable travesty, and an unspeakable tragedy.”
Johnson sued the city of Cheyenne in April, alleging that police officers there withheld information that led to his conviction. Specifically, his attorney alleges police officers either intentionally withheld or recklessly lost about 20 crime scene photos that could have been used in his client’s defense.
A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit in July on procedural grounds, including that many of the lawsuit’s claims had been raised in previous legal actions filed by Johnson.
However, his attorney said the earlier lawsuit was filed while Johnson was still a prisoner.
“It is ultimately unfair that Mr. Johnson should be denied his civil rights now — after he has been declared actually innocent and after the court acknowledged that he did not commit the crimes — because he filed cases decades ago without the benefit of a lawyer, without the benefit of scientific evidence, and without the support of Judge Campbell’s Order (of innocence),” Schuster said.