07/26/2002 | St. Louis Post-Dispatch

DNA test clears man serving life for rape of SLU student
BY TIM BRYANT
Of the Post-Dispatch

A man imprisoned nearly 18 years in the rape of a St. Louis college student is likely days from release of a sentence of life plus 30 years because a new DNA test shows he is innocent.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced Friday the test results clear Larry Johnson in an attack against a St. Louis University student in January 1984. Joyce said she would file court papers next week to free Johnson.

Johnson, 47, has been in prison since September 1984, when he was sentenced to life plus 30 years for rape, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery. He is a prisoner at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Cameron, Mo. He was unavailable for comment.

"My heart goes out to Mr. Johnson," Joyce said. "Mr. Johnson has been horribly wronged. Absolutely, there is no way I can ever make this up to him."

Despite that admission, Johnson's lawyers criticized Joyce. They said she should drop "frivolous" appeals to DNA testing in additional cases of convicted rapists. Johnson's case is among those pushed by the Innocence Project, which seeks new DNA tests in sexual assault cases nationwide.

Barry Scheck, co-director of the New York-based Innocence Project, said Joyce was "personally responsible" for a two-year delay in freedom for Johnson.

"We have found she has been one of the most obstinate district attorneys in the United States, with respect to DNA testing," Scheck said. "By obstinately refusing to go along with testing ... she is getting in the way of innocent people getting out of jail.

"She deserves no credit for the case."

A jury found Johnson guilty of abducting at knifepoint a SLU student, 20, in the 3400 block of Lindell Boulevard. He was sentenced to life for the rape, consecutive 15-year sentences for sodomy and kidnapping and a concurrent 30-year sentence for robbery.

Joyce told reporters she had feared that DNA evidence in Johnson's case had been destroyed when a water line broke in a storage room at the Municipal Courts buildings. As it turned out, the evidence was elsewhere and undamaged in the incident Feb. 27, she said.

Scheck and another of Johnson's lawyers, C. John Pleban of St. Louis, said Joyce should drop her appeals to DNA testing in additional cases.

Reporter Tim Bryant:
E-mail: tbryant@post-dispatch.com
Phone: 314-621-5154