- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Kansas City Star. March 4, 2021.

Editorial: Everyone knows Lamar Johnson is innocent. Why won’t Missouri give him a new trial?

Lamar Johnson has been in a Missouri prison for 26 years for a murder that the evidence, the real killers, and the reality that you can’t be in two places at one time all say he did not commit.

Prosecutors in the office that convicted him of shooting Marcus Boyd dead on his porch in St. Louis in 1994 now see it that way, too, and have filed a motion for a new trial. To which our criminal justice system once again this week said: So what?

Johnson has a standing 2 p.m. phone call with one of his lawyers, Kansas City attorney Lindsay Runnels, on every day there’s a court decision in his case. So when he got the news on Tuesday that the Missouri Supreme Court had ruled that St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner has no authority to petition a court for a new trial, how did he react?



“This one was tough,” Runnels said. But he’s like, ‘Lindsay, you sound terrible; you OK?’ As with a lot of these guys” who are in prison and should not be, “grace abounds.”

Which is inspiring, of course, though not as uplifting as some actual justice in response to Johnson’s actual innocence would be.

Gardner, as noted in the decision, points to minor matters like ”newly discovered evidence of innocence,” including the confessions of two other men who admitted to murdering the victim and stated Johnson was not involved; newly discovered evidence of perjury by material witnesses, including the sole eyewitness’s recantation of his identification of Johnson as the shooter and false police testimony regarding Johnson’s alibi location” and the state’s failure to disclose that the sole eyewitness was paid to identify Johnson.

OK, but what else you got?

The ruling has nothing to do with any of that. It looked only at “whether there is any authority to appeal the dismissal of a motion for a new trial filed decades after a criminal conviction became final. No such authority exists; therefore, this Court dismisses the appeal.”

The same Supreme Court that says current rules don’t permit such a thing has the authority to change those rules.

If they wanted to, Missouri lawmakers could also clear this obstacle to justice, with a law explicitly granting that authority to the circuit attorney.

And Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt could stop standing between Johnson and freedom, though he’s so interested in opposing Gardner that Johnson’s life seems beside the point.

Schmitt’s spokesman said the ruling makes clear “that the law does not allow the Circuit Attorney’s Office to file a motion for new trial almost 25 years too late.” The AG, his spokesman said, is only involved “to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and the proper procedure is followed, and that’s exactly what we did.”

FALSE POLICE REPORTS, FAKE EVIDENCE, PERJURY

If upholding the rule of law means upholding prosecutorial misconduct, secret payments in return for lies, falsified police reports and perjured testimony, then we need some new rules and new laws. Not to mention some officials who want to find a way to do the right thing instead of a way not to.

It isn’t as though this is a maneuver never before attempted by a Missouri prosecutor. St. Charles County Prosecutor Tim Lohmar threw out two rape convictions in 2018, after new information cast doubt on the guilt of the two men. “When I as a prosecutor have reason to believe that a conviction lacks integrity,” Lohmar said, “I have a responsibility to make it right.” Which is true, but apparently doesn’t apply to Kim Gardner. And under this ruling, how is any Missouri conviction integrity unit, like the one Gardner started, supposed to work?

The U.S. Supreme Court has never held that the U.S. Constitution allows for “freestanding” claims of innocence. So wrong as it seems - and is - innocence is not the “get out of jail finally” card that not having committed a crime should be.

(Get your governor to grant you clemency if that’s the case, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said in the 1993 majority opinion in Herrera v. Collins, which involved the innocence claims of a man who almost certainly wasn’t innocent.)

Now, Johnson will file a last-ditch petition for habeas corpus relief, which goes all the way back to the Magna Carta’s provision against unlawful imprisonment. Proving that you are being detained in violation of the U.S. Constitution is somewhere between extremely difficult and forget about it.

“If he gets a fair hearing,” Runnels says, “he will be exonerated.”

Our attorney general could make that hearing happen sooner or could delay it and then delay it some more. We wish which he’ll choose were more of a mystery.

___

St. Louis Post-Dispatch. March 6, 2021.

Editorial: Ignoring hypocrisy, Missouri lawmakers reach for any excuse to block wind energy

The Grain Belt Express is under attack again in the Legislature as conservative lawmakers insist that they cannot justify the taking of private rural land by eminent domain for an energy-transmission project. It is the exact opposite stand their side has taken regarding another massive eminent-domain property seizure for energy transmission: the Keystone XL pipeline. An arm of the pipeline runs through northern Missouri along a path parallel to the one the Grain Belt Express would use to carry electricity from Midwestern wind farms.

Conservative Missouri lawmakers have tried every justification possible to argue against the $2.3 billion Grain Belt Express. “This is about protecting the rights of property owners, Missouri farmers and ranchers,” said Rep. Mike Haffner, R-Pleasant Hill, who sponsored House Bill 527 to block a Chicago-based company from building the high-voltage energy line.

But when it comes to protecting the rights of property owners from having their land seized for the Keystone pipeline, conservatives are all for it. Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt was quick to condemn the Biden administration last month for revoking the Keystone XL construction permit granted in 2019 by the Trump administration.

Schmitt said Biden’s move “is a job-killing decision that will burden Missourians with higher energy bills. … This decision will also force the United States to increase its reliance on foreign energy sources, just as the United States was achieving energy independence.”

The irony here is that the Keystone pipeline would import dirty, high-sulfur Canadian oil to U.S. refineries. Canada would reap the oil profits, while the United States would get stuck with the refinery pollution. So much for increasing American energy independence.

The Grain Belt Express would be constructed with American labor to help transmit electricity produced 100% on U.S. soil through non-polluting wind turbines. But conservative opponents want nothing to do with it. Haffner has even asserted the project would ruin farmland because construction would “compact the soil.”

So why are conservatives fighting so hard to protect dirty foreign oil imports while trying to undermine a local project that would produce clean, renewable energy and generate local jobs? Look to lobbying and campaign money for answers. The fossil-fuel industry distributes it generously to politicians; the renewable-energy industry tends to put its money into saving the planet.

That influence leads some politicians to bizarre extremes. Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott actually tried to blame his state’s colossal electrical-grid collapse last month on wind and solar energy. In 2009, Rep. Joe Barton of Texas quoted a research paper asserting nonsensically: “Wind energy is a finite resource. At large scale, slowing down the wind by using its energy to turn turbines has environmental consequences.”

Eminent domain should always be a last-resort method to obtain land, regardless of a project’s merits. But sometimes it’s necessary for the greater good, which remains the case for the Grain Belt Express.

___

Jefferson City News Tribune. March 7, 2021.

Editorial: Failing schools should face consequences

When students fail, there are consequences at school and at home. What about when schools fail?

When students fail, there are consequences at school and at home. What about when schools fail?

Some argue there aren’t enough consequences, or even oversight, for underperforming schools. We agree.

One Missouri senator wants to change that. Sen. Cindy O’Laughlin, R-Shelbina, proposed a bill that, according to Missourinet, could close some underperforming K-12 public schools in Missouri.

The news agency reported Wednesday the proposal would apply to public schools “performing within the bottom 5 percent of schools for more than three years over a five-year period. Districts would be required to close these schools and transfer students to a higher-performing one within the district; create a partnership to open an in-district charter school; or reimburse a district or charter school for taking in the transfer students.”

Districts with more than two schools falling into the bottom 5 percent for more than two years would be classified as provisionally accredited.

O’Laughlin wants to require the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to publish online each year a list of Missouri schools performing within the bottom 5 percent of schools for more than three years and designate them as a “persistently failing school.”

O’Laughlin’s proposal, which is just one part of a much bigger education bill, has merit. It’s not perfect by any means, and there were concerns when it was heard in a Senate committee hearing this past week. For example, if a school district is woefully underperforming to the point it is closed, what options do the students/parents have? This could especially be problematic in rural areas. Such concerns need to be addressed.

Also, we believe school districts should not be judged exclusively against each other. While that could be a component, the state should generally evaluate districts according to set standards of performance, such as MAP tests.

Once a district is designated as “underperforming,” the state should immediately step in to work with the district to identify and fix the problems. Rewards and penalties could be given for how the district performs after that. Only after a pattern of failure over several years should a measure as drastic as closing a school be considered.

To its credit, the bill doesn’t prescribe a knee-jerk reaction and gives school leaders and boards of education the chance to improve.

But our state does need to be aggressive in getting underperforming districts back on track and move with a sense of urgency. Government intervention is often not the best answer, but in this case, it’s critical. Schools exist solely to educate students, and they have one chance to get it right. When they fail, they limit the futures of the students they’re tasked with educating. In the worst-case scenario, that condemns youths to a lifetime of hardship while limiting our society as a whole.

That’s not acceptable.

END

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