Sentenced to death for a 1998 murder, Jesse Johnson consistently maintained his innocence for decades and was set free after the Marion County District Attorney's office requested the dismissal of the case. They cited the unavailability of critical evidence and the passage of time as reasons for their decision.
Johnson had refused a plea deal over the years and was sentenced to death in 2004, but Oregon had imposed a moratorium on executions in 2011. Last year, Governor Kate Brown commuted all 17 death sentences in the state and ordered the dismantling the execution chamber.
The Oregon Innocence Project, representing Johnson during the appeal process, pointed out racial bias as a significant factor in his wrongful imprisonment. Johnson's trial lawyers had failed to interview a key witness, Patricia Hubbard, who had seen a White man leaving the murder scene of Harriet "Sunny" Thompson, a Black nurse's aide. Hubbard's account contradicted Johnson's conviction, but her testimony was never considered.
These flaws were noted by the Oregon Court of Appeals when it reversed Johnson's murder conviction in October 2021. The state had also resisted requests for additional DNA testing that could have revealed other suspects, further deepening concerns about the case's integrity.
Upon his release, Johnson walked out of the county jail, greeted by supporters and a bright future ahead. Despite his freedom, Johnson was left with nothing from the state and had to rely on a GoFundMe campaign to support his fresh start.
Link: CBS News