By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Lawyers representing Toforest Johnson, an Alabama death row inmate they say is innocent, filed a petition Monday to have Johnson’s case considered by the United States Supreme Court.
In 1998, Johnson was convicted of the 1995 killing of William Hardy, a Jefferson County deputy sheriff who was working security for a Birmingham hotel while off-duty from his official law enforcement position.
During Johnson’s trial, his lawyers said, the prosecution relied heavily on the testimony of Violet Ellison, who was paid $5,000 by the state for her account. Johnson’s lawyers found that the record of the state’s payment had been in a confidential file. An image of the check for Ellison is included in the lawyers’ petition on Monday.
Johnson’s Petition to the U.S. Supreme Court can be accessed here: https://tinyurl.com/444jr3cr
“The public cannot possibly have confidence in the system if the State of Alabama is permitted to execute Johnson when it paid its key witness $5,000 in secret and both the District Attorney and the trial prosecutor support a new trial,” Johnson’s petition states.
Numerous in the state and local legal community have expressed support for a new trial, including Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr, former Alabama Chief Justice Drayton Nabers, Jr. and former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley.
In 2020, Carr filed a brief supporting a new trial for Johnson. His request was joined also by the lead trial prosecutor in the case that placed Johnson on death row more than 20 years ago.
In the petition to the Supreme Court, Johnson’s lawyers also point to ever-changing legal theories used by the prosecution during the investigation and trial of Johnson, as well as Ardragus Ford, a man who was also prosecuted but acquitted for the same crime.
On Sunday, Greater Birmingham Ministries sponsored a gathering that featured members of Johnson’s family, as well as prominent supporters calling for a new trial.
The event at Highlands United Methodist Church, which was attended by more than 400 community members, was hosted by Elliot Spillers, who is managing a statewide advocacy campaign on Johnson’s behalf.
For more information visit toforestjohnson.com.