Former Tennessee Death Row Inmate Walks Free After 27 Years

On June 1, former Tennessee death row inmate Erskine Johnson (pictured; now known as Ndume Olatushani) was freed after serving nearly 27 years in prison, 19 of which were spent on death row. Johnson, who maintained his innocence throughout the process, was sentenced to death for the 1983 murder of a grocer in Memphis. In 2004, he was resentenced to life in prison after the state Supreme Court found that prosecutors did not disclose important information to the defense. In December 2011, Johnson was awarded a new trial by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in light of new information indicating state’s witnesses may have been motivated to protect other suspects.  If the jury had known of this motive, it could have weakened the witnesses’ credibility, and might have resulted in a different verdict.  Johnson entered an Alford plea (a guilty plea in which the defendant accepts that the weight of the evidence would likely result in a guilty verdict, but still maintains his actual innocence) to second-degree murder, in exchange for a sentence of time already served.  Johnson is now 54, having lived half his life incarcerated.  Prison officials called him an exemplary prisoner.

(L. Buser, "Memphis man released after 27 years in prison," Commercial Appeal, June 2, 2012; see also Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Newsletter, June 6, 2012).  See Innocence, including a list of similar cases.  Listen to DPIC's podcast on Innocence.