PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — For nearly 25 years, Jesse Lee Johnson maintained he was innocent in a 1998 Salem murder. But he was convicted of stabbing to death Harriet Thompson and has spent more than 20 years in prison.
But Johnson and his attorneys won a rare appeal to overturn his conviction from the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Defense attorney Ryan O’Connor said Johnson’s original lawyer failed to interview a neighbor who said she saw a white man leave Thompson’s house after the murder on March 20, 1998. The Court of Appeals agreed with O’Connor that Johnson’s lawyers in his 2004 trial were ineffective.
“Mr. Johnson rejected a 15 year plea offer prior trial because he’s innocent, and if he had accepted that offer, he’d be a free man today,” O’Connor told KOIN 6 News.
He was convicted of aggravated murder and originally sentenced to death.
Johnson remains in the state prison in Salem. His release depends on whether he is re-tried or his case goes to the Oregon Supreme Court.
O’Connor said the real killer may still be on the streets.