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Toforest Johnson, third from left.


Jefferson County DA: Toforest Johnson conviction “cannot be justified”

Johnson’s death sentence has attracted attention from several notable people, all calling for him to be released or a new trial granted.

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The Jefferson County District Attorney on Monday asked a circuit court judge to grant a new trial to death row inmate Toforest Johnson, pushing forward an effort to free Johnson that has been ongoing for nearly two decades and attracted national attention. 

As first reported by, Jefferson County DA Danny Carr filed an amicus brief with the court on Monday, detailing the findings of the county’s Conviction Review Unit that showed the “conviction and death sentence of Toforest Johnson cannot stand.” The decision to grant a new trial now rests with the circuit court. 

Johnson was convicted for the 1995 killing of Jefferson County Deputy William Hardy, who was shot to death at a Birmingham hotel where he worked security. Johnson has maintained his innocence since his conviction, telling police that he was at a nightclub in another part of town when the shooting occurred. Witnesses backed up Johnson’s story. 

However, Violet Ellison testified that she heard Johnson confess to the crime during a jailhouse phone call to Ellison’s daughter. Ellison had never met or spoken with Johnson when the alleged call was made, and Johnson’s defense team later learned that Ellison received $5,000 for her testimony. 

No other evidence in the case points to Johnson and even police initially doubted Ellison’s story and pursued another suspect. Police also charged Johnson and another man simultaneously with the crime. 

Johnson’s case has attracted attention from all corners, and he has a number of high-profile figures pushing for his release or a new trial. In addition to Carr, the original prosecutor of Johnson’s case has called for a new trial, as have former Alabama Attorney General Bill Baxley and former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Drayton Nabors. Kim Kardashian has made a public plea for his release, and several jurors from his case have advocated on his behalf.

Josh Moon is an investigative reporter and featured columnist at the Alabama Political Reporter with years of political reporting experience in Alabama. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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