A man recently freed from wrongful imprisonment has met with his pen pal after almost three decades.
Lamar Johnson, a man who wrongfully spent 28 years in a St Louis prison, met with the pen pal who helped keep his spirits raised during his imprisonment.
Johnson was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1995 and was finally released in February 2023. One of his priorities upon his release was to meet his pen pal, Ginny Schrappen, in person for the first time.
28 years in prison – Johnson was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1995
Johnson was convicted of the 1994 murder of Marcus Boyd after the latter was shot dead by two masked assailants at his home.
Despite providing an alibi corroborated by his girlfriend, Johnson was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1995. Coercive testimony from another suspect formed the basis for Johnson’s conviction. This other suspect was offered a reduced sentence in exchange for his testimony.
The Midwest Innocence Project – a nonprofit organisation that advocates for the exoneration and release of wrongfully convicted people – took on Johnson’s case and fought for his release.
After hearing testimony from a witness and from Johnson’s then-girlfriend, Erika Barrow, St Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner filed a motion to overturn Johnson’s conviction in December 2022. Johnson spent 28 years in prison before his release in February 2023.
Ginny Schrappen – Johnson’s loyal pen pal
After his conviction, Johnson wrote a letter to the local church, who passed it on to congregant Ginny Schrappen. Schrappen replied to Johnson’s letter, and the two entered a correspondence that would last throughout Johnson’s imprisonment.
Schrappen – a retired schoolteacher – said of her decision to reply to Johnson, “He was in prison for murder. I’ve been accused of being naïve before, and that’s OK. I wasn’t worried. He’s not going to come and get me”.
Schrappen also told CBS that she could tell that Johnson was innocent from the very start of their correspondence.
The first meeting – a hug, a kiss, and a box of cereal
Upon his release, Johnson set about enjoying the freedom that was denied him for so long. One of his priorities was to meet his pen pal in the flesh for the first time.
The 80-year-old Schrappen greeted the 49-year-old Johnson with a kiss on the cheek, a hug, and a box of his favourite cereal. She then led him on a short tour of her home before giving him one last letter in which she wrote, “You deserve the best, Lamar”.
Johnson credits Schrappen’s belief in him as his inspiration to get through his years of wrongful imprisonment.
“Especially when somebody is innocent, you want someone to believe in you,” he said. “Because when you have people who believe in you, and they won’t give up on you, then it makes it harder for you to give up on yourself”.
The Midwest Innocence Project set up a GoFundMe page to help with Johnson’s re-entry into society.