CASPER, Wyo. — Andrew Johnson maintained for more than two decades that he wasn't responsible for a 1989 Cheyenne rape charge that landed him a life sentence in prison.
Then came the news Tuesday morning: Initial DNA tests confirmed his innocence.
Attorneys from the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center have already filed a motion in Wyoming’s Laramie County District Court for a new trial on Johnson’s behalf.
In the early morning hours of June 10, 1989, Cheyenne police received a 911 call from a woman who called for her neighbor.
When police arrived, they found the victim asking if "he" was gone. She told them she had been raped by Andrew Johnson, an acquaintance she had been bar-hopping with earlier that night. The two parted ways in a bar's parking lot, but the woman said Johnson returned to her apartment later. Johnson denied seeing the victim after she left the bar.
Authorities obtained the assailant's sperm, but blood tests were inconclusive and DNA testing was in its infancy.
Johnson was convicted of first-degree sexual assault and aggravated burglary in large part because of the victim's testimony.
The Innocence Center has been working on this case for more than 10 years, according to a released statement.
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“We are confident the Wyoming judicial system will do the right thing and exonerate Andrew,” Innocence Center Managing Attorney Elizabeth Fasse said.
Wyoming legislators in 2008 passed a law that guarantees post-conviction testing for inmates who meet various qualifications. Fasse believes Johnson will be the first to benefit from the statute.
In a previous interview, Wyoming State Crime Lab Director Steve Holloway said the case would be given high priority. Evidence typically goes into a 120- to 130-day queue to be tested if there is no court deadline or public safety concern. Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell ordered the tests on Feb. 8.
A hearing on the motion for a new trial has yet to be scheduled, the release states. Separately, the Laramie County district attorney can stipulate that Johnson simply be exonerated, Fasse said.
Fasse said she’s not at liberty to say whether Johnson will seek restitution if and when he’s exonerated. His plans are, first and foremost, to get out of prison, she said.
It is unclear whether the victim is aware of the new developments. In an interview with the Star-Tribune in February, Laramie County District Attorney Scott Homar said his office was attempting to contact her. Homar was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.
If Johnson is exonerated, he will be the fourth such inmate assisted by the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, which covers Utah, Nevada and Wyoming. Bruce Dallas Goodman was freed in 2004 and Harry Miller and Debra Brown were both exonerated in 2011. All were convicted of crimes in Utah.