Boston Globe
 October 20, 1982 

 Betsy A. Lehman and Joseph M. Harvey, Globe Staff 

 A 30-year-old Roxbury man who was sentenced to death and who spent 10 
 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit was freed yesterday 
 in Massachusetts Superior Court.

 All charges against Lawyer Johnson of Dorr street, Roxbury, were 
 dismissed, based on new evidence from a witness to a 1971 murder who now 
 says that Johnson was not the guilty man. The witness, who was 10 years 
 old when the murder was committed, says the real killer was the man who 
 testified against Johnson in two previous trials.

 Shortly before noon yesterday, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge James P. 
 McGuire accepted the recommendation of Asst. Dist. Atty. Thomas J. Mundy 
 that charges against Johnson, who was facing a third trial in the murder 
 of James Christian, 30, of Chelsea, be dismissed. The third trial was 
 ordered after the new witness came forward in 1981.

 Kenneth Meyers, the man who previously identified Johnson as the killer, 
 is now serving a long sentence in Walpole state prison for robbery and 
 refuses to testify again. Without his testimony, the prosecution had no 

 Dawnielle Montiero, a neighbor in the Mission Hill project, has said she 
 saw Meyers shoot Christian but was afraid to say so. Mundy has contended 
 that the long delay before Montiero's testimony and her friendship with 
 Johnson raised doubts about the reliability of her testimony.

 Christian, a reported drug addict, was shot twice in the face as he came 
 out of the doorway of a Mission Hill public housing project on Prentiss 
 street on Dec. 17, 1971. Johnson has said all along that he was not at the 
 scene, but in two trials could not prove it.

 The first trial, in 1972, resulted in Johnson's conviction for first 
 degree murder and Judge Wilfred J. Paquet ordering the mandatory death 
 sentence. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court set aside the conviction 
 and sentence in 1974 because Meyers, the principal prosecution witness, 
 had been allowed to withhold the identities of two alleged witnesses to 
 the shooting.

 A second trial in November 1974, at which Meyers again identified Johnson 
 as the killer, ended in a second degree murder conviction with a mandatory 
 life sentence.

 In 10 years, Johnson has been incarcerated at the Walpole, Norfolk and 
 Concord correctional institutions.

 In an interview yesterday in his mother's house, where he has lived since 
 he was released in February on bail, Johnson said that "anger destroys," 
 but still he is bitter about the legal system that twice convicted him, 
 once to death, and once to life in prison. He accused prosecutors of 
 manipulating both the jury and the testimony because they cared only about 
 getting a conviction, not about the truth.

 "It was a legal lynching," he said. The prosecution, he said, "fabricated 
 and conspired" with Meyers. Both juries were all white; the murder victim 
 was white, too, and Johnson, who is black, said the racial fears of the 
 jurors were played on by the prosecution.

 "I totally believed in the system of justice," he said. "My faith in the 
 system is gone."

 (Mundy, who was also the prosecutor in the original case, yesterday called 
 Johnson's release a "travesty of justice."

 ("We reluctantly dismissed the indictment because of the age of the case 
 and the unavailability of witnesses," Mundy told The Associated Press.)

 Johnson said he has little interest in voting, doesn't really feel "part 
 of the crowd," yet, but opposes capital punishment. "Two wrongs don't make 
 a right," he said.

 In prison, Johnson learned to paint, cook and to be a barber. He is 
 enrolled in a beauty academy now to learn to be a hairdresser. He hopes 
 the hairdressing will support him until he can make it as a serious 
 artist. Art is his passion, the one part of his life in which he said he 
 feels complete confidence.

 Perhaps most of all, however, Lawyer Johnson learned in prison to rely on 
 no one but himself, he said.

 "I am like an atom," he said intently, "that has direction entirely of its 
 own. I don't like to be attached."

 Maintaining aloofness from the depression and violence of prison and 
 thinking of himself as an observer, said Johnson, got him through the last 
 10 years. Sometimes he fasted for a week at a time, just to improve his 
 willpower, he said. He found he had to make something in his cell that 
 would make the bars and cement slab walls disappear from his 
 consciousness, he said.

 "I thought, what can I do? It had to be something creative, supporting, 
 life-giving," said Johnson, a tall, reed-thin man with close-cropped hair. 
 "Art was a form of escapism."

 Johnson said he learned how to paint and got his first supplies from the 
 nonprofit Massachusetts Prison Art Project. From then on, nearly every 
 day, he stroked brilliant colors of acrylic paint onto canvas. He said he 
 visualized scenes outside the prison walls and painted them.

 He has had paintings in some 15 art shows, and has won several prizes. 
 Some artists have told Johnson his work looks like that of Kandinsky. 
 Johnson, who read everything he could about art in prison libraries, said 
 he had never even heard of Kandinsky before.

 One of his favorite paintings, called "Atom," shows a single black figure 
 in an overwhelming, animated abstract jungle.

 Michael Fields, a spokesman for the Campaign Against Restoration of the 
 Death Penalty, said Johnson's case "is another illustration of the 
 injustice of the death penalty. If he had been executed, these new 
 developments would not have done him much good," Fields said.

 Johnson's lawyer Michael Avery of Boston said, "If he had been executed in 
 1972 we would have lost some of the beautiful art he has created."

 Clearly, what is most painful to Johnson is all that he missed. He said 
 his family, with six sisters and two brothers, would have had fewer 
 problems if he had been there. When he got out of prison, he was shocked 
 to find another generation of young people had taken his place.

 "So many things," he said, asked what he would have done with his 20s. His 
 quick, animated voice slowed and became quiet. "I would have married, had 
 children, my own apartment, a car. Everything a man needs to feel 
 adequate. I know I would have had it.

 "I can't make up for that."

 Johnson's priority right now is to earn enough money to move away, perhaps 
 to New York, Washington or California, where he wants an apartment of his 
 own. He thinks a new city will help him stop thinking about prison and may 
 afford more acceptance of his art.

 "I know if I get out of Boston, I'll get over," he said. "I haven't tapped 
 one-third of my creative potential. I believe I have a future."