In a final attempt at getting an absolute pardon from Gov. Ralph Northam, a Black man who spent more than 20 years in prison for a robbery he didn’t commit came to Richmond on Friday to ask lawmakers for help.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe, at the end of his term in 2018, granted Messiah Johnson a conditional pardon because of the credible evidence he was innocent of a 1997 robbery at a Norfolk beauty salon.
Johnson was released from prison and has since started a trucking business and purchased a home. The real robber pleaded guilty.
He was disappointed that after four years, Northam didn’t grant him an absolute pardon, which would wipe felonies related to the robbery off his record, he said, and allow him to move on to the next chapter of his life.
The Innocence Project at the University of Virginia investigated the case, helped find the real robber, and calls Johnson’s case “a slam dunk on innocence.”
Johnson talked to several aides to lawmakers on Friday.
“I didn’t know any of the politicians personally,” he said. “Fortunately, I had the opportunity to fight for myself and so I decided to do just that by going there and bringing awareness to my case.”
One lawmaker, Del. Jackie Glass, D-Norfolk, issued a statement: “Given the evidence and the hard work of the UVA Innocence Project, Messiah absolutely did not commit this crime. We owe him, and he deserves, an absolute pardon.”
Johnson was joined by Darnell Phillips, who is also Black and was paroled in 2018 after the Innocence Project found DNA and other evidence to support his claim of innocence in a rape case in Virginia Beach.
Northam, who has issued more than 1,200 pardons in his term, leaves office at noon Saturday.