As a youth, I joined the local Police Athletic League to have something to do after school and to learn how to box. At first, I was so eager to learn everything that I had to slow down and exercise patience. My trainers taught me discipline, which brought about a calmness that I'd never known before. After a couple months of training -- and, eventually, sparring -- I fell in love with boxing and decided I wanted to become a fighter. Every day, I ran straight from school to the gym to join my friends and boxing family.
The time finally came when my coach said I was ready to fight. I got ten dollars from my family for the fee for my American Boxing Federation card, which I needed to fight in tournaments. My family saw I was serious about boxing and supported me. I entered my first junior tournament, won my first two fights, and then lost the third in the semifinals. That first loss crushed me. I took it hard and felt I had let my boxing team down. So I hit the gym with a vengeance, vowing to become the best I could be.
Within a year's time, I won my first "Kids Glove" tournament and a couple others. I guess tasting defeat gave me more energy, because I didn't want to endure it again. I began fighting more often. Our boxing team went to every fight card or tournament in the New York City area. So I had to stay in shape and be ready. What created the biggest fire in me was entering the New York City Junior Olympics tournament in 1987. I won and earned an invitation to represent New York City in the New York State Junior Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Senior fighters such as former Heavyweight Champion Riddick Bowe would also be there fighting in the adult U.S. Olympic Trials for a spot on the 1988 Olympic Team.
After three weeks of intense training, the time came for me to go to Lake Placid. My coach was not taking the trip, which meant I would have corner men I didn't know. My friend Brian O'Shea was going to fight, too. We boarded a bus along with the New York City Boxing Team. It was the first time I was ever away from home. All I had to do was win two fights and I would win the gold medal in my weight class. If I lost, I would be eliminated. My first fight was against a kid from New England. I won and advanced to the finals, where I would fight against a kid from Adirondack. I wound up winning the gold. The feeling of calling my mother and coach telling them I'd won was indescribable. Returning with the gold medal around my neck was priceless.
I went on to fight and win in numerous other fights and tournaments. A lot of my boxing teammates went on to turn professional. At the age of 22, my whole life would change for the worse when I was wrongfully charged with, and eventually convicted for a murder I had nothing to do with, nor even knew about.
For the past 19 years straight, I've been in the fight of my life -- literally fighting for my life. I briefly won my freedom in 2012 through a decision on October 5, 2011 by the Federal Third Circuit Court of Appeals. That was short-lived when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated my wrongful conviction without exercising normal procedures and allowing my legal team to file briefs or make oral arguments. You would think because I won my freedom on the grounds of insufficient evidence (equivalent to a "not guilty" verdict and barring a retrial), the U.S. Supreme Court would want to hear my attorney's perspective. But this was not the case.
I went back to prison to keep on fighting from the inside. After I turned myself back in, an all-out investigation by my legal team went into full effect. What they uncovered is not only shocking, but shows the lengths that the crooked detective and prosecutor in my case went to in their efforts to conceal my innocence. I've been maliciously prosecuted for nineteen years and counting. Before trial, the prosecution never turned over the first eight pages of my case discovery. Now, over nineteen years later, they finally turned these pages over to my attorneys. Now the PA Attorney General's office is blaming me for not finding this out sooner. Instead of doing what's right, they are denying that there was any wrongdoing against me and saying that my appeal is too late.
I've been a fighter since a young age, but never in a million years would I ever have thought I'd be fighting a life-without-parole sentence for a crime I never committed. This is something I'd wish on no one, even the people responsible for this nightmare. I've been living in hell for the last nineteen years and counting. I ask society as a whole to get involved in my struggle for justice. I'm one of many suffering actually innocent prisoners.
Lorenzo Johnson served 16 and a half years of a life-without-parole sentence, from 1995 to 2012, when the Third Circuit Federal Court of Appeals ruled there was legally insufficient evidence for his conviction. He remained free for 4 months, after which the US Supreme Court unanimously reinstated the conviction and ordered Lorenzo back to prison to resume the sentence. With the help of Michael Wiseman, Esq., The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, The Campaign to Free Lorenzo Johnson, and others, he is continuing to fight for his freedom. Sign his petition and learn more at: www.freelorenzojohnson.org/sign-the-petition.html.