Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Justly Johnson

Other Michigan Exonerations with Innocence Organization Involvement
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/Justly_Johnson.jpg
Shortly after midnight on May 9, 1999—Mother’s Day—35-year-old Lisa Kindred was sitting in a van with her three children, ages 8, 2 and a newborn. She was waiting while her husband, Will Kindred, visited a relative to discuss purchasing a motorcycle.

After a while, Lisa became tired of waiting. She got out of the car, and walked up to the house to knock on the door. Will told her to go back to the car and that he’d be out soon. As Lisa walked back to the car, a man approached her. As she was getting back into the van, a shot was fired that shattered the glass of the door and wounded Lisa, who managed to get into the van and drive off.

She screeched away from the scene and pulled into a nearby gas station. She opened the door and fell to the ground. She was pronounced dead at the hospital of a single gunshot wound caused by a .22-caliber bullet.

Within hours, police questioned two young men—16-year-old Antonio Burnette and 23-year-old Raymond Jackson, both of whom were highly intoxicated on drugs and alcohol. Jackson, who had been treated for mental health issues and heard voices, was picked up about an hour after the shooting. Burnette was brought in about eight hours after the shooting.

Both implicated two other men—20-year-old Kendrick Scott and 24-year-old Justly Johnson—in the murder.

Burnette told them that Scott and Johnson told him in the hours after the shooting that they had intended to rob Kindred. Burnette said he saw Johnson and Scott pass guns to their girlfriends to hide in the trunks of their cars to be disposed of later.

Johnson, according to Jackson, said he had “hit a lick,” a phrase that had several meanings, including shooting dice or attempting a robbery, and that he “had to shoot.”

Scott was arrested about an hour after the shooting. Johnson was arrested later that day. Both were charged with felony murder, assault with intent to commit robbery, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

They were tried separately. In January 2000, Johnson went to trial in Wayne County Circuit Court and chose to have his case decided by Judge Prentis Edwards without a jury.

Jackson and Burnette both testified that Johnson had admitted involvement in the crime. Burnette repeatedly said that he saw Scott hide a gun in his girlfriend’s car after Burnette woke up from passing out in a car around 7 or 8 am. The defense attempted to impeach Burnette’s testimony by pointing out that Scott was already in custody at that point.

Kindred’s husband, Will, testified that the family had gone to a drive-in movie earlier on the night of May 8, 1999. On their way to their home in Roseville, Michigan, he stopped at a relative’s house to discuss buying a motorcycle.

He told the jury that Lisa was impatient. She came to the door once and then went back to the van. He said he later heard a car door slam and looked outside to see the van speed off. He said he saw a man whom he did not recognize run through an empty lot. He said that he chased him, but the man got away.

Johnson testified in his own defense and denied involvement in the crime. He described his movements during the evening—including spending time with Burnette on the night of the crime.

On January 12, 2000, Judge Edwards convicted Johnson of felony murder, assault with intent to commit robbery, and felony use of a firearm. He sentenced Johnson to life in prison without parole.

Scott went to trial in May 2000 before a jury. At this trial, the prosecution avoided questioning Burnette about seeing Scott hide a gun in his girlfriend’s car, and Scott’s attorney did not attempt to impeach Burnette based on his testimony in Johnson’s trial. A police officer who had testified at Johnson’s trial that he had seen Scott in custody at the police station at about 8:30 that morning—which also undermined Burnette’s testimony at Scott’s trial that he saw Scott hiding a gun around that time—was not called to testify at Scott’s trial.

On June 1, 2000, the jury convicted Scott of the same charges. He also was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2009, Scott Lewis, an investigative journalist in Detroit, began examining the case. In 2011, Lewis wrote a letter to Charmous Skinner Jr. who, at the time of the shooting, was Kindred’s eight-year-old son and had been in the van. Skinner was in prison when he received the letter after having been convicted of a drug charge. He also had a prior conviction for perjury.

Skinner said that he had seen the gunman because he was in the front seat when his mother was shot. He had originally been in a rear seat, but while they were waiting on the street, Skinner crawled into the front passenger seat to be next to his mother.

He said that he could not forget the man’s face. He described him as being in his mid-30s, having a heavy beard and a very large nose—neither of which fit the description of Scott or Johnson. The man was alone, Skinner said.

Lewis informed the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which had recently taken on Johnson’s case. Law students and a supervising attorney from the Innocence Clinic interviewed Skinner over the telephone and then visited him in prison. During the visit, he reviewed photographs, which included those of Johnson and Scott. Skinner said that the gunman was not in the photographs and signed a sworn affidavit.

The Clinic filed a motion for relief from judgment for Johnson in 2011, but Judge Edwards denied it without a hearing. The Clinic also accepted Scott’s case in 2012, and filed a motion for relief from judgment for him in 2013. Judge James Callahan denied that motion without a hearing. The Michigan Court of Appeals, in separate decisions, declined to grant the defense permission to appeal. In 2014, however, the Michigan Supreme Court consolidated the cases and ordered them remanded to the trial court for a joint hearing to determine whether Scott and Johnson were entitled to new trials on the basis of newly discovered evidence, and whether their trial defense lawyers provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to interview Skinner at the time of the trial.

The hearing was held over four days in April and May of 2015 before Judge Callahan.

Skinner testified that he was four months shy of his ninth birthday on the day of the shooting. Skinner said he had never been interviewed by police or the defense attorneys. He said that after his mother fell out of the van at the gas station, he crawled back into the rear seats with his siblings. All of them were screaming and crying.

Afterward, he said he basically “shut down” and assumed that police had apprehended his mother’s attackers. However, he said he would have cooperated with police and lawyers to help solve the case. He repeatedly refused to talk about it with his family.

Skinner testified that after he received a letter from the investigative reporter, he wrote back, saying, “I will never forget the person’s face, and if it is him, I will testify against him. But if it’s not, I would not mind testifying on his behalf.”

Skinner said he was “a hundred percent” positive that neither Scott nor Johnson was the gunman.

Lameda Thomas testified that she was a cousin of Raymond Jackson and that he had recanted his trial testimony on two occasions. She said Jackson, who died in 2008, told her in 2002 that he had lied because he was afraid of the police and prosecution. He made the same statement her to in 2006, Thomas said.

Antonio Burnette testified that he had falsely implicated Johnson and Scott. He said that neither Scott nor Johnson confessed to robbing or shooting a woman, and he did not see either of them with a gun on the night of the shooting or the next day. Burnette contended that police “whooped” on him during the interrogation.

Burnette said he was with Johnson on the night of the murder, and he believed that police considered Johnson a suspect. He said he was afraid he would be charged with the murder if he did not say what the police wanted to hear.

The defense also presented records relating to domestic violence complaints against Will Kindred. The reports, according to Clinic lawyers, outline “a series of violent domestic incidents between Will and Lisa Kindred, including one where Will assaulted Lisa and threatened to kill her whole family. On at least two occasions, police confiscated .22-caliber weapons from Will after such domestic incidents.”

In August 2015, Judge Callahan denied the motion for new trial. The judge concluded that the evidence show that Lisa’s murder was not the result of an attempted robbery that failed, but instead was likely a planned contract killing orchestrated by Will Kindred. The judge, however, said that that Scott and Johnson “may well have been the co-conspirators involved in this murder plot.”

In May 2016, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. However, in July 2018, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed and ordered that Johnson and Scott get new trials.

The court ruled that “newly discovered evidence of Skinner’s testimony in conjunction with the other evidence that would be presented on retrial would make a different result probable.”

On November 28, 2018, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office dismissed the charges, and Scott and Johnson were released.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 12/3/2018
State:Michigan
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Assault, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:1999
Convicted:2000
Exonerated:2018
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:24
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No