In the early morning hours of June 11, 1989, police in Cheyenne, Wyoming, received a call from a woman who reported hearing glass breaking in the house next door. Police arrived at the house to find a woman in the bathroom with all the lights in the apartment turned off. They turned on the lights and persuaded her to come out. In the apartment, they found an identification card for 39-year-old Andrew Johnson.
The woman, 34, said she had been awakened by the sound of someone banging on the door downstairs. She then heard glass breaking and a man came into her room, raped her and fled. She said the rapist was Johnson, whom she had been drinking with that night before leaving him at a bar and driving home.
Police went to Johnson’s home and arrested him and charged him with rape and burglary. His blood alcohol content was zero. Days later, the victim claimed she found a pair of glasses in the apartment and when police took them to the jail, Johnson identified them as his. Johnson admitted drinking with the victim, but denied sexually assaulting her.
Johnson went on trial in September 1989 in Laramie County District Court. The victim testified that she bumped into Johnson, who was an acquaintance of her fiancé, in a bar in Cheyenne. After the victim said her fiancé was out town and Johnson said that he had broken up with his girlfriend, they decided to go barhopping. But because the victim didn’t have her identification, they stopped at her apartment first, where they smoked marijuana that Johnson separated with his ID card. The ID was left behind in the box containing the marijuana.
After drinking at the Mayflower tavern, the woman vomited in the parking lot. Johnson went inside to get some paper towels, but when he came back out, the woman and her car were gone. Johnson waited a while, and then walked home. He later told police that as he walked, he saw police squad cars with sirens blaring and lights flashing drive past him.
The woman testified that she was awakened by Johnson yelling and banging on her door. She said glass on the door was shattered and Johnson came in and assaulted her. She said that she fought him and after about 10 minutes, the attacker said it was “not worth it” and left after raping her.
When the victim was taken to a hospital where a rape kit was prepared, her blood alcohol content was .14—over the legal driving limit.
During cross-examination, the woman admitted that Johnson had his glasses and identification cards while they were out drinking.
A crime laboratory analyst said that blood tests on semen recovered from the victim showed that Johnson was within five percent of the population that could have left the biological evidence.
On September 27, 1989, the jury convicted Johnson and he was sentenced to life in prison. The Wyoming Supreme Court upheld the conviction and sentence in 1991.
In 2008, the state of Wyoming enacted a statute providing prisoners with a right to petition courts for DNA testing in their cases. The Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, which had been working on Johnson’s case for several years, worked with prosecutors in Wyoming to help to draft the law allowing Wyoming prisoners to petition for DNA testing to prove their innocence. The Innocence Center discovered that the victim’s fiancé had engaged in abusive behavior toward her in the past and that Johnson’s defense attorney had never attempted to determine whether the fiancé was actually out of town at the time of the attack as the victim claimed.
In 2012, the Innocence Center filed a petition for DNA testing in Johnson’s case and the motion was granted—the first in state history. In 2013, the tests excluded Johnson. Further tests of the biological evidence identified the DNA profile of the victim’s then-fiancé, although at the time of the trial, the victim claimed she had not had sex with her fiancé for three weeks prior to the attack.
In March 2013, a motion for a new trial was filed and it was granted in April 2013. Johnson was released on bond on April 17. On July 19, 2013, the Laramie County District Attorney’s office dismissed the case. Johnson was granted an order of actual innocence. In April 2017, Johnson filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages from the city of Cheyenne. The lawsuit was dismissed four months later.
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.