A 35-year-old man who spent nearly 19 years wrongfully imprisoned for homicide after detectives misled a witness into figuring out the flawed particular person, is now free.
Sheldon Thomas, who was convicted of killing a 14-year-old boy on Christmas Eve in 2004 in New York Metropolis, had his conviction overturned and the indictment vacated Thursday – years after an eyewitness recognized him after being given a photograph of the flawed Sheldon Thomas, in accordance with an announcement from Brooklyn District Legal professional Eric Gonzales.
When the botched identification got here out in courtroom on the time, a choose mentioned there was nonetheless possible trigger for the arrest and that the photograph had sufficient of a resemblance, Gonzalez mentioned.
Thomas was solely 17 when he was arrested and charged for the homicide, data present.
His exoneration adopted an intensive investigation by the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Reversal Unit, in accordance with the DA’s workplace.
Gonzales mentioned the case towards Thomas “was compromised from the very begin by grave errors and lack of possible trigger to arrest Mr. Thomas. He was additional disadvantaged of his due course of rights when the prosecution proceeded even after the misguided identification got here to gentle, making his conviction basically unfair.”
“There’s so many instances once I was in my cell I might consider this second,” Thomas mentioned in courtroom Thursday. “Proper now, I’m simply speechless.”
Thomas was one in every of three alleged gang members accused of killing teenager Anderson Bercy and wounding one other particular person, in accordance with the DA’s workplace.
Detectives requested to make use of a photograph of Thomas from a gun arrest months earlier so they may present an eyewitness as a part of an array of photographs, the DA’s workplace mentioned.
Earlier than they obtained that photograph, the detectives determined to drag a photograph from a police database that was the truth is of a unique Sheldon Thomas, in accordance with the workplace.
The eyewitness recognized that photograph within the array because the shooter, not realizing that it was the flawed Sheldon Thomas, in accordance with Gonzales.
Detectives went to Thomas’ handle – not that of the Sheldon Thomas whose photograph was truly used – and arrested him, in accordance with a report from the DA’s Conviction Reversal Unit. Two others had been additionally arrested in reference to the killing.
That very same eyewitness then recognized Thomas in a police lineup, not realizing that the photograph and the particular person she noticed within the lineup had been two completely different folks, Gonzales mentioned.
Throughout a pretrial listening to in 2006, the detective on the case admitted throughout cross examination that he used a photograph of the flawed Sheldon Thomas, admitting that he falsely testified, Gonzales mentioned. One other detective then mentioned Thomas instructed them he was not the person within the photograph, in accordance with the DA’s workplace.
At the moment, the choose mentioned there was nonetheless possible trigger due to the nameless suggestions, including that the photograph resembled Thomas, regardless of it being of a unique particular person.
Earlier than the trial began, costs had been dismissed towards the opposite two arrested for the homicide.
Thomas was discovered responsible of a slew of costs, together with one depend of second-degree homicide, 5 counts of tried homicide and weapons costs. He was sentenced to 25 years to life.
When he was given the possibility to talk earlier than the sentence was handed down, Thomas said yet one more time that he was harmless, in accordance with the CRU report.
Years later, the Brooklyn DA’s CRU re-interviewed the witnesses within the case in their very own investigation, in accordance with the DA’s workplace.
They decided that Thomas was denied due course of at each stage, making the conviction basically unfair, in accordance with the report. The CRU additionally decided that the detectives on the case repeatedly harassed Thomas after his gun arrest, which contradicted their testimony that that they had by no means even seen Thomas, in accordance with the DA’s workplace. The report additionally identified “prosecutorial missteps, and counsel’s failures.”
“Every of those errors, by itself, disadvantaged defendant of a good trial,” the report concluded. “Collectively the errors undermined the integrity of the whole judicial course of and defendant’s ensuing conviction.”
Since 2014, the unit’s work has resulted in 34 convictions being vacated. There are presently 50 open investigations, in accordance with a DA’s workplace spokesperson.
“We should try to make sure equity and integrity in each case and have the braveness to right errors of the previous,” Gonzalez mentioned in his assertion.
An legal professional for Thomas didn’t instantly reply to CNN’s request for remark.