Sheldon Thomas freely walked alongside his grandma for the first occasion in nearly 20 years on Thursday. He wore a suit and tie and had his long dreadlocks secured behind him. They left a Brooklyn courthouse to cheers and entered the real world.
Mr. Thomas, 35, had just heard as a prosecutor from the district attorney’s office detailed the lies, misdirections, and dismissal of employees by those in authority that led to a jury convicting him and sending him to prison.
He was found guilty and convicted to 25 years in prison for the murder of the a 14-year-old child, but authorities now contend he was not responsible for the crime.
On Thursday, Mr. Thomas hunched forward slightly as he listened, his eyes never leaving the wood panelled wall that surrounded him. Mr. Thomas hesitated before speaking when it was finally his turn, after the judge has declared them a free man.
The Authentic First-Hand Account, Straight From The Horse’s Mouth
As he addressed the court, he said, “I’ve endured a long wait for this occasion to happen, and there’s so many times when I was inside my cell, I could dream of this moment – what I was going to say, and who’d be there.”
Forgiving the cops, the prosecutors, and the judges who already had cost his half his life, Mr. Thomas stood in the center of the court building and said so.
Saying, Just as God is judging us right now, he said, “God will judge sinners, just as they ought to be judged.”
Being the 34th conviction overturned by the district attorney’s expanded conviction review team since 2014, this case exemplified the dangers of a flawed criminal justice system.
The team is part of a rising trend among prosecutors across the city and country to re-examine situations in which individuals may have been wrongfully convicted, including trials that depended on cops accused of official wrongdoing. They are now reviewing around 50 convictions.
Brooklyn’s district attorney’s office revealed in September that they were attempting to overturn 378 minor convictions that had been built on the testimony of 13 ex-police officers with criminal records.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office requested the dismissal of 188 misdemeanour charges dating back to 2001 in November.
The district attorney in Queens requested the dismissal of 60 cases in 2021 due to the actions of three detectives, while the district attorney in the Bronx requested the dismissal of 250 convictions that depended on the testimony of a single police officer who was previously suspected of lying.
Awards for police misconduct in the city of New York hit $121 million in 2018, an all-time high.
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Mr. Thomas’ Freedom Had Been Threatened By A Single Photograph
A witness identified a young Black male among six suspect photos in a 2004 East Flatbush shooting by selecting that individual’s photograph. The identification held up through more over 18 years of indictment, trial, and appeals.
The DA’s office, however, stated Thursday that the initial trial judge, investigators, and prosecutors all understood that the man pictured in the array was not the Sheldon Thomas that were looking for, but rather another man with the same name and location. And so they went forward anyway.
Mr. Thomas went before Judge Matthew J. D’Emic of the Brooklyn Judicial Branch on a Thursday afternoon.
“We do not have trust in the reliability of this conviction,” Charles Shanahan, chief of a review team, stated to attendees in the packed courtroom.
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Let’s Read The Prosecutor’s Statement
Notwithstanding claims made over the previous few years by police detectives, defense attorneys, the trial judge, and an appellate panel, the prosecutor’s office stated in its assessment that the guy in the photo arrays and Mr. Thomas need not appear alike.
In 2004, police showed a witness an identification photo of one Sheldon Thomas (on the right) and falsely arrested another Sheldon Thomas (on the left) in connection with a murder.
References…courtesy of the District Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn
Prosecutors said that Mr. Thomas’s race was factored into their analysis of a picture of Mr. Thomas, who’s really Black, conducted by 32 minority law students. Later, they examined the photographic grid. Twenty-seven of you guessed right that Mr. Thomas wasn’t there.
The district attorney, Eric Gonzalez, told reporters outside the courthouse on Thursday that nobody had won. After almost 19 years behind bars, Mr. Thomas lamented.
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He called the exoneration “the right thing to do,” and he stated, “I apologise again for role that our office has had in his incarceration.”
It was on Christmas Eve of 2004 when Mr. Thomas became involved in the case that would ultimately destroy his life.
Anderson Bercy, a young kid, was killed and a man was injured when someone in a car opened fire on a group of people at the intersection of East 52nd Avenue and Morris Avenue in Brooklyn.
The district attorney claimed that for months following Mr. Thomas’s arrest for waving an illegal gun at law enforcement officers, detectives “repeatedly harassed” him.
The article claims that after the murder, police focused down on him after acquiring a photograph of a man who had the same name. According to the report, the police influenced a witness to pick the wrong photo of Mr. Thomas and then arrested the right man.
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According to the report, Mr. Thomas told detectives that he’d been in Queens on the night of the incident, staying there until 3 a.m.