Advert

Innocent Man Accused Of Murder Cleared After 31 Years In Prison

Published 
| Last updated 

Innocent Man Accused Of Murder Cleared After 31 Years In Prison

A man who spent over 30 years behind bars for a crime he didn't commit has been released.

In 1990, a man named Francis McKinnon was murdered.

A year later, at the age of 23, Thomas Raynard James was sent to Florida State Prison for life for McKinnon's murder.

Advert

James has always maintained he is innocent.

However, it wasn't until 2020, when his friends began raising money for his defence and came across lawyer Natalie Figgers, that James' life slowly began to transform.

Thomas Raynard James maintained his innocence for the 31 years he was behind bars. Credit: CBS Miami/YouTube
Thomas Raynard James maintained his innocence for the 31 years he was behind bars. Credit: CBS Miami/YouTube

James was sent down for the murder of McKinnon because police were told by witnesses McKinnon had been robbed and murdered by a man named 'Tommy James' or 'Thomas James'.

Advert

McKinnon's stepdaughter is also reported as having told police she witnessed the murder.

James was subsequently convicted of murder in the first degree and handed a life sentence.

During his time inside, James claims he reached out to The Innocence Project in Florida. However, he said he was told they could 'not proceed with his case'.

Advert

He also argued his innocence by trying to file multiple motions but they were similarly rejected, he said.

James' attempts to appeal his case were reportedly rejected. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube
James' attempts to appeal his case were reportedly rejected. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube

Figgers – a business and personal injury attorney who had only been out of law school for two years and was weeks away from giving birth – agreed to read up on James' case in 2020, having been persuaded by his friends.

The attorney told ABC News: "Once I saw the evidence and reviewed the case, it was pretty clear that a mistake had occurred, and I was pretty flabbergasted that he submitted that many appeals and they didn't see the same thing… when you hear that it's just mistaken identity due to a name. How can somebody be wrongfully convicted just based on having the same name?

Advert

"I was a personal injury attorney, so I never dealt with criminal law. So I definitely want to make sure that it was something that I would be able to prove on his behalf [...] There were no other attorneys that were taking this case on at that time. So I felt like I had a duty."

Attorney Figgers took on the case because she felt like she had 'a duty' to. Credit: CBSMiami/YouTube
Attorney Figgers took on the case because she felt like she had 'a duty' to. Credit: CBSMiami/YouTube

The court was told how James' fingerprints did not match those found at the scene of the crime, according to Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

The case also reportedly lacked physical evidence.

Advert

What's more, according to Rundle, last month, the eyewitness – who's testimony was the residing factor which contributed to James being found guilty – retracted her account.

Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the case lacked physical evidence connecting James to the crime. Credit: CBSMiami/YouTube
Miami-Dade County state attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said the case lacked physical evidence connecting James to the crime. Credit: CBSMiami/YouTube

James told ABC News how being incarcerated despite knowing he was innocent was 'torture'.

"It's hard to even put into words, some of the things that I had to deal with and the feelings that I was dealing with for the last over three decades," he said.

However, despite how difficult it was for James 'going through these days [in prison] on a daily basis for something that [he knew he] didn't have anything to do with,' he said he 'never gave up' hope of being released.

Despite being incarcerated for so long, James said he 'never gave up hope' of being released. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube
Despite being incarcerated for so long, James said he 'never gave up hope' of being released. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube

Figgers is now seeking compensation for James through a civil wrongful imprisonment case, with an online fundraising campaign having also been set up for James by his family.

James said: "The list of things that I missed out on is long. For me, one thing that would mention is that I lost a lot of family, a lot of friends… they went to their grave with me still sitting in prison for a crime I didn't commit."

Noting how it felt to finally be released, James said he feels 'emotionally [...] overwhelmed'.

"I was not in a state of disbelief, because I knew this day was coming, eventually. I was looking forward to it. But emotionally I wasn't really prepared for it," he continued.

James admitted he feels 'emotionally overwhelmed' by his release despite not being 'in a state of disbelief'. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube
James admitted he feels 'emotionally overwhelmed' by his release despite not being 'in a state of disbelief'. Credit: CBSMiami/ YouTube

James now hopes to write a book about his experiences and become 'gainfully employed'.

He concluded by reflecting: "Injustice to anyone is injustice to everyone. So when people such as myself are crying out don't just brush them off and automatically call them guilty."

If you have a story you want to tell, send it to UNILAD via [email protected]  

Featured Image Credit: CBS Miami

Topics: News, US News

Poppy Bilderbeck
More like this
Advert
Advert
Advert

Chosen for YouChosen for You

Politics

Trump's final days in office under scrutiny as part of federal investigation

11 hours ago

Most Read StoriesMost Read

Anne Heche will be taken off life support after organ donor recipient was found

5 hours ago