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Man wrongly convicted of murder freed after 18 years in prison

Man wrongly convicted of murder freed after 18 years in prison

"When I was in my cell, I would think of this moment"

A man who was wrongly convicted of murder has been freed after spending 18 years in prison.

Sheldon Thomas' case has once again highlighted the topic of wrongful convictions and issues in the US justice system.

The New Yorker, now 35, spent nearly two decades behind bars after he was mistaken for a man with the same name for the fatal shooting of 14-year-old Anderson Bercy in December 2004.

Thomas was among three men who were arrested over the homicide, which also led to a second teenager being injured.

Following a thorough investigation by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez's Conviction Review Unit (CRU), he was exonerated in news that was confirmed yesterday (March 9).

Sheldon Thomas (right) is now a free man.

The district attorney's office shared a copy of the CRU's report, which demonstrates how Thomas was arrested on the basis of a faulty witness identification.

At the time, the homicide case detective asked to unseal the information on a prior arrest to use Thomas' picture in a photo lineup.

Before receiving permission, they also obtained a photo of another Sheldon Thomas from a police database.

When showing the images to a witness, they identified the wrong man as being in the car during the shooting.

The office said the mistake was 'first concealed and then explained away during the proceedings', while a reinvestigation concluded that 'detectives were intent on arresting the defendant and used the faulty ID procedure as pretext'.

Sheldon was arrested after a witness identified a different man with the same name.

Other errors highlighted in the report include that the court credited the statement of a detective who 'falsely testified', it took on an identification witness 'despite serious problems' with their credibility, and 'defense counsel exacerbated these and other errors in myriad ways'.

Although these issues came to light at a pretrial hearing in June 2006, the judge in the case found that there was probable cause to arrest Thomas based on 'verified information from unknown callers' and that he resembled the real perpetrator in the photo.

Thankfully, the CRU investigation uncovered the truth and the injustice, with the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office stating: "It concluded that the defendant was denied due process at every stage, making his conviction fundamentally unfair."

Case detective Robert Reedy was also found to have 'repeatedly harassed' Thomas in the prior arrest, and witness’ identifications of Thomas were said to be 'prompted by the detectives'.

With all of the evidence showing the improper procedures, a court ruled Thomas to be innocent and he is now a free man.

Sheldon is now a free man.

Speaking in court, he said: "When I was in my cell, I would think of this moment and replay the conversations I would have with myself, what I would say.

"Right now, I'm speechless."

Prior to the exoneration, Gonzalez explained: "We must strive to ensure fairness and integrity in every case and have the courage to correct mistakes of the past.

"That is what we are doing in this case, where an extensive reinvestigation by my Conviction Review Unit revealed that it was compromised from the very start by grave errors and lack of probable cause to arrest Mr Thomas.

"He was further deprived of his due process rights when the prosecution proceeded even after the erroneous identification came to light, making his conviction fundamentally unfair.

"I am determined to continue doing this critical work whenever we discover a questionable conviction in Brooklyn."

On the news that Thomas' conviction had been overturned, Gonzalez took to Twitter to announce the news, adding: "This vacatur is part of my continued commitment to correct past injustices in our borough."

Featured Image Credit: @BrooklynDA/Twitter

Topics: US News, Crime, News, Police, New York