After 18 years in prison, the American court overturns the not guilty sentence

Sheldon Thomas, 35, was arrested in 2004 for killing one teenager and injuring another.

Image bank/Pexelscrime scene - crime scene
The crimes took place in 2004 and the 35-year-old has been in prison since then

A judge of the District Court of Brooklyn, USA US, overturned, this Thursday, the 9th, the conviction of an African-American man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and who was convicted based on a photograph of another person. Sheldon Thomas, 35, was charged and sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing Anderson Bercy, 14, and injuring another teenager on Dec. 24, 2004, during a shootout in Brooklyn. New York. After ordering a new investigation 18 years later, District Attorney Eric González asked that the conviction be overturned and the charge dropped. Judge Matthew D’Emic agreed to the proceedings this Thursday and “Mr. Thomas walked out of court a free man,” a judicial source told AFP. In principle, the prosecution asserted that Thomas and two other people, all from the same gang, participated in the shooting. However, according to the evidence, only two guns were used to fire from inside a car. A witness even identified two people who were in a car, but neither of them was Thomas. However, a detective showed the witness a photo of another person, also named Sheldon Thomas, that existed in a police database. She recognized him as one of the shooters.

According to the new investigation, which took testimony from several witnesses, the police involved in the case were determined to arrest Thomas and used a flawed identification procedure as a pretext. At a hearing held in 2006, the existence of perjury over the photos was revealed, but the judge decided to continue the process, claiming there was probable cause to arrest Thomas, based on “anonymous complaints” and the fact that two names appeared the same. Before the start of the trial, the prosecution dropped the charges against one of the suspects. As the proceedings continued, the judge acquitted the second defendant, but Thomas was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and attempted murder. The new inquiry concluded that the accused was deprived of “due process at every stage” and that he was the victim of a “fundamentally wrongful conviction”.

He also pointed out that, despite the statements of the police, prosecutors, the first-instance judge and an appeals board, the accused and his name shown in the photograph do not match. The defense showed 32 black law students a photo of the accused, who is also black, and the one used as evidence in the first trial. Twenty-seven concluded that the accused Thomas was not the same as the one in the photo. Of the remaining five, one thought the person in the photo array was the accused. It is necessary “to have the courage to correct the mistakes of the past”, said lawyer González, willing to review old suspected cases.

*With information from AFP

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