After 18 years in prison, the US court overturned the acquittal

The witness even recognized two people who were in the car, but neither of them was Thomas.

A Brooklyn District Court judge on Thursday overturned the conviction of an African-American man who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and was convicted based on someone else’s photo.

Sheldon Thomas, 35, was charged and sentenced to 25 years in prison for the December 24, 2004, shooting death of 14-year-old Anderson Bursey and wounding of another teenager in Brooklyn, New York.

After ordering a new investigation 18 years later, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez asked to overturn the conviction and drop the charges.

Judge Matthew D’Emic conducted the proceedings this Thursday and “Mr. Thomas walked out of court a free man,” a judicial source told AFP.

The prosecution assured in principle that Thomas and two other people, who all belong to the same gang, participated in the shooting. However, according to the evidence, only two guns were used to fire from inside the car.

The witness even recognized two people who were in the car, but neither of them was Thomas.

However, the detective showed the witness a photo of another person, also named Sheldon Thomas, who was in the police database. He recognized him as one of the shooters.


According to the new investigation, which took statements from several witnesses, the police involved in the case were determined to arrest Thomas and used a flawed identification procedure as an excuse.

A hearing in 2006 found false testimony regarding the photos, but a judge decided to proceed with the case, saying there was probable cause to arrest Thomas based on “anonymous complaints” and the fact that the two names looked alike.

Before the start of the trial, the prosecution dropped the charges against one of the suspects. During the trial, the judge acquitted the second defendant, but Thomas was sentenced to 25 years in prison for second-degree murder and attempted murder.

The new investigation concluded that the accused was denied “due process at every stage” and that he was the victim of a “substantially wrongful conviction”.


He also pointed out that despite the statements of the police, prosecutors, the first-instance judge and the appellate commission, the accused in the photo and his surname are not the same.

The defense showed 32 black law students a photo of the defendant, who is also black, and the one used as evidence in the first trial. Twenty-seven concluded that the accused Thomas is not the same as in the photo. Of the remaining five, one believed the person in the series of photographs was the accused.

It takes “courage to right the wrongs of the past,” said lawyer Gonzalez, to be willing to revisit old questionable cases.

© Agence France-Presse


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