According to CNN, a 35-year-old man named Sheldon Thomas has been released from prison and had his conviction vacated on March 9 after spending almost 20 years in jail for a murder that he didn’t commit. Thomas was wrongfully identified as the perpetrator after a mix-up in a photo lineup related to the New York murder.
Thomas was charged with the murder of a 14-year-old boy in 2004 when he was only 17 after an eyewitness identified him while being shown a photo of another person named Sheldon Thomas. The mistake allowed a judge to determine a close enough resemblance between the two different men, and Thomas was continuously investigated before being found guilty on one count of second-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder and weapons charges. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, and he’s spent 18 years behind bars since.
As reported by the DA’s Conviction Reversal Unit in Brooklyn, an in-depth investigation was launched into Thomas’ case, and a series of miscarriages of justice and errors made on the part of the justice system were uncovered. His conviction was deemed “fundamentally unfair” because he wasn’t awarded his legal due process even after the prosecutors were made aware of the grave mistake during the photo lineup.
The report released by the Conviction Reversal Unit read, “Each of these errors, on its own, deprived the defendant of a fair trial. Together the errors undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process and the defendant’s resulting conviction.”
The overturning of Thomas’ conviction revealed other information about the tainted investigation at the time. According to reports, Thomas was one of several New York gang members who allegedly killed Anderson Bercy, the 14-year-old boy. Detectives at the time used a photo of another man that was drawn from the database, whose name was also Sheldon Thomas, and that was the one that an eyewitness identified. After another man was identified, police went to the address of the recently released man and arrested him. The same eyewitness mistakenly said that Thomas and the other man from the photo lineup were the same people.