Man Wrongfully Imprisoned Due to Lineup Mistake Released After 18 Years

35-year-old man Sheldon Thomas spent over 18 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit, and after 18 years behind bars he has been released and his conviction vacated, per CNN.

Thomas was only 17 when he was arrested and charged with the murder of a 14-year-old boy on Christmas Eve, 2004 in New York City, and he was sent away because an eyewitness identified him after they were shown a photo of a different person named Sheldon Thomas. At the time of his conviction, a judge in the case said there was still “probable cause” for the arrest and there was a close-enough resemblance between the men. His conviction was overturned, and the indictment was vacated on Thursday.

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Reversal Unit launched an extensive investigation into Thomas’ case, which led to his exoneration this week. According to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales, the case 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.”

In an appearance in court on Thursday, Thomas said he was “speechless” after waiting for this moment for years. He was one of three alleged gang members who were accused of killing the 14-year-old, Anderson Bercy, and detectives on the case used a photo of him from a gun arrest that happened months earlier. Police pulled a photo from the police database of a different man with the same name prior to obtaining the photo, and an eyewitness identified that photo. Authorities later went to Thomas’ address, but it was not for the man whose photo was actually identified. The eyewitness later identified him in a lineup, but was unaware the photo and the man in the lineup were two different people.

Thomas was found guilty for a number of charges including one count of second-degree murder, five counts of attempted murder and weapons charges. He was sentenced to 25 years to life. “Each of these errors, on its own, deprived defendant of a fair trial,” the report on the DA's Conviction Reversal Unit reads. “Together the errors undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process and defendant’s resulting conviction.”

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