A Black man of New York who spent more than 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit has been freed from jail after prosecutors said a photo of another person with the same name led to his wrongful arrest.
Sheldon Thomas was convicted over the 2004 fatal drive-by shooting in Brooklyn of 14-year-old Anderson Bercy, whose real killer remains unknown.
Thomas, now 35, walked out of court a free man on Thursday after a judge approved a request by the Brooklyn District Attorney to vacate the conviction.
Eric Gonzalez, the Brooklyn district attorney, said in a statement that his office’s conviction review unit found that Thomas had been intentionally misidentified by police officers.
He added that Thomas’ prosecution “was compromised from the very start by grave errors and lack of probable cause” to arrest him.
“The defendant was arrested based on a witness identification of a different person with the same name — a mistake that was first concealed and then explained away during the proceedings,” he said.
“In fact, the reinvestigation concluded that detectives were intent on arresting the defendant and used the faulty identification procedure as pretext.”
The witness identified Thomas based on a photograph of another Sheldon Thomas that police officers pulled from a police database.
Based on her misidentification, police went to the defendant’s address and arrested him.
The same witness later identified Thomas in a lineup, effectively meaning she had identified two different people as the perpetrator.
The faulty photo identification came to light during a June 2006 pretrial hearing when Detective Robert Reedy admitted on cross-examination that the defendant’s photo had not been in the lineup.
The judge, nevertheless, found that there was probable cause to arrest Thomas based on “verified information from unknown callers” and the fact that he supposedly resembled the other Thomas, investigators said.
Thomas was found guilty of second-degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
He said he forgave the detectives, witness and prosecutors and thanked the judge as he quashed his conviction, ABC News reported.
“I’ve waited a long time,” Thomas told the court.