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After Nearly 25 Years Behind Bars, Wrongfully Convicted Man Free

Mountain of evidence showing innocence kept buried

Photo: Michael Fleshman/cc/flickr

A man wrongfully imprisoned for nearly 25 years has been set free after buried evidence showing he was over 1,000 miles from the crime was unearthed.

Jonathan Fleming, who is black, was convicted of a 1989 Brooklyn murder, a crime he attested he couldn't have committed because he was at Disney World.

There was evidence to support Fleming's claim, but it was never turned over to the defense.

Joaquin Sapien writes at ProPublica:

Over the last year, investigators for Fleming and the [Conviction Integrity Unit] discovered a range of evidence casting doubt on Fleming's guilt and supporting his long-held assertion that he was in Orlando, Fla., visiting Disneyworld with his family when 22-year-old Darryl "Black" Rush was shot to death on August 15, 1989.

Investigators found a receipt showing that Fleming had paid a phone bill at a hotel in Florida just hours before the murder took place; an Orlando police report confirmed that several hotel employees remembered Fleming being there.

The team also found evidence supporting the claim that a key witness had only agreed to testify against Fleming to avoid criminal prosecution, unearthing a command log from the 90th Police Precinct showing the witness had been arrested prior to Fleming's trial.

None of that material was turned over by prosecutors at Fleming's original trial in the summer of 1990. Asked about the phone receipt, a detective testified that he had "no recollection" of it.

That the evidence wasn't turned over to authorities "could not have possibly been a mistake," said Taylor Koss, one of Fleming's lawyers.

"I'm finally a free man," said Fleming.

As for his plans now, Fleming said, "I’m going to have dinner with my mother and my family and I’m going to live the rest of my life."

"Though times have changed, and racial biases are no longer as overt as they were in the Scottsboro Boys days," writes Edwin Grimsley, a Case Analyst with the Innocence Project, "the criminal justice system is still marked by racial injustice and the discrimination still manifests itself in similar ways—through racial profiling, police misconduct, indigent defense, jury selection and more. Wrongful conviction cases reveal these biases well— both in individual cases and systemically."


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