Thursday, April 10, 2014

Innocent black man  freed after 25 years in jail

A New York man convicted of murder despite being at Walt Disney World in Florida at the time of the crime has walked free after serving 25 years in jail.

Jonathan Fleming, 51, had lost several appeals against his conviction for the 1989 murder of Darryl "Black" Rush but was finally freed as part of a wider review of unsafe prosecutions. A hotel receipt proved he was 1700 km away in Florida five hours before the killing, and police there had sent a letter confirming that hotel staff remembered him paying.

But prosecutors said the evidence - including a video showing that Mr Fleming was in Orlando with his mother on the day of the murder - was not conclusive, claiming he could have flown from Florida in time to commit the crime. They argued that the shooting, which took place in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, was motivated by a dispute over money.

A key witness to the crime, who placed Mr Fleming at the scene, recanted their testimony soon after his 1990 conviction, but he was not freed for more than two more decades.

Moments after his case was dismissed, Mr Fleming said: "I feel wonderful. I've always had faith. I knew that this day would come."

His mother Patricia, 72, who always maintained his innocence, shouted: "After 25 years come hug your mother." The two then embraced.

During the review of the case, lawyers discovered that prosecutors had failed to provide the defence with a hotel receipt and police letter, in apparent contravention of rules governing disclosure. Brooklyn's district attorney Kenneth Thompson said he had dropped the case because of "key alibi facts that place Fleming in Florida at the time of the murder".

The conviction came under the controversial watch of former district attorney Charles Hynes, who allegedly oversaw a number of questionable convictions.

Asked what he planned to do next, Mr Fleming said: "I'm going to go eat dinner with my mother and my family, and I'm going to live the rest of my life."

His alibi was simple: He was in Orlando at the time of the shooting, on a family trip to Walt Disney World.

During the trial, a woman who said she was an eyewitness, Jacqueline Belardo, identified Mr Fleming as the killer. Though she recanted what she said before sentencing, saying she had identified Mr Fleming in exchange for a dismissal of grand larceny charges against her, the prosecution contended that Ms Belardo was lying, according to the document.

In June 2013, the Conviction Integrity Unit began examining Mr Fleming's conviction after investigators and lawyers for Mr Fleming brought it the new witness statements. In November, the Unit turned over to the defence police logs that it had come across during its look at the case. The logs showed that Ms Belardo, the purported eyewitness, had been brought in after being found in a stolen van and charged with grand larceny. After several hours of questioning, she pointed to Mr Fleming as the killer, according to the defence document.

A little over an hour later, her charges were voided and she was released. Ms Belardo still stands by her recantation, according to the document.

The Conviction Integrity Unit also turned over the phone receipt. At 9.27pm on August 14, 1989, Mr Fleming had paid a phone bill at the Orlando Quality Inn, making it unlikely he could have made it back to Brooklyn in time for the 2.15am shooting on August 15. But the receipt was not a part of trial evidence. One of Mr Fleming's lawyers Tayol Koss said at Tuesday's hearing that Mr Fleming had asked about the receipt at the time of the trial and that a detective at the trial was questioned about the receipt and said he did not recall recovering it. Investigators found the receipt in the case file last year.

Other new evidence was a report from the Orlando Police Department, which had looked into Mr Fleming's alibi at the New York Police Department's request. The Orlando police interviewed Quality Inn staff members who remembered Mr Fleming. At the trial, the only witnesses to vouch for Fleming's presence in Orlando were family members.

It was the new documentary evidence that was most compelling in this case, said assistant district attorney, Mark Hale, specifically the receipt and the Orlando Police Department's letter. "We, in looking at the evidence, do not believe we have the present ability to retry the defendant. Nor will the office be able to retry him in the future," Hale said.

As part of their investigation, the defence and prosecutors then reinterviewed witnesses to the murder, and their accounts pointed to a different suspect.

"They're bringing my baby home," said Mr Fleming's mother. . An innocent man "did all this time", she said. "It was hard on him and it was hard on me."

Original report here




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