Convicting the innocent

Imagine you are a 25-year old man living in Brooklyn in 1989. You go on vacation with your family to Florida for a couple of weeks. When you get back home you are arrested for a murder that occurred while you were in Florida. When you learn of the exact date and time of the murder you remember that you made a phone call from your hotel room in Florida very near to that time. You also remember that you have a receipt for your hotel bill that shows a charge for that phone call, along with the date and time you made the call. You believe that receipt was in your pocket when you were arrested.

You also have numerous family photos of your Florida vacation. Your family members all confirm that you were with them in Florida at the time of the murder. So when you are arrested you assume it’s all a mistake that will soon be cleared up and you’ll be released.

But that is not to be. You remain in jail until your trial in which the prosecution admits that you went to Florida with your family around the time of the killing, but argues that you have no proof you were in Florida the day of the murder. A woman you don’t know and have never met testifies she saw you commit the crime. Her testimony is the only evidence the prosecution presented against you.  The jury finds you guilty and you are sentenced to life in prison.

Your lawyer requested the hotel receipt before trial but the prosecution claimed they didn’t have it. Your lawyer cross examines the witness against you but the jury believed her.

Fast forward to the present. A team of lawyers in cooperation with the Brooklyn DA’s office conviction review team finds the hotel receipt in police records, time stamped and dated. It shows you made a phone call from your Florida hotel room on the day of the murder. The woman whose testimony convicted you has recanted and credibly says that she was on parole and facing prison for a parole violation. She now says the police and/or the prosecutor told her the parole violation would be forgiven if she testified that she saw you commit the murder. In a hearing in a Brooklyn courtroom this new evidence results in your conviction being overturned and you are released from prison. The Brooklyn DA says you will not be retried. You are now free at age 51 to live the rest of your life. Sorry about all those years, all those prime years of a man’s life between the ages of 25 and 50 that you lost.

This is the true story of Jonathan Fleming. This sort of thing has happened too many times in recent history. Nobody knows how many more lost souls like Jonathan Fleming are now rotting away in U.S. prisons for crimes they did not commit. DNA evidence is uncovering wrongful convictions at an alarming rate.  Over 300 at present.  Remember this story, and others like it you may already know of, if you’re ever on a jury. Be skeptical of the prosecution when the only evidence is an eye witness. They can be mistaken or just plain lying.  Demand to see other corroborating evidence that is likely to exist if the defendant is truly guilty.  The horror of cases like this is not only that an innocent man was convicted; the murderer got away.

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