Sheldon Thomas: After spending almost 19 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Sheldon Thomas has been exonerated of murder charges and set free.
Thomas was wrongfully convicted of killing a 14-year-old boy on Christmas Eve in 2004 in New York City, after detectives misled a witness into identifying him as the shooter.
According to a statement from Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzales, the case against Thomas “was compromised from the very start by grave errors and lack of probable cause to arrest Mr. Thomas.”
The witness was given a photo of the wrong Sheldon Thomas, leading to a botched identification and ultimately Thomas’ arrest and conviction.
Despite the erroneous identification coming to light during the trial, the prosecution proceeded with the case, making Thomas’ conviction fundamentally unfair.
Thomas, who was only 17 when he was arrested and charged, was one of three alleged gang members accused of killing teenager Anderson Bercy and wounding another person.
Detectives obtained a photo of Thomas from a gun arrest months earlier to show to the witness, but decided to use a photo from a police database that was of a different Sheldon Thomas. The witness identified the photo in the array as the shooter, not knowing that it was the wrong person.
Detectives then arrested Thomas at the wrong address, and the same witness identified him in a police lineup, still unaware that the photo and the person she saw in the lineup were two different people. During a pretrial hearing, the detective on the case admitted to using the wrong photo and falsely testifying, but the judge still found probable cause due to anonymous tips and the photo’s resemblance to Thomas.
Thomas was found guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder, and weapons charges, and sentenced to 25 years to life.
He consistently maintained his innocence, and years later, the Brooklyn DA’s Conviction Reversal Unit (CRU) determined that Thomas was denied due process at every stage, making the conviction fundamentally unfair.
The CRU’s investigation also uncovered repeated harassment of Thomas by the detectives on the case after his gun arrest, which contradicted their testimony that they had never seen him before. The unit’s work has resulted in 34 convictions being vacated since 2014, with 50 open investigations currently underway.
Thomas expressed his gratitude and relief at being released after almost two decades behind bars. “There’s so many times when I was in my cell I would think of this moment,” he said in court. “Right now, I’m just speechless.”
The wrongful conviction and subsequent exoneration of Sheldon Thomas highlights the need for a more just criminal justice system, where fairness and integrity are prioritized in every case.