NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) – A man who spent almost a quarter-century behind bars for murder was freed Tuesday and cleared of a killing that happened when he was 1,100 miles away on a Disney World vacation.
Jonathan Fleming, 51, was in tears as he hugged his lawyers and family in a Brooklyn courtroom. Relatives said, “Thank you, God!” after he was freed.
“After 25 years, come hug your mother,” she said, and he did.
There was not a trace of bitterness in Fleming’s voice or his mother’s CBS 2’s Lou Young reported.
The father of four and grandfather spoke about his release outside court.
“How do I feel? I feel wonderful. I’m going to eat dinner with my mother and my family and I’m gonna live the rest of my life,” Fleming said. “I’ve dreamt about this many nights and I’m finally a free man. Justice has definitely been served today.”
Defense attorneys and prosecutors asked a Brooklyn judge to dismiss Fleming’s conviction in the 1989 shooting. A key eyewitness recanted, new witnesses have implicated someone else and a review by prosecutors turned up a hotel receipt putting Fleming in Florida hours before the killing, defense lawyers Anthony Mayol and Taylor Koss said.
“He is elated and stunned, while tempered by the fact that he realizes that this is just the first step in getting his life back,” Koss said before the hearing.
From the start, Fleming told authorities he had been in Orlando, Fla., when a friend, Darryl “Black” Rush, was shot to death in Brooklyn early on Aug. 15, 1989. Authorities suggested the shooting was motivated by a dispute over money.
“I testified. I testified, but they didn’t believe me,” Fleming’s mother Patricia Fleming said.
Fleming had plane tickets, videos and postcards from his trip, his lawyers said, but authorities suggested he could have been in New York at the actual time of the shooting, and a woman testified that she had seen him shoot Rush.
The eyewitness recanted her testimony soon after Fleming’s 1990 conviction, saying she had lied so police would cut her loose for an unrelated arrest, but Fleming lost his appeals.
The defense asked the DA’s office to review the case last year. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit thoroughly reviewed the case and recommended the conviction be tossed.
Defense investigators found previously untapped witnesses who implicated someone else as the gunman, the attorneys said, declining to give the witnesses’ or potential suspect’s names before prosecutors investigate them.
And the prosecutors’ review produced a hotel receipt that Fleming paid in Florida about five hours before the shooting – a document that police had evidently had since they found it in Fleming’s pocket upon arresting him, Mayol and Koss said.
“Today’s actions follow a careful and thorough review of this case, and based on key alibi facts that place Fleming in Florida at the time of the murder, I have decided to dismiss all charges against him in the interest of justice,” said DA Ken Thompson in a statement.
The exoneration, first reported by the New York Daily News, comes amid scrutiny of Brooklyn prosecutors’ process for reviewing questionable convictions – scrutiny that comes partly from the new DA himself. Thompson unseated longtime DA Charles Hynes last year after a campaign that focused partly on wrongful convictions on Hynes’ watch. Hynes had created a special conviction integrity unit to review false-conviction claims, but some saw the effort as slow-moving and defensive.
Thompson took office in January. In February, his office agreed to dismiss the murder convictions of two men who had spent more than 20 years in prison for three killings, saying newly discovered evidence had raised substantial doubts about their guilt.
Fleming’s attorneys call this a systemic problem. Their client is the fourth prisoner to be released under similar circumstances so far this year in Brooklyn. There are currently 50 cases under review by the Brooklyn DA’s office
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