A man who spent more than 18 years behind bars was freed Thursday after prosecutors vacated his murder conviction due to misidentifying witnesses and shoddy work by authorities, the Brooklyn district attorney said. , Eric Gonzalez.

Sheldon Thomas, 35, was one of three suspected gang members accused of killing 14-year-old Anderson Bercy and injuring another person on Christmas Eve 2004 in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. prosecutors said in a statement.

“Evidence indicated that two firearms were used and that the shooters were inside a white car. A witness initially identified two men she knew, which did not include defendant Thomas, as being in the car,» the statement said.

Thomas «was arrested based on a witness identification of a different person with the same name, an error that was first covered up and then explained during the proceedings.»

‘It’s not just my life that was torn apart’

In court on Thursday afternoon, Thomas’ attorneys and prosecutors joined his support to vacate the conviction.

Thomas, who was wearing a dark suit, thanked the judge and the «highest heavenly father» for guiding him through the entire ordeal.

Thomas, who was 17 when he was arrested, said he thought many times in his cell about how he would respond if he were ever released.

«I would think about this moment and repeat the conversations that I would have with myself,» Thomas said. «Right now, I’m speechless.»

But, Thomas did, in fact, find words. He spoke about what overturning his conviction would mean for Bercy’s relatives.

«I would also like to extend my condolences to the family of the victim,» Thomas said. “I think since my incarceration, they have been under the impression that justice was served for their son and they found out today, and all this time, they really had the wrong person who was convicted of killing their son. … And it’s not just my life that was torn apart by… the judicial error. They were too.

The case will not be retried, prosecutors said.

Investigating the conviction

The investigation into Thomas’ case was handled by the office’s Sentence Review Unit, prosecutors said.

They indicated that there was poor police work because a detective on the case asked to disclose the defendant’s prior arrest so that he could use his likeness in a series of photographs. The earlier case involved the defendant pointing an inoperable weapon at officers and resisting arrest, prosecutors said.

«Before that request was completed, detectives obtained a photo of another Sheldon Thomas from a police database,» prosecutors said. “They showed a matrix with that photo to the witness, who identified the wrong Thomas as being in the car with 90 percent certainty. Based on his identification, detectives went to the defendant’s address, not the address of the Sheldon Thomas whose photo the witness had identified, and arrested him.”

González, who was in court on Thursday, said in a statement: «We must strive to ensure fairness and integrity in every case and have the courage to right the wrongs of the past.»

Prosecutors said Thomas denied any involvement in the murder and the witness identified two different people as perpetrators.

The incorrect identification was not released until a pretrial hearing in June 2006.

‘It was my case, but they screwed it up’

Detective Robert Reedy, prosecutors said, initially identified the defendant as Thomas in the series of photographs and testified that he had never seen him before the arrest. But under cross-examination, Reedy admitted that he testified falsely and that the defendant was not in line.

Another detective testified that the defendant put himself on their radar based on an anonymous tip and also admitted that, when questioned a few days after the murder, the defendant had told them it wasn’t him in the series of photos, prosecutors said. .

Reedy said Thursday that he led the investigation and blamed the error that excluded Thomas’s photo from a line-up on a subordinate detective.

He also said that his department refused to pay him overtime to participate in that series of photos and said that no report was written to document how Thomas’s photo was not included in the initial photo list.

Reedy, who retired in 2007, said that because of that error, he testified believing the witness selected the correct Thomas. On Thursday, she said that men with the same name look alike.

«I was the scapegoat because I was the active detective,» Reedy said. “All the homicide cases I had, I handled accordingly. Never had a problem until this one because they thought about saving money. Saving money basically bit us in the ass.”

Despite Reedy’s claims that the two men with the same name look alike, prosecutors said The defense commissioned a study to examine that.

Thirty-two black law students were shown a photo of the defendant and then the series of photos. Of those, 27 concluded that the defendant was not in the series of photos, prosecutors said. Of the other five, only one thought Thomas in the womb was the defendant, according to prosecutors.

Reedy also blamed the prosecutors who initially handled the case for moving forward after the initial lineup of photos was botched.

Reedy said Thursday that he thought Thomas was guilty.

«If it wasn’t for the series of photos, I’d still be sitting in jail, guaranteed,» Thomas said. «It was my case, but they screwed it up.»

Despite the issues, the judge found there was probable cause to arrest Thomas based on «verified information from unknown callers» and the fact that he resembled the other Thomas in the series of photos, prosecutors said.

Reedy was later disciplined following an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau, prosecutors said.

other suspects

Before trial, prosecutors dismissed charges against one of the three suspects, whom the same witness did not identify in a lineup and because prosecutors thought he had a credible alibi, prosecutors said.

Thomas was tried with a co-defendant. The jury acquitted that co-defendant. Thomas was found guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder and related charges, and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, prosecutors said.

The prosecution’s investigation determined that due to «the series of erroneous photographs, there was no probable cause to make the arrest.»

The investigation also found fault with the way prosecutors handled the case.

«The prosecutor also improperly obtained testimony that the witness saw the suspect whose case was later dismissed shooting from the car, without the jury knowing that the driver’s case was dismissed.»

The investigation also identified «serious errors» by defense attorneys that were prejudicial and determined that court decisions were based on misrepresentations, prosecutors said.

The Conviction Review Unit has obtained 34 vacated convictions since 2014. The unit has about 50 open cases, prosecutors said.

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