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Man Serving Life Sentence Freed After 31 Years in Mistaken ID Case

After two men entered an apartment in the Coconut Grove section of Miami on Jan. 17, 1990, and one of them fatally shot a man during a robbery, witnesses and tipsters said the gunman was named Thomas James or Tommy James. That led the police to put a photo of Thomas Raynard James in a lineup, setting in motion a case of mistaken identification that led James, then 23, to be convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to life in prison, but always maintained his innocence. On Wednesday, a judge approved a motion by prosecutors to vacate James’s conviction and sentence, setting him free after he had spent more than half of his life — over 31 years — in prison, the New York Times reports. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said an investigation in cooperation with James’s lawyer, Natlie Figgers, determined that not only did reasonable doubt exist about the conviction, but also that “Thomas Raynard James is actually innocent of the charges.”

“In brief, what appears to be a chance coincidence that the defendant, Thomas Raynard James, had the same name as a suspect named by witnesses and anonymous tipsters as ‘Thomas James,’ or ‘Tommy James’” led to his mistaken identification as the gunman who fatally shot Francis McKinnon, prosecutors wrote asking for the conviction to be thrown out. Just before he was released on Wednesday, James, 55, still handcuffed and dressed in a red prison uniform, appeared at a news conference with his mother and prosecutors. He did not speak, but Figgers said he was “eager to start his life” and hoped to start a nonprofit to help others who have been wrongfully convicted.


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