Thomas Raynard James, considered at Florida’s Okeechobee Correctional Institution, used to be “repeatedly hopeful that in some unspecified time in the future any individual would explore the true fact and the facts and would attain to his protection,” his lawyer mentioned (Image: NYT/Octavio Jones)
Prosecutors mentioned Thomas Raynard James had the identical name as a suspect, ensuing in his wrongful conviction for execute in 1991. His conviction used to be overturned.
Prosecutors mentioned it perceived to be a “likelihood accident.”
After two males entered an house within the Coconut Grove fragment of Miami on Jan. 17, 1990, and regarded one of them fatally shot a particular person throughout a theft, witnesses and tipsters mentioned the gunman used to be named Thomas James or Tommy James.
That led police to position a photograph of Thomas Raynard James in a lineup, surroundings in motion a case of inaccurate identification that led James, then 23, to be convicted of first-level execute and armed theft Jan. 11, 1991. He used to be sentenced to existence in penal advanced.
But James never gave up attempting to point to his innocence. He investigated his case while in penal advanced, and his mother, Doris Exact, knocked on doors, taking a see for solutions, essentially based totally on James’ lawyer, Natlie G. Figgers.
On Wednesday, their efforts had been by some means validated when a think authorized a motion by prosecutors to vacate James’ conviction and sentence, surroundings him free after he had spent greater than half of of his existence — over 31 years — in penal advanced.
The Miami-Dade Instruct Legal skilled’s Situation of labor mentioned an investigation that it performed in cooperation with Figgers sure that no longer supreme did life like doubt exist within the conviction, nonetheless moreover that “Thomas Raynard James is truly harmless of the costs.”
“In brief, what looks to be a gamble accident that the defendant, Thomas Raynard James, had the identical name as a suspect named by witnesses and anonymous tipsters as ‘Thomas James,’ or ‘Tommy James’” resulted in his “inaccurate identification” as the gunman who fatally shot Francis McKinnon, prosecutors wrote in court docket papers asking for the conviction to be thrown out.
Moral earlier than he used to be launched Wednesday, James, 55, tranquil handcuffed and carrying a crimson penal advanced uniform, appeared at a news conference alongside with his mother and prosecutors. He did no longer discuss, nonetheless Figgers mentioned he used to be “desirous to open his existence” and hoped to open a nonprofit to reduction others who had been wrongfully convicted.
Figgers credited Tristram Korten, whose investigation of James’ conviction used to be printed in GQ in July 2021, with serving to to carry the case to the glory of prosecutors after years of unsuccessful efforts by James and his family.
“He used to be repeatedly hopeful that in some unspecified time in the future any individual would explore the true fact and the facts and would attain to his protection,” Figgers mentioned. “As of this day, he’s grateful that of us listened to his cries, and he’s valid grateful to occupy the opportunity to live his existence.”
Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade enlighten authorized skilled, mentioned the case pointed to the vulnerability of eyewitness identification. James’ conviction rested totally on the testimony of Dorothy Walton, McKinnon’s stepdaughter, who had been within the house and had identified James as the gunman after police build his photo in a lineup.
“I’m obvious of it,” she testified throughout the trial, essentially based totally on court docket papers. “I obtained’t ever neglect his face. I obtained’t ever neglect his eyes.”
No bodily proof tied James or any individual else to the crime, prosecutors mentioned.
Over time, Walton began to waver in her easy project about James, prosecutors mentioned. Although reluctant to rehash the case and afraid that James could perchance perchance perchance collect revenge on her if he had been launched, she at ultimate “voiced concerns that perchance she had made a mistake” and mentioned she “wouldn’t are seeking to transfer to her grave with the likelihood that she could perchance perchance occupy made a mistake,” court docket papers mentioned. She told investigators that, as a “compatible Christian lady,” she would pray on it.
On April 12, after prosecutors subpoenaed her to testify beneath oath, Walton told investigators that she “now believes she made a mistake” in her identification of James and that she did no longer attribute her trade to any “start air impression,” prosecutors mentioned.
Fernandez Rundle called it “an miserable inaccurate identification case.”
“Across the nation, eyewitness testimony, absent any forensic proof, is repeatedly inclined,” she mentioned.
Fernandez Rundle added that a sure man named Tommy James told investigators that he had been eyeing McKinnon’s house alongside with his cousin, Vincent Williams, for a imaginable theft within the days earlier than the execute.
That Tommy James, on the replacement hand, used to be within the again of bars when McKinnon used to be killed, she mentioned. Williams later told Tommy James that he and each other man had committed the theft and execute. Williams has since died. The opposite man has denied any involvement.
Whereas Fernandez Rundle called James’ free up from penal advanced a “joyous” event for his family, she mentioned it used to be frustrating for McKinnon’s family individuals “because what they believed used to be a right consequence for the lack of their loved one has been stolen from them.”
“We imagine considered one of the most 2 males who did this obtained’t ever be held accountable for the lack of their loved one,” Fernandez Rundle mentioned, referring to Williams. “The 2d, we’re valid no longer particular. We can proceed to behold at it as a frigid case.”
Michael [email protected] The Unruffled York Times Firm