Jonathan Fleming was convicted of murder in New York in 1990. He was just recently exonerated and released after spending 24 years in prison for the murder he did not commit. The story has recently been reported on this blog with the Fox News story here. You can also read the CNN story here and the AOL story here.
Fleming had an alibi for the time of the crime. He was at Disney World with his family. The hotel staff remembered him, his family vouched for him, and he had a hotel receipt for a collect phone call from the hotel on August 14, 1989 9:27 p.m., which was just 4 1/2 hours before the shooting in New York. But despite all that, because he was identified by an “eyewitness,” he was convicted. Quoting the CNN story, “The prosecution … produced a witness who said she saw Fleming commit the crime.”
The reason that I wanted to highlight this particular case is because it’s yet another example of how eyewitness testimony, even though false or mistaken, will trump a solid alibi.
This is not a rare occurrence. Data from the National Registry of Exonerations shows that false or mistaken eyewitness identification is a contributing factor in 43% of wrongful convictions.
And to top it off, in this particular case, the phone call receipt was found in the prosecution’s case file, but was never produced – can you spell “Brady violation?” And — the “eyewitness” was offered a deal for her testimony, and then recanted 2 weeks after the trial; but of course, her recantation was not allowed by the court.
Does this stink, or what?! I’m tempted to launch into a much broader exposition on the failings of the justice system, but will save that for a future post on “the nature of innocence work.”