Sidney Holmes was convicted and sentenced for a 1988 carjacking near Fort Lauderdale, but on Monday, March 13, he walked out of prison to regain his precious freedom.
Man jailed 400 years freed after serving 34 years as review exposes fundamental errors
After wasting over 34 years of his life in prison out of a 400-year jail term for alleged robbery, a 57-year-old man has now been freed following a review of the case which revealed fundamental flaws.
The process leading to his exoneration and freedom started in 2020 when he found a means to contact the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit while in jail to say that he was innocent of the crime.
Then a review of the case began, during which it came to light that his conviction was based on a flawed focus on his vehicle, a witness identification process rife with bias although he had a solid alibi.
Following Holmes’ release from prison, the Broward County prosecutor's office emphasised in a statement Monday that the man was wrongly jailed indeed.
“The State Attorney’s Office would not charge him today based on these facts,” the statement read in part.
Now a free man, Holmes hugged his mother outside the Broward County Main Jail and said he saw this day coming because he knew he was completely innocent.
“I never would give up hope. I knew this day was going to come sooner or later, and today is the day,” he said.
Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor lauded the officials who participated in reinvestigating Holmes’ case and helped him regain freedom.
“We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office — do the right thing, always,” he said in a statement.
Reports say: “In the summer of 1988, a man spotted Holmes behind the wheel of a brown 1970s-era Oldsmobile Cutlass in South Florida. Three weeks earlier, the man's brother and a woman were robbed by people in a similar vehicle, according to the Conviction Review Unit's final memo on the case, which was provided by county prosecutors.
“The man told his brother, the victim, about the car, and the victim told police. Police quickly zeroed in on Holmes, who had been convicted for his role as the driver in two armed robberies in 1984, according to the memo.
“In the June 19, 1988, robbery, the victim said an Oldsmobile stopped behind his car outside a convenience store and two people approached and took it at gunpoint, the review said. A driver stayed behind the wheel of the suspects' car, he said.
“The carjacking victims both described the person behind the wheel as relatively short and heavy. Prosecutors later said the person was Holmes. But Holmes was 6 feet, 183 pounds at the time.
“The vehicle, believed to be a 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass, was described as having a hole where its trunk lock would have been, according to the memo. Holmes' car had a trunk lock, it said.
“The Oldsmobile Cutlass was often a bestseller in the U.S. from 1976 to 1983, a historian at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum told investigators reviewing the case.
“The victim’s brother had been the target of a similar attempted robbery earlier in the day, he said, and the car was similar, the memo said.
“Holmes had six people willing to testify he was at his parents' South Florida home celebrating Father's Day when the crime took place, the memo said.
The case's reviewers, including the Conviction Review Unit, the Innocence Project of Florida and an independent review panel, also found fault with the witness identification process.
“The victim did not identify a suspect after having viewed a book of 250 possible suspects and after having viewed a six-photo lineup that included Holmes, they said.
“After that, the victim picked Holmes out of another photo lineup, pointed him out in a live lineup of suspects and pointed at him as the driver that day in court, according to the review. Holmes was the only person who was shown to the victim multiple times, it said.
“A contemporary expert decried the process, saying it was tainted by Holmes' repeated appearance, according to the review unit.
“The woman in the car was unable to identify any suspects, the reviewers said.
There was not a foundation for Holmes' prosecution, those involved in the reinvestigation and the review concluded. He cooperated with investigators because he had faith in his innocence, they said in the memo.
“There is no evidence tying Holmes to the robbery," the Broward State Attorney's Office said in its statement.
Prosecutors asked for 825 years because Holmes had previous convictions for armed robbery and because he refused to name nonexistent co-conspirators, reviewers said.
“The judge thought 825 years was excessive, so he went with 400, the memo said.
“A sheriff's deputy dispatched to the robbery, Kenneth Smith, said he barely remembered the case because there was so much crime at the time, according to the memo.
When he was informed of Holmes' 400-year sentence, Smith said: ‘I'm in utter shock. He got that for this case?’
“Last year, both victims told the unit they believed Holmes should be released from prison, the memo said.”
Meanwhile, Holmes said he does not intend to hold a grudge against those who arrested him and prosecuted him, instead, he wants to move on with his life.
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