Long-imprisoned Brooklyn man Sheldon Thomas is released after nearly 20 years over a lineup of fake photos
A Brooklyn man wrongfully jailed for 19 years based on incomplete identification from a series of photographs was due to appear in court Thursday for a hearing to free him, the Brooklyn district attorney announced.
Sheldon Thomas, 35, was expected to appear in court after an investigation by the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit determined that he was wrongly convicted of the murder of a 14-year-old boy on Christmas Eve in 2004, District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said.
Authorities have found that Thomas was arrested and jailed despite the identification of a set of photos that did not include one of him, and an NYPD detective has also admitted that he falsely testified that Thomas was in the array shown to a witness.
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 process,” Gonzalez said.
He was one of three suspected gang members arrested for killing teenager Anderson Bercy and wounding a second person in East Flatbush. The shooters fled the scene in a white car and a witness identified the other two men but not Thomas, authorities said.
According to the district attorney, Thomas was arrested despite the misidentification and his plea of not guilty. A detective in the case said an anonymous tip led investigators to Thomas, adding that the defendant actually told police the photo shown to witnesses was not him.
However, a Brooklyn judge ruled there was probable cause to arrest Thomas based on information from “unknown callers” and his resemblance to the other Sheldon Thomas, according to Gonzalez.
One of the officers involved in the case was later disciplined by the police Internal Affairs Office, while charges against a co-defendant were dropped and a second suspect who allegedly threatened the victims two days before the shooting was acquitted at trial. .
The new investigation found that Thomas “was denied due process at every stage, making his conviction fundamentally unfair.” He was found guilty of murder, attempted murder and other charges before being handed a 25-year to life sentence.
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The CRU decision found that “the errors undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process and the defendant’s resulting conviction,” added that the case cannot be retried, and called for the dismissal of the underlying charge.
A hearing in the case was set for Thursday afternoon. The dismissal would be the 34th conviction vacated after further investigation by the unit, though the victim’s aunt disputed the prosecutors’ decision.
“That’s so unfortunate,” Edelyne Bercy, 58, told the Daily News. “That’s really unfortunate… Her mother and father handled the court. I don’t know. Justice has to be served somehow.”
She remembered her nephew, shot a block from her house, dead on the steps outside her house. The victim was born in Haiti and immigrated to New York with her family to find a better life.
“We come for opportunities, to receive an education,” said the aunt. “I was very surprised when she died. It’s something I will never, ever forget.”
But González made it clear that the case against Thomas was deeply flawed and put the wrong man behind bars.
The prosecution was “compromised from the beginning by serious errors and a lack of probable cause to arrest Mr. Thomas,” González said. “He was further deprived of his due process rights when the prosecution proceeded even after the misidentification came to light.”