NEW YORK (AP) — From the day of his 1989 arrest in a
deadly New York City shooting, Jonathan Fleming said he had been more
than 1,000 miles away, on a vacation at Disney World. Despite having
documents to back him up, he was convicted of murder.
now agree with him, and Fleming left a Brooklyn court as a free man
Tuesday after spending nearly a quarter-century behind bars.
now 51, tearfully hugged his lawyers as relatives cheered, "Thank you,
God!" after a judge dismissed the case. A key eyewitness had recanted,
newly found witnesses implicated someone else and prosecutors’ review of
authorities’ files turned up documents supporting Fleming’s alibi.
"After 25 years, come hug your mother," Patricia Fleming said, and her only child did.
"I feel wonderful," he said afterward. "I’ve always had faith. I knew that this day would
exoneration, first reported by the Daily News, comes amid scrutiny of
Brooklyn prosecutors’ process for reviewing questionable convictions,
scrutiny that comes partly from the new district attorney, Kenneth
Thompson. He said in a statement that after a months-long review, he
decided to drop the case against Fleming because of "key alibi facts
that place Fleming in Florida at the time of the murder."
start, Fleming told authorities he had been in Orlando when a friend,
Darryl "Black" Rush, was shot to death in Brooklyn early on Aug. 15,
1989. Authorities suggested the shooting was motivated by a dispute over
Fleming had plane tickets, videos and postcards from his
trip, said his lawyers, Anthony Mayol and Taylor Koss. But prosecutors
at the time suggested he could have made a quick round-trip plane jaunt
to be in New York, and a woman testified that she had seen him shoot
Rush. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison and was due to have
his first parole hearing soon.
The eyewitness recanted her
testimony soon after Fleming’s 1990 conviction, saying she had lied so
police would cut her loose for an unrelated arrest, but Fleming lost his
The defense asked the district attorney’s office to review the case last year.
investigators found previously untapped witnesses who pointed to
someone else as the gunman, the attorneys said, declining to give the
witnesses’ or potential suspect’s names before prosecutors look into
them. The district attorney’s office declined to comment on its
Prosecutors’ review produced a hotel receipt
that Fleming paid in Florida about five hours before the shooting — a
document that police evidently had found in Fleming’s pocket when they
arrested him. Prosecutors also found an October 1989 Orlando police
letter to New York detectives, saying some employees at an Orlando hotel
had told investigators they remembered Fleming.
receipt nor the police letter had been provided to Fleming’s initial
defense lawyer, despite rules that generally require investigators to
turn over possibly exculpatory material.
Patricia Fleming, 71, was with her son in Orlando at the time of the crime and testified at his trial.
knew he didn’t do it, because I was there," she said. "When they gave
my son 25 to life, I thought I would die in that courtroom."
Still, she said, "I never did give up, because I knew he was innocent."
took office in January, after unseating longtime District Attorney
Charles "Joe" Hynes with a campaign that focused partly on questionable
convictions on Hynes’ watch. Hynes had created a special conviction
integrity unit to review false-conviction claims, but some saw the
effort as slow-moving and defensive.
Thompson has agreed to
dismiss the murder convictions of two men who spent more than 20 years
in prison for a triple homicide. He also dropped his predecessor’s
appeal challenging the 2013 release of another man who had served 22
years in prison on a questioned murder conviction.
Jonathan Fleming left court with an arm around his mother’s shoulders
and the process of rebuilding his life ahead of him.
his plans, he said: "I’m going to go eat dinner with my mother and my
family, and I’m going to live the rest of my life."
Reach Jennifer Peltz on Twitter @jennpeltz.
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