Florida Man Exonerated After Serving 32 Years For Wrongful Conviction

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A Miami, Florida man had his life sentence and murder conviction vacated by a judge on Wednesday (April 27).

Thomas Raynard James, 55, served 32 years behind bars before the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office filed a motion to overturn his conviction, according to local news station NBC 6. Prosecutors found that James was wrongfully convicted of killing Francis McKinnon on January 17, 1990. He was 23 when he was handed a life sentence in 1991.

"The family is happy, we are all happy," James' mother, Doris Strong, said during a news conference before the court hearing. "I don’t know how he feels, but I can imagine."

On the day of the murder, Dorothy Walton, the daughter of McKinnon's wife, and her husband were visiting the couple. Two Black men later came through the front door, one of them armed with a gun, according to police. Francis was in a bedroom when he heard the commotion and came downstairs, a police report says. The armed intruder fatally shot Francis before both suspects escaped with a few hundred dollars in cash.

Miami-Dade Police investigated the homicide and got two names as possible suspects: Vincent Williams, who goes by "Dog," and Thomas James, who lives in the Coconut Grove neighborhood.

Natlie Figgers, the attorney who represents James, says her client was taken into custody months later on an unrelated charge. That's when authorities pinned the murder on James, even though he's not from Coconut Grove. There was also no DNA or physical evidence tying James to the case, and the murder weapon was never found, the defense attorney argues.

Walton ended up being the prosecution's key witness against James during the 1991 jury trial, pointing out James as the one who killed her stepfather. When NBC 6 reached out to Walton about James' conviction, she immediately told the crew "they had the wrong guy," according to the news station. Reporters say a family member of Walton stopped the conversation before they could get any more details.

Prosecutors wrote that it may have been a case of mistaken identity or name confusion.

"What appears to be a chance coincidence that the defendant, Thomas Raynard James, had the same name as a suspect named by witnesses and anonymous tipsters as 'Thomas James' or 'Tommy James,' led to the defendant's photograph being included in a lineup, and set in motion a mistaken identification," according to the filing.

You can read more about this case HERE.

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