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Incredible! Man Wrongfully Jailed Freed 34 Years After

USA – A man sentenced to 400 years in prison in a 1988 armed robbery in Broward has been set free after more than 34 years behind bars.

Sidney Holmes, now 57, was released from prison Monday, March 13, 2023, following a request from the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit.

“It’s surreal,” Holmes said as he walked out a free man. “I never would give up hope. I knew this day was going to come sooner or later and today is the day.”

Holmes immediately hugged his mother, something he hasn’t done in years, and spoke about moving forward with his life.

“I can’t put into words, it’s overwhelming,” he said. “I can’t have hate, just have to keep moving.”

Holmes had contacted the Conviction Review Unit in November 2020 claiming he was innocent in the June 19, 1988 armed robbery of two people outside a convenience store on Northwest 6th Street in unincorporated Broward.

Holmes, of Lauderhill, had been arrested in October 1988 and given the hefty sentence after he was convicted in a jury trial in 1989.

Prosecutors said Holmes had been accused of being the driver for two unidentified men who robbed a man and woman at gunpoint and stole the man’s car.

The Conviction Review Unit, working with the Innocence Project of Florida, investigated and found Holmes had a plausible claim of innocence because of how he became a suspect and because of the precarious eyewitness identification that was the principal evidence against him at trial.

Investigators found the eyewitness identification of Holmes was likely a misidentification partly due to the photo and live lineup practices commonly used by law enforcement at the time, which they said was scientifically unreliable and contrary to modern-day best practices.

They also found that there was no evidence tying Holmes to the robbery, other than the flawed identification of him as a suspect.

A civilian investigation, launched by the brother of one of the victims, had caused Holmes to become the only suspect, but it was based on some similarities between his extremely common Oldsmobile and the car used by the robbers, prosecutors said.

The investigation overlooked differences between the two cars and was likely a misidentification of the vehicle.

In addition, the Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who did the original investigation expressed shock that Holmes was sentenced to and had served so much time in prison, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors added that they don’t believe there was any intentional misconduct by witnesses or law enforcement as the identification practices and technology have vastly improved since 1988 and deputies followed the accepted standards at the time.

“We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office – do the right thing, always. As prosecutors, our only agenda is to promote public safety in our community and to ensure that justice is served,” Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said in a statement.

“I commend the victims, witnesses, and law enforcement officers for their candor and assistance in reinvestigating a crime that occurred more than 34 years ago.”

Florida Department of Corrections records had listed Holmes’ release date as April of 2232. Holmes was moved from the Everglades Correctional Institution to the Broward County Main Jail earlier this month.

Broward Circuit Judge Edward Merrigan signed an order on the morning of Monday, March 13, 2023, approving the request from the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project to throw out Holmes’ conviction and sentence.

Merrigan held a court hearing in the afternoon of Monday, March 13, 2023, to officially dismiss the charge in front of Holmes’ family members.

“I just praise God and I thank everybody who’s been so good to make this day possible,” mother Mary Holmes said. ”It’s over. A long, long, long time overdue,” sister Nicole Mitchell said.

“We have lost a lot of loved ones while he’s been incarcerated. His father, his grandparents,” aunt Jacqueline Dixon said.

The state attorney’s office opened the Conviction Review Unit in 2019. Holmes’ case is the second exoneration since its inception.

“It keeps us honest. It ensures the integrity of the prosecutorial process. So I strongly believe in the importance and reliability of these units because it assures that we’ve got the right person and ensures that we exonerate a person who was wrongfully convicted,” Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said.

Less than 24 hours after Holmes’ release, the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice met in Tallahassee to vote on legislation to improve a law meant to compensate people who are wrongfully convicted.

While the law is supposed to provide exonerees with $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment, only 10 of the state’s 84 exonerees have been compensated, according to the Innocence Project of Florida.

“It has very stringent eligibility criteria. Right now, Mr. Holmes wouldn’t qualify under the law because he has a prior criminal record,” Innocence Project’s Seth Miller said. “So that’s one of the things the bill going through the legislature would change. It would make it so that someone who has a previous record, but convicted and served time for the unrelated crime and is subsequently wrongfully convicted is not prevented for getting compensation on the time they spent for that wrongful conviction.”

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