It certainly seems that lately someone is getting exonerated or paid damages for wrongful convictions at least once a week. What used to happen once every few years is happening on a widespread scale now. The question we always seem to ask is, "How could this have happened", and its a reasonable question. But sometimes its easy to see how someone could have been wrongly convicted by well meaning people who truly thought they had the right person. But rarely does a case come along like that of Jonathan Fleming. Alibis come and go, and its also easy to see how one might dismiss an alibi given by a loved one. But Jonathan Fleming was on vacation. In another state. He served 24 years and 8 months in prison.
This should never have happened.
The case centered on the shooting death of a rival drug dealer of Fleming's, Daryl "Black" Rush, who was shot in Brooklyn early on the morning of August 15, 1989. At the time, Fleming told the police he had been in Orlando, Florida at Disney world and provided plane tickets videos, and postcards that he thought would clear his name. Unfortunately, as prosecutors will do, they said he could have made a quick plane trip back to do the murder in time to return to his vacation. Since a woman had gone on the record that she had seen Fleming shoot Rush (something she later recanted, saying she had done it to avoid jail on a different charge), Fleming was arrested. He claimed to have a phone bill receipt that he had paid that would prove he was in Florida at a time that would have cleared him from suspicion. Police claimed no such receipt was found in his belongings.
When the defense asked the District Attorney's office to do a review of the case last year, they found a receipt for a phone bill, paid in Florida, time-stamped 5 hours before the murder. In addition, defense found witnesses that pointed to a different shooter.
How hard could it have been for the police to have found these same people? This is one of those cases that really makes you believe that everyone is corrupt. The fact that this could happen when the man had proof in his pocket that was just sitting in the D.A.'s file is absolutely incredible to me.
This really is a case for the books. When you think about it, its almost funny, like a bad joke. The police had a dead drug dealer on their hands. So what do they do? They track down his rival, who has a solid alibi. They hide evidence that supports his story and find a criminal with something to lose willing to say they saw him do it. And the prosecutor managed to convince twelve strangers that they should ignore his alibi, because he 'could have' taken a plane back to commit the murder before returning to Florida on his vacation. Although there was no evidence of any of that. But it didn't matter. Even with the lone shred of evidence, the eyewitness, recanted weeks after his conviction, it didn't matter. It didn't matter until cases were jointly being reviewed by his attorney's the DA's Conviction Review Unit.
You see, when Fleming was arrested, he told the police about the phone bill and that he believed the receipt was in his pocket. They told the defense there was no receipt, but when the review unit found it, it had been dated and logged in by the police, just as all belongings are, on the very same evening he was arrested. Fleming's former girlfriend also confirmed his story when interviewed, stating that she had phoned him the night of the murder and spoken to him when he was in Florida. Phone records supported her claim.
When the 'eyewitness' attempted to recant her testimony, the judge threw it out because he said she did not have enough facts to back up her story.
Sorry about that whole 'losing 25 years of your life thing'....