Another Innocent Prisoner Is Exonerated

If you’re one of the many who wonders, “How can you defend those guilty people?” then this article is for you.  Once again, another prisoner has been released after newly discovered evidence proves that he was innocent.  The latest defendant is Jonathan Fleming.  Fleming, who is 51- years-old, was in the process of serving his 25th year of a 25 years to life sentence when he was recently released.

In 1989, Fleming was convicted of Second Degree Murder after allegedly shooting, Darryl Alston, a rival drug dealer, on Aug. 15, 1989.  The shooting occurred in Brooklyn, New York.  His defense was very simple.  He unsuccessfully argued at his trial that he was at Disney World in Orlando with his family at the time of the shooting.  His attorneys presented evidence at trial that included plane tickets, video footage and vacation photos.  Prosecutors argued that Fleming could have returned to Brooklyn and shot the victim.  They even entered into evidence a list of 53 possible flights that he could have taken, casting some doubt on the testimony and evidence provided by Fleming’s family members.

The most compelling evidence prosecutors introduced during Fleming’s trial was testimony from eyewitness Jacqueline Belardo, who positively identified Fleming as the shooter.  That same “star witness” later recanted her testimony prior to sentencing, claiming that she identified Fleming solely to receive a dismissal of her grand larceny charges.  Prosecutors alleged that Ms. Belardo was lying.

It wasn’t until June 2013 that the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) began examining Fleming’s conviction after attorneys and investigators for the falsely accused brought in new witness statements.  In November, the CIU turned over to the defense police logs showing that their star witness Belardo, was charged with grand larceny after being found in a stolen van.  Law enforcement questioned her for several hours, resulting in her pointing her finger at Fleming.  About an hour later, her charges were dropped and she was released.

The most compelling piece of evidence the CIU turned over to the defense was a phone receipt.  Mr. Fleming paid a phone bill at the Quality Inn in Orlando at 9:27 p.m. on August 14, 1989.  That made it almost impossible for him to have made it back to Brooklyn in time for the 2:15 a.m. shooting on August 15th.  The receipt was never part of the evidence at trial.  The lead detective claimed during the 1989 trial cross examination that he didn’t recall recovering it.  Investigators found the receipt in the case file last year.

Additional new evidence included a report from the Orlando Police Department.  In the report, it was revealed that Quality Inn staff members remembered Mr. Fleming being in the hotel.  At his trial, only family members vouched for his presence in Orlando.  Furthermore, after witnesses to the shooting were re-interviewed, their testimony pointed to a different suspect.

In recommending the dismissal of the charges against him, the prosecutor told Judge Matthew J. D’Emic that had the newly disclosed evidence been available at trial, the “likely outcome of the trial would have been different.”

This case is so troubling for me.  25 years!!!  He went from having a wonderful time with his family hanging with Mickey and Minnie to the abhorrent brutality of a New York prison as quickly as you can say, “injustice.”  Unfortunately, these things happen too often.  The new Brooklyn district attorney Kenneth P. Thompson inherited dozens of wrongful conviction cases when he took office this year.  Additionally, his office is reviewing 50 cases handled by detective Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of using illegal tactics to frame suspects.  Scarcella wasn’t part of the Fleming case.

I think of the many who still languish in prison for crimes that they didn’t commit.  I also think of those whose cases are currently pending that may be convicted as a result of the corruption of a few crooked cops.  I need to remind myself of those injustices and potential future injustices every day to keep me working as zealously as I do for those accused.

Hopefully you’ll think of Jonathan Fleming the next time you ponder, “How can you defend those guilty people?”