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Man convicted of murder is freed after 18 years due to incorrect witness identification

By Melanie Uson Published Mar 10, 2023 4:13 pm

A man from Brooklyn is released from prison after it was found that he was mistakenly identified as the suspect who bears the same name 18 years ago.

35-year-old Sheldon Thomas finally regained his freedom after being sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment in line with the murder of 14-year-old Anderson Bercy in 2004. 

According to an ABC News report, a reinvestigation was done by the Brooklyn District Attorney's Conviction Review Unit (CRU), where they concluded that the detectives were aware that they were about to arrest a different Sheldon Thomas but proceeded anyway using “faulty identification procedure as a pretext.”

In December 2004, three alleged gang members, including Thomas, were arrested for killing Bercy and wounding another person. According to the report, there were two guns shot from inside a white car. Initially, a witness identified the two men she knew to be in the car, not including Thomas. 

According to the district attorney's CRU, the detectives involved used a photo of another man who is named Sheldon Thomas from the police database to verify it to the witness, who identified him as one of the suspects with “90% certainty.” 

With that, the detectives proceeded to the defendant’s (wrong Thomas) address for the arrest, not to the address that belonged to the man in the photo she identified.  

(Left) The photo of Sheldon Thomas that the police showed to the witness. (Right) Photo of the arrested Sheldon Thomas. 

During the trial, the defendant denied involvement in the killing, however, the witness also identified him as one of the suspects not knowing that she has identified two different people. With her testimony, they arrested Thomas along with two others.   

From the CNN report, the reinvestigation also found that Thomas was “denied due process at every stage, making the conviction fundamentally unfair.” 

It was also discovered that the detectives involved “repeatedly harassed Thomas after his gun arrest,” contradicting their statement that they had never seen Thomas.

In the pretrial hearing in 2006, Detective Robert Reedy admitted during the cross-examination that he “falsely testified, and the defendant was actually not in the array,” but proceeded with the arrest because “his gut told him he had the right person,” according to Charles Linehan, a prosecutor.  

Reed was later punished after an investigation conducted by the NYPD Internal Affairs Bureau. 

Thomas’ charges of second-degree murder, attempted murder, and 25 years of imprisonment sentence were acquitted on Thursday, March 9.  

"Thank you, your honor, for allowing this to happen," Thomas said after being cleared of the wrong charges. "I've waited a long time." 

“There’s so many times when I was in my cell I would think of this moment. Right now, I’m just speechless.” 

"All this time they really had the wrong person," Thomas said. "The real people are still out there."