Man who was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 400 years is freed after 34 years in jail
By Melissa Alonso and Theresa Waldrop, CNN
A man who served more than 34 years of a 400-year sentence for an armed robbery was released from a Florida jail this week after prosecutors dismissed charges against the wrongly convicted man.
"I never lost hope and always knew this day would come," Sidney Holmes, now 57, said when he learned he would walk free, according to a statement from the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked on his case. "I cannot wait to hug my mother in the free world for the first time in over 34 years."
Holmes contacted the conviction review unit of the Broward County state attorney's office in November 2020, saying he was innocent of the 1988 crime, the office said.
Holmes was arrested in October 1988 in connection with an armed robbery that June of two people outside a convenience store in unincorporated Broward County, just west of Fort Lauderdale, according to the state attorney's office.
Accused of being the driver for two unidentified men who committed the robbery, he was convicted by a jury in April 1989 and sentenced the next month, according to the state attorney's office.
The review unit and the Innocence Project of Florida started a reinvestigation of Holmes' case, and their findings "raised reasonable doubts about his guilt," the office said.
"A strange set of circumstances" led to Holmes becoming a suspect, the Innocence Project of Florida said: One of the two victims described a car used in the robbery as a brown Oldsmobile Cutlass with a tan top and a hole in the trunk.
Weeks later, the victim's brother saw a brown Cutlass driving down a road and reported the license plate number to authorities. That car was registered to Holmes, the Innocence Project said.
Holmes had an alibi, and his car had key differences from the perpetrators' vehicle, his attorneys said.
"There was no physical or scientific evidence, nor any corroborating witnesses, linking Mr. Holmes to the crime," according to the Innocence Project. Holmes was identified by one of the victims in a second photo lineup -- despite not being identified during an initial line up, the lawyers' statement reads.
Based on the recent review of the case, prosecutors "determined that 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," the state attorney's office said.
"The Broward state attorney's office would not have charged Holmes if the case were presented today," the conviction review unit wrote in its final memorandum on the case.
A judge on Monday approved the request from the state attorney's office and the Innocence Project to vacate Holmes' sentence and conviction, and prosecutors dismissed the charge, the state attorney's office said.
That afternoon, Holmes walked out of a Broward County detention facility and into the arms of his mother and family in an emotional embrace.
"We have one rule here at the Broward state attorney's office -- do the right thing, always," Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor said, adding he commended the "candor and assistance" of the victims, witnesses and officers in the reinvestigation of the crime.
Innocence Project of Florida Executive Director Seth Miller, a co-counsel for Holmes, thanked Pryor and the conviction review unit in a statement for looking "objectively at old cases" and "giving Sidney his life back."
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