MIAMI, Fla. – After spending more than three decades in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Thomas Raynard James is a free man.
A judge vacated his life sentence Wednesday after an investigation from the State Attorney Office Justice Project (SAO Justice Project) exonerated him.
James had been convicted in the 1990 shooting death of Francis McKinnon in an apparent robbery. He had maintained his innocence all along, saying he was not at the apartment complex and didn’t shoot McKinnon.
Prosecutors relied on an eyewitness who identified James as the shooter; they had no physical evidence linking him to the case. The eyewitness told jurors she’d seen James shoot and kill her stepfather.
His name surfaced from an anonymous tip identifying a man with the same name as the suspect. James’ photo was then included in a lineup, setting in motion his identification as the suspect. He was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder, armed robbery with a firearm, armed burglary and aggravated assault with a firearm, according to The Associated Press.
He was 23 years old at the time. He’s now free at the age of 55.
James’ previous attempts at exoneration failed. He had filed more than 10 post-conviction motions and appeals. Each was denied, CNN reported.
The SAO Justice Project reviewed thousands of pages of documents. The eyewitness from the original case told investigators she believed she’d made a mistake in identifying James as the shooter. The testimony had been key in swaying the jury.
The investigation determined James’ conviction was a case of mistaken identity. He submitted a sworn statement asserting he’d never shot anyone and hadn’t even been to the apartment complex where it happened. He also passed a polygraph.
“I feel good. Real good,” James said as he left the courtroom Wednesday, according to The Associated Press.
Ready to enjoy life outside prison, he said he intends to look for a job and spend time with his 80-year-old mother.