Defense attorneys and legal justice proponents rejoiced last week over news of the release of a 51-year-old New York man who was wrongly accused and convicted of a 1989 slaying in Brooklyn.
Jonathan Fleming was in the 25th year of his 25 years to life sentence when he was released Tuesday after new evidence, and old evidence produced for the first time in court, proved his innocence. That included an old hotel receipt, which showed that he was in Florida less than five hours before the Aug. 15, 1989 killing, which was never turned over to the defense at the time of his original trial.
In addition to the receipt — which showed Fleming had paid a phone bill at an Orlando hotel at 9:27 p.m. on Aug. 14, 1989, — the recent review of Mr. Fleming’s case also showed the one eye witness against him in the original trial recanted her testimony before his sentencing. Jacqueline Belardo admitted she wrongly identified Mr. Fleming as the killer in exchange for the dismissal of her own grand larceny charge.
Also entered into the record for the first time was a report from the Orlando Police Department, which had looked into Mr. Fleming’s alibi at the New York Police Department’s request 25 years ago. Orlando police interviewed hotel staffers who remembered Mr. Flaming, yet the only witnesses to vouch for Mr. Fleming at the time of his original trial were his family members.
Mr. Fleming’s case is one of dozens of wrongful-conviction cases that the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office, led by the newly elected Kenneth Thompson, has inherited. The DA’s office is reviewing some 50 cases linked to one detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of using illegal tactics to frame suspects. Interestingly enough, Scarcella was not involved in Mr. Fleming’s case.
Thompson’s predecessor formed the Conviction Integrity Unit to look into all of the questionable cases to quell increasing criticism of the department. Thompson, however, campaigned in part on a platform of reforming the prosecutor’s office and has so far secured the release of two prisoners who were serving time for murder. With the release of Mr. Fleming, it appears Thompson and his department are on the right track, though there has been pressure for him to move quickly in the review of the dozens of other questionable cases. To that end, Thompson appointed a Harvard Law School professor, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., to lead the unit, which has been renamed as the Conviction Review Unit. An additional three outside attorneys have been added to the unit to help evaluate cases.
Here’s hoping the new additions will mean the next innocent man, or woman, won’t have to wait 25 years for justice and freedom.
Seth Okin Attorney at Law provides legal representative for a variety of criminal defense matters. If you have been charged or wrongly accused, contact Mr. Okin for a free initial case consultation.