Wrongfully Convicted New York Man Jonathan Fleming Freed After 24 Years In Prison
An innocent man convicted of a New York killing that occurred while he was demonstrably on vacation in Florida has been freed after spending nearly 25 years behind bars.
The New York Times reports 51-year-old Jonathan Fleming, who was serving his 25th year of a 25-year to life sentence after being wrongfully convicted of murdering rival drug dealer Darryl Alston in Brooklyn in 1989, was released on Tuesday after long-hidden exculpatory evidence was revealed.
Fleming always insisted he was vacationing in Florida at the time of Alston’s murder. After reviewing documents and interviewing and re-interviewing witnesses, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit and Fleming’s attorneys concluded that the only evidence linking him to the slaying came in the form of testimony from a witness who was offered a dismissal of grand larceny charges against her in return for her cooperation. That “witness,” Jacqueline Beraldo, later recanted her story and confessed to having identified Fleming as the killer in exchange for leniency. Prosecutors accused her of lying.
At his murder trial, Fleming’s lawyers presented photos and videos of the defendant and his family on vacation in Orlando around the same time as Alston’s killing. But prosecutors successfully argued that he could have flown back to New York on one of 53 available flights and shot Alston dead.
The most important piece of exculpatory evidence in the case was a receipt for a phone bill paid by Fleming at his Orlando hotel at 9:27 pm on the night of Alston’s murder, which occurred at 2:15 am, less than four hours later. That receipt was not introduced as evidence in Fleming’s trial because police claimed they had not recovered it. But investigators found the receipt in Fleming’s case file last year, stamped and dated, raising questions about police and prosecutorial misconduct.
“This is proof of alibi that was basically purposely withheld,” Taylor Koss, one of Fleming’s lawyers, told CNN.
Other new evidence included a report from Orlando police stating that staff members at the Quality Inn hotel where Fleming’s family was staying remembered him. At his trial, only family members had testified that he was in Florida at the time of the killing.
“Had [this evidence] been available at the trial, the likely outcome would have been different,” admitted Assistant District Attorney Mark Hale.
Fleming grew visibly emotional, weeping and hugging his lawyers as he was ordered released from prison.
“As you can imagine, after sitting in jail for 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit, he can’t help but feel vindicated,” Anthony Mayol, one of Fleming’s lawyers, said of his client. “On the flip side, that’s 25 years that have been stolen, that he’ll never get back.”
Fleming’s is one of dozens of wrongful conviction cases inherited by Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson when he took office earlier this year. Thompson’s office is also probing 50 cases in which New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective Louis Scarcella was involved, following accusations that he used illegal tactics, including brutal beatings, to frame innocent people.
Fleming is the latest wrongfully-convicted US prisoner to be released after spending decades behind bars for crimes they did not commit. Late last month, 74-year-old Mary Virginia Jones was freed from a California prison after serving 32 years for a murder committed by her abusive ex-boyfriend.
And earlier in March, Glenn Ford, a 64-year-old black man who spent 30 years on Louisiana death row after being wrongfully convicted of murder by an all-white jury, was exonerated and freed.