NEW YORK, NY – A New York man who spent the last 18 years in prison is the victim of mistaken identity and an overzealous police detective, according to Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.
Disctrict Attorney Gonzalez is now moving to vacate Sheldon Thomas’ conviction for murdering someone in East Flatbush in 2004.
Mr. Thomas, who has been imprisoned for more than 18 years, will also be freed after the DA requests that the indictment be dismissed.
It turns out a witness identified a different person with the same name as the defendant, which led to his arrest – a mistake that was initially concealed but then explained away in court.
“We must strive to ensure fairness and integrity in every case and have the courage to correct mistakes of the past. That is what we are doing in this case, where an extensive reinvestigation by my Conviction Review Unit revealed that it was compromised from the very start by grave errors and lack of probable cause to arrest Mr. Thomas,” District Attorney Gonzalez said. “He was further deprived of his due process rights when the prosecution proceeded even after the erroneous identification came to light, making his conviction fundamentally unfair. I am determined to continue doing this critical work whenever we discover a questionable conviction in Brooklyn.”
According to court records, on December 24, 2004, in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, three alleged gang members, including Thomas, were charged with killing Anderson Bercy, 14, and wounding another person.
“The evidence indicated that two guns were used and that the shooters were inside a white car. A witness initially identified two men she knew, who did not include defendant Thomas, as being inside the car,” Gonzalez said. “A case detective requested that the defendant’s prior arrest be unsealed so that his picture could be used in a photo array (the defendant was pointing an inoperable gun at police officers and resisting arrest in that prior case).”
Detectives obtained a photo of another Sheldon Thomas from a police database before completing that request.
Witnesses identified the wrong Thomas as being in the car with 90 percent certainty after they showed them an array with that photo. The detectives arrested the defendant based on her identification, but not at the address of the Sheldon Thomas whose photo the witness identified.
It wasn’t until a pretrial hearing in June 2006 that the array identification of the wrong Thomas came to light.
After initially identifying the defendant as Thomas in the photo array and testifying that he had never seen him before the arrest, Detective Robert Reedy, on cross examination, admitted that he falsely testified and the defendant was not in the array.
Another detective testified for the first time that the defendant got on their radar based on an anonymous tip and also conceded that, when questioned a few days after the murder, the defendant had told them that it wasn’t him in the photo array.
Despite these revelations, the judge found probable cause to arrest Thomas based on “verified information from unknown callers” and the fact that he resembled the other Thomas from the photo array.
Then-retired Det. Reedy was later disciplined following an investigation by the Internal Affairs Bureau.
Thomas was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.