After 24 Years in Prison, an Innocent Man Goes Free
By Joaquin Sapien, ProPublica
In a hearing that lasted less than 15 minutes, Jonathan Fleming’s more than 24 years in prison came to an end. The 1990 murder conviction was expunged from his record, leaving his family jubilant in a packed Brooklyn courtroom.
“Thank you, God!” one relative screamed when Judge Matthew D’Emic accepted a motion to dismiss the charges. “Come hug your mother!” said another.
Today’s hearing was the final step in a process that began in June 2013, when Fleming’s attorneys teamed with the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit to re-examine Fleming.
Together, investigators unearthed powerful evidence 2014 much of it withheld for years by law enforcement 2014 showing Fleming had been in Florida when 22-year-old Darryl “Black” Rush was shot to death on August 15, 1989.
Fleming’s mother, Patricia Fleming, spoke to reporters through tears outside of the courtroom, thanking his attorneys and saying she always knew he was innocent. At Fleming’s original trial she testified that she was with him in Florida at the time of the murder.
“When they gave my son 25-to-life, I thought I would die in that courtroom, knowing he didn’t do it. But it’s over now, it’s over,” she said, surrounded by family members.
At today’s hearing, Fleming’s attorneys briskly described all the evidence they and the Brooklyn Conviction Integrity Unit had gathered supporting Fleming’s alibi, including a receipt for a Florida hotel phone bill Fleming paid hours before the murder took place. They also uncovered an Orlando police department report confirming that several hotel employees remembered seeing Fleming, and evidence that an eyewitness testified against Fleming to avoid criminal prosecution herself.
“For the reasons that have been outlined…I am now respectfully moving this court to immediately vacate the defendant’s conviction, immediately dismiss the underlying indictment and allow Mr. Fleming to walk out of this office, this building, this courtroom, a free man,” said Taylor Koss, the Conviction Integrity Unit’s former deputy chief, who became one of Fleming’s attorneys.
Mark Feldman, chief assistant to Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson, quickly consented to Fleming’s release, acknowledging that the receipt and the police report were not made available to the defense at trial.
“Had it been, the likely result of the trial would have been different,” he said.
With that, Fleming bowed his head in relief.
“I feel wonderful,” he told reporters outside the courtroom. “I always knew this day would come one day, and today was the day.”