Although Sheldon Thomas walked out of a Brooklyn, New York courthouse earlier this month after nearly two decades in prison, the feeling of freedom doesn’t seem real to him.
“I haven’t cried since I got home,” Thomas said. “I didn’t even get to the point where it hit me. I still dream about being in jail. I’m afraid to sleep.”
His freedom comes after Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez Moved to empty A recent investigation determined a wrongful conviction.
In 2004, Thomas was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted murder and other crimes after he was arrested for his alleged involvement in a fatal shooting in East Flatbush, which killed 14-year-old Anderson Bursey and left another man dead. injured person
Thomas was arrested on suspicion of murder after a witness identified him from a police photograph. However, the photo was of a different person with the same name who had nothing to do with the case. Prosecutors continued to pursue Thomas, eventually leading to his wrongful conviction.
Attorneys William Custin and Leslie Resinger have been working with Thomas for more than a decade and believe the case should never have gone to trial. According to Castine, the case was based on lies. He believes every part of the system — police, prosecutors and judges, among others — has failed Thomas.
“The people involved in the decision-making refused to accept the fact that a mistake had been made. How could a jury reach a fair verdict? It was rigged from the beginning,” said Castin.
After years of unsuccessful appeals, the unit reviewing Thomas’ case concluded that he had been “deprived of due process at every stage.”
Additionally, prosecutors said, one of the detectives involved was harassing Thomas after an earlier arrest and lied about knowing him.
When asked if he ever felt targeted, Thomas replied, “Absolutely.
He added that in his experience, people who look like him are often presumed guilty until proven innocent.
“From my lens where I look at life, it’s always like that for people like me. It’s always like that for people who look like me. You’re guilty until you’re proven innocent,” Thomas said.
He was arrested when he was only 16 years old. Now at the age of 35 he is finally stepping into freedom.
During a recent hearing, Thomas shared how he had maintained hope for so long by expressing resentment. After the trial judge told him he deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison when he was sentenced, Thomas said he forgave him, though admitted he didn’t deserve what happened to him.
“I know I’ve already lost 20 years but in the end I won. I don’t like to lose, so I have to quit because I don’t want it to define me as a person, as a person,” Thomas said. .
CBS News reached out to the detective involved in Thomas’ initial arrest, but he chose not to comment.
After Thomas’ release, he could potentially seek compensation through a lawsuit, but he said he has not decided whether to pursue that option.