After spending 32 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, 55-year-old Thomas Raynard James was exonerated when a judge vacated his conviction and sentence last week, according to CNN.
James was arrested in 1990 and convicted of first-degree murder a year later for the murder of Francis McKinnon. James was convicted mostly because one eyewitness gave a positive identification. As a result, he was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years and was also convicted of armed robbery, aggravated assault with a firearm and armed burglary of an occupied dwelling with a firearm.
With James’ family in the courtroom, Assistant State Attorney Christine Zahralban told the court, “We have determined that Thomas Raynard James is actually innocent,” according to CNN.
After being denied twice by the Innocence Project of Florida because of the lack of DNA evidence in the case, James’ case was picked up by the State Attorney Office Justice Project (SAO Justice Project).
James had filed more than 10 post-conviction motions and appeals and was denied each time, according to a motion to vacate his convictions and sentences filed by Rundle.
In June 2021 the SAO Justice Project reviewed more than 20,000 pages of records and conducted their own interviews of witnesses under oath, some of whom were prison inmates. They examined DNA, firearms, and crime scene evidence, and found there was no physical evidence tying anyone to the crime.
Dorothy Walton, the stepdaughter of the victim, was the one eyewitness who positively identified James. According to the motion, she is quoted in a Miami Herald article from 1991 saying, “I will never forget his face. I will never forget his eyes.”
In 2019, Walton, now 79, told investigators with the Innocence Project of Florida that she believed she made a mistake in her identification of James.
Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said their investigation ended an “unfortunate case of mistaken identity,” according to CNN.
In a sworn statement to the SAO Justice Project, James claimed that he never went into the apartment where the murder occurred and that he never shot anyone. He took a polygraph test on if he was in the apartment when McKinnon was shot and if he was connected to the robbery and murder in any way. He passed every question.
The family of McKinnon, however, is not fully convinced James is innocent and does not support the decision of the state. Charles McKinnon, Francis McKinnon’s son, still wants to ensure that his father gets justice, according to CNN.