Thomas Raynard James — a 55-year-old Black man — was exonerated last week after spending over three decades in prison for a crime he did not commit.
Florida State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle called his situation an “unfortunate case of mistaken identity,” in a statement to CNN.
In 1990, James was arrested for the murder of Francis McKinnon. One year later, he was convicted of first-degree murder. After an eyewitness identified James, he was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of 25 years. James was also convicted of armed burglary of an occupied dwelling with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm and armed robbery.
James’ family was present for his hearing when Assistant State Attorney Christine Zahralban announced, “We have determined that Thomas Raynard James is actually innocent.”
His appeals were turned down twice by the Innocence Project of Florida due to a lack of DNA evidence. After the two failed attempts, the State Attorney Office Justice Project (SAO Justice Project) picked up James’ case.
According to the SAO Justice Project, James passed every question on a polygraph test when asked if he ever set foot in the apartment where the murder took place or if he fired a weapon.
Reports from CNN stated James filed over 10 post-conviction motions and appeals but was denied each time.
In 2019, Dorothy Walton, the stepdaughter of the victim who had positively identified James decades ago, said she believed she made a mistake in her identification.
In June 2021, after reviewing over 20,000 pages of records and conducting independent interviews, the SAO Justice Project found no physical evidence tying anyone to the crime. They looked at DNA, firearms and crime scene evidence during their investigation.
After being released, he told CBS Miami, “I never stopped believing it would happen.”
James spent 32 years in prison for the crimes.