BROOKLYN -- Sheldon Thomas arrived at Brooklyn criminal court in handcuffs. He left in the arms of his grandmother.
Eighteen years after he was sent to prison for a murder he did not commit because of a photo mistake, a judge vacated Thomas' conviction and dismissed the indictment, drawing a smattering of applause in the small courtroom.
"Thank you, your honor, for allowing this to happen," Thomas said "I've waited a long time."
Thomas said he forgives the NYPD detective, witnesses and others involved in his prosecution and incarceration for the 2004 murder of 14-year-old Anderson Bercy, whose true killer remains unknown.
"All this time they really had the wrong person," Thomas said. "The real people are still out there."
A prosecutor, Charles Linehan, said a re-investigation of the case came to the "inescapable conclusion" that Thomas' conviction could not stand because he was arrested based on a photograph of a different Sheldon Thomas.
At the time, when police told Thomas he had been picked out of a photo array, he told Det. Robert Reedy "that's not me," Linehan said. The detective went ahead with the arrest any way because his "gut told him he had the right person," Linehan said.
When comparing the photographs of the two men with the same name, Linehan said the "defendant did not look like the other Sheldon Thomas."
Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez, whose conviction integrity unit reexamined the case, said he apologized to Thomas when the two met in court.
"This is the first time in 25 years I've seen an erroneous photo identification used as the basis for an arrest that actually went to trial," he said. "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. 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,"
Thomas opted not to speak to reporters upon leaving court but mentioned he wanted his first meal home to be oxtails.
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