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Man exonerated after 32 years in prison

Original Story: Newsnationnow | Dated: April 29, 2022

Thomas Raynard James was sentenced to life in prison at 23 years old for the 1990 murder of Francis McKinnon. He has always maintained his innocence.

James’ conviction was heavily influenced by the testimony of the victim’s stepdaughter, who was there at the time of the crime and identified James as the shooter. The eyewitness told jurors she watched him gun down her stepfather during a robbery in his Coconut Grove apartment. However, there was no physical evidence, fingerprints or DNA recovered at the scene.

Now more than three decades later, she has recanted her statement, saying it was a case of mistaken identity. 

Wednesday morning, the state attorney and judge vacated James’ life sentence after 32 years in prison and he walked free. 

“I feel good. Real good,” Thomas “Jay” Raynard James said Wednesday as he left a Miami courtroom with his attorneys and family members.

Over the past year, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said, members of her office’s Justice Project poured over 20,000 pages of documents, reinterviewed witnesses, resubmitted fingerprints and retested DNA samples.

She said the case has gone through numerous appeals, post-conviction reviews and reviews by a private investigator and the Innocence Project of Florida Inc.

“None were successful in finding Mr. Thomas Raynard James innocent until we got involved,” Fernandez Rundle said.In a 90-page motion to vacate the conviction, prosecutors said, “What appears to be a chance coincidence that the defendant, Thomas Raynard James, had the same name as a suspect named by witnesses and anonymous tipsters … led to the defendant’s photograph being included in a lineup, and set in motion a mistaken identity.”

Fernandez Rundle said that over the years there have been conflicting stories about detectives confusing James with another man who shared his name. But that man had been arrested and was in jail at the time of the shooting, she said.

The man suspected of killing McKinnon died in 2020 in Las Vegas, the motion said.

Natlie Figgers, who represents James, urged people to speak up when they see an injustice.

“It took a village to make this happen. It wasn’t a smooth ride,” Figgers said. “I want to extend my gratitude to everyone that played a part in bringing this result.”

Now that he is a free man, James said he’d like to start a foundation one day that helps wrongfully incarcerated people.

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