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Thomas Raynard James exonerated after 32 years

Original Story: Miamitimesonline | Dated: April 27, 2022

Thomas Raynard James, who was once serving a life sentence for murder at an Okeechobee correctional institution, is now a free man.

A 32-year battle to prove James’ innocence ended inside a courtroom at the Richard Gerstein Justice Building on Wednesday after a Miami judge vacated his sentence.

“In the end, [the] truth always comes out..,” James told reporters, forcing back a smile after being released this afternoon. “It’s been a long time coming.”

The court hearing came after the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office (SAO) filed a motion to overturn his conviction after its Justice Project found that there was no physical evidence that linked James to the crime.

“The state concludes that Thomas Raynard James is actually innocent and should be exonerated of the charges,” read the SAO motion.

In a Sept. 15 article, Miami Times reported that the SAO started its investigation into James’ innocence claim last spring when journalist Tristram Korten requested documents and inquired about the case that has been referred to as one of mistaken identity.

At 23 years old, James was convicted for the murder of Francis McKinnon in a botched robbery at the victim’s Coconut Grove apartment in 1990. Dorothy Walton, the victim’s stepdaughter who was home at the time, told jurors she was sure James was the one who pulled the trigger that day.

Tips received on the night of the murder pointed to a Vincent ‘Dog’ Williams and Thomas ‘Tommy’ James as possible suspects. The Thomas James known to frequent the city’s neighborhoods with Dog was jailed at the time of the crime and remained there days after.

The other James charged with McKinnon’s murder had been picked up by officers for another crime and was eventually charged with armed robbery and murder when eyewitnesses identified him as the suspect.

“It’s important to understand that the state’s case back in 1991 rested largely upon that positive identification of Thomas Raynard James by Dorothy Walton as the gunman inside the apartment,” said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle at a press conference on Wednesday before the hearing. “In fact, there was no physical evidence that we could find tying anyone to the crime.”

Fernandez Rundle said her office unearthed thousands of documents from the Innocence Project of Florida, the public defender’s office, SAO archives, and district courts to lead to this moment.

After expressing doubts about the identification last fall, Dalton told the SAO and James’ lawyer, Natlie Figgers, earlier this month that she had made a mistake.

New findings, along with Tommy informing investigators that he did in fact case the house days before the robbery and his untimely arrest, led to the decision to exonerate the innocent James.

“We are going to undo what is a wrongful conviction of an innocent man,” said Fernandez Rundle. “We are going to give Mr. James the freedom he deserves.”

The motion disclosed that the man suspected of killing McKinnon died in Nevada sometime in 2020.
“I’m so grateful Jay gets to walk out of here and live his life,” said Figgers. “It took a village to make this happen.”

That village waited all morning for the judge’s verdict and for the moment James would return home.

“I’m free to go?” James, still in disbelief, asked Figgers after the press conference.

“You’re free to go,” she answered.

Delighted, James was ushered out to a nearby restaurant for a celebratory lunch.

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