MIAMI (WSVN) - A South Florida man who has been behind bars for decades is now a free man.
Thomas James was serving a life sentence for murder, but on Wednesday, his conviction was thrown out.
“Mr. James, your sentence and conviction are hereby vacated,” said a judge during court.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Thomas James, who was wrongfully convicted.
James maintained his innocence since he was first arrested in the early 1990s.
“There were plenty of moments where I thought it wasn’t gonna happen, but that didn’t stop me from trying,” said James.
On Wednesday, prosecutors and a judge agreed that his conviction will be vacated.
“I knew that I was right, so that was my motivation, my inspiration, and everything else,” said James.
7News cameras captured James heading into court on Wednesday in his final appearance before a judge.
He was 23 when he was arrested and convicted in 1991 for the murder of Francis McKinnon in Coral Gables.
There was, however, no hard evidence in the case, no DNA or fingerprints. The victim’s stepdaughter, who was there at the time of the crime, identified James as the shooter.
After more than 30 years, the eyewitness recanted her statement and said it was a mistake.
“Now she believes her identification was a mistake. We are going to undo what is a wrongful conviction of an innocent man,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “Today, we are undoing an injustice which was an unintentional wrong. We are going to ask the court, our court of law, to give Mr. James the freedom he deserves.”
Fernandez Rundle said this was a potential case of mistaken identity, since another man with the same name was known in the neighborhood.
“[James told investigators] he was casing the victim’s apartment, with his friend and cousin Vincent Williams Dog, in order to commit to a robbery in the days leading up to the murder, but he was arrested the day before the murder and remained in custody,” said Fernandez Rundle.
“As a community, we have a duty to speak up when we see an injustice,” said Natlie Figgers, James’ attorney. “A lot of times we are afraid to speak up because we think of the consequences. Someone out there is going to suffer if you do not speak up.”
It remains a mystery who pulled the trigger, leaving the victim’s family feeling uneasy.
“We don’t want my father to be forgotten, and we don’t want this case to go unsolved,” said family member Charles McKinnon.
“Now you’re telling me that we’ve lost 30 years of potential investigation with solving this, and I just have not had any confidence in terms of them assuring us that due diligence will be done to bring resolve to my father’s case,” said family member Samuel McKinnon.
“I understand that, but there’s no easy way to say ‘justice for his father,’ and I understood that, but there can never be justice for anyone when the wrong person is being held responsible, because the person who actually committed the crime was still out there committing other crimes, creating other victims,” said James.
At 55 years old, James is now looking forward to life outside of prison.
“I want to be the employer, so I’m going to create jobs in Dade County,” he said.
As he was leaving the state attorney’s office, James said the first thing he wants to do is have an actual home cooked meal.
Meantime, his attorney is looking for compensation from the state for all that time he spent behind bars.
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