Wrongfully Convicted Man Exonerated After Serving 34 Years of 400 Year Sentence

Sidney Holmes went home Monday after serving 34 years of a 400-year sentence for an armed robbery conviction. There was no evidence to support the conviction.

Innocence Project Image of Sydney Holmes Exoneration

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Innocence Project Image of Sydney Holmes Exoneration

It was an emotional scene on Monday, Sidney Holmes, 57, hugged his mother for the first time in 34 years as a free man. In 1988, he was convicted of armed robbery by a jury. The prosecutor for the case asked the judge for an 825-year sentence. Instead, he was given 400 years.

“I knew this day was going to come,” Holmes said to the press after all charges were dropped on Monday. “Sooner or later,” he added. “Today is the day.”

Holmes was 24 when he was arrested. The first time he was seen in a lineup, the witness did not identify him. According to a memo from the Convictions Review Unit (CRU), there was “reasonable doubt as to Mr. Holmes’ guilt in this case and that it is highly likely that he is factually innocent.” The memo continues, “the Broward State Attorney’s Office would not have charged Holmes if this case were presented today.”

Holmes’ conviction relied heavily on his identification by Vincent Wright, who together with Anissa Johnson, were robbed at gunpoint outside of a convenience store, close to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Johnson said the getaway driver did not get out of the car that pulled up behind them. Wright pulled off with a friend who was later identified as his brother and went on a chase after the vehicle which the two robbers commandeered.

His brother, Milton Wright said the same men tried to rob him earlier in the day.

Both victims say that two armed Black men approached them from the getaway vehicle and asked for money prior to taking the car. According to Wright, the getaway driver got out of the car, approached both he and Johnson and said, “I’ll get with you later on, I’ll meet you up there,” before instructing the two robbers to take the car.

Two to three weeks later, Holmes’ Oldsmobile was spotted by Milton Wright. He wrote down the license plate number, believing it to be the vehicle involved in both robbery attempts, and gave it to the police.

When Vincent Wright was first presented a lineup that included Holmes, he did not identify the exonerated. The second time, after being presented with a different picture of Holmes, Wright identified him.

“There was no physical or scientific evidence, nor any corroborating witnesses, linking Mr. Holmes to the crime,” according to the Innocence Project.

Holmes filed with CRU in 2020 citing factual innocence as a reason to have his case reviewed. They later brought on the Innocence Project of Florida to assist him. Holmes had two prior robbery convictions in 1984.

Experts said that identification of Holmes was flawed and most likely had to do with seeing the picture of him previously. Both victims were shocked at the conviction, and time behind bars that Holmes was given. Johnson said, “this happened so long ago…feels like he served his time.”

During the initial trial, Holmes had an alibi—which several family members corroborated. He’d spent the time during the robbery at a Father’s Day celebration.

Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor said was quoted in a press release by the Innocence Project as saying, “We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office – do the right thing, always. As prosecutors, our only agenda is to promote public safety in our community and to ensure that justice is served,” he added.  “I commend the victims, witnesses, and law enforcement officers for their candor and assistance in reinvestigating a crime that occurred more than 34 years ago.”

To date, the Innocence Project of Florida has aided in the release of seven innocent individuals since 2019 through joint reexaminations with the State Attorneys’ Offices in wrongful conviction cases.

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