For 24 years, Jonathan Fleming was in prison for murdering a man in Brooklyn. All those years he claimed that he was innocent and that he was in Florida on the day of the crime.
And all those years, the evidence proving his innocence lay untouched in his case file.
Last year, investigators from Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office finally discovered the documents: a receipt showing that Fleming had paid an Orlando hotel room phone bill hours before the murder took place; a police report stating that several hotel employees remembered Fleming being there; and a 90th Precinct command log showing that the key witness who testified against Fleming had been arrested prior to the trial, which backed Fleming’s claim that the witness had identified him in a deal to escape criminal charges.
In April, Brooklyn D.A. Ken Thompson dismissed the charges against Fleming and he was freed. Now, Fleming is suing the city for $162 million.
On Tuesday, he filed the initial paperwork for a lawsuit. His lawyer, Taylor Koss, told Reuters that the $162 million figure was based on a calculation that included how long he was locked up for and how young he was when he was wrongfully convicted.
The city may seek a settlement. It likely would be less expensive, and also would avoid the subpoenas and scrutiny that a civil trial would bring to the the Brooklyn D.A.’s Office. David Ranta, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 23 years, sued for $150 million, then settled with the city for $6.4 million.
The case against Fleming had gotten a bit shaky over the years. One witness who testified that she had seen Fleming shoot Darryl Rush in Williamsburg in 1989 later recanted her statements. Another eye witness was found to have testified under a false name. Multiple new witnesses filed statements identifying another shooter.
But the D.A.’s office only seriously reviewed Fleming’s case in 2013, when it suddenly faced multiple accusations of prosecutorial misconduct.
Fleming’s overturned murder conviction is one of seven in Brooklyn this year. Every documented wrongful conviction presents, in hindsight, some egregious oversight or mistake. Fleming’s case was particularly bad, and may have involved severe prosecutorial misconduct.
The multiple pieces of evidence supporting his innocence–receipt, police report, command log–all passed through the prosecutor of the case, James Leeper, who remained an assistant district attorney before leaving the office earlier this month, as ProPublica reported. Prosecutors are required to turn over all evidence to the defense team. Somehow, the most important pieces of evidence never made it to Fleming’s attorney.
The Brooklyn D.A.’s Office has not explained what happened.
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