Skip to main content

Man freed from prison after wrong photo led to life sentence for murder

Sheldon Thomas walks out of court, freed after a judge vacates his murder conviction on Thursday, March 9, 2023. (Screenshot from CBS New York)

Sheldon Thomas walks out of court, freed after a judge vacates his murder conviction on Thursday, March 9, 2023. (Screenshot from CBS New York)

A man who spent nearly two decades in prison for a murder he didn’t commit was freed after a judge agreed that the case was flawed based on a botched identification.

Shelton Thomas, 35, was freed on Thursday. Before he left the Brooklyn courtroom, he addressed the court.

“Just like I have made mistakes in my life, people have forgiven me,” he said in footage from CBS New York. “And I will do the same.”

Thomas received a 25-year-to-life sentence for second-degree murder and attempted murder in a drive-by shooting on Christmas Eve 2004 in Brooklyn. The shooting killed 14-year-old Anderson Bercy and wounded Kadeem Drummond. Two others were also arrested — charges were dropped against one man before the trial and the second man was acquitted.

Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) reinvestigated the case. He said in a statement on Thursday that police arrested Thomas after a witness identified a different man with the same name. He said in a news release the mistake was concealed and then explained away in court.

“Detectives were intent on arresting the defendant and used the faulty identification procedure as pretext,” he said in a statement after asking the judge to vacate Thomas’ conviction. “He was further deprived of his due process rights when the prosecution proceeded even after the erroneous identification came to light, making his conviction fundamentally unfair.”

The Conviction Review Unit concluded that the police investigation was improper and resulted in Thomas’ wrongful arrest even after the police had learned he was not the man the initial eyewitness identified.

It found that the court wrongly determined probable cause existed to arrest him based on false testimony from a detective and that the prosecution may have failed to disclose false police testimony to the court.

The new investigation found serious problems with that witness’ credibility and defense counsel exacerbating errors in “myriad ways.” The Conviction Review Unit also concluded that the detectives prompted the witness’ identifications of Thomas.

“It also concluded that – despite assertions by police, prosecutors, the trial judge and an appellate panel – the Thomas in the photo array and the defendant do not look alike,” the DA said. “The same witness who identified the other Thomas in the array also identified defendant Thomas in a lineup – effectively identifying two different people as the perpetrator.”

The wrong photo came up in a pretrial hearing in June 2006.

“Detective Robert Reedy, on cross-examination, admitted that he falsely testified, and the defendant was actually not in the array,” Gonzalez said.

The DA said Reedy, who has since retired, was disciplined after an internal affairs investigation.

“The errors undermined the integrity of the entire judicial process and defendant’s resulting conviction. Because the evidence was and is defective, the case cannot be retried, and the CRU recommended to dismiss the underlying indictment.”

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow Law&Crime: