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BY Francis Akhalbey, 10:30am March 15, 2023,

Florida man sentenced to 400 years in prison for robbery exonerated

Sidney Holmes was sentenced to 400 years in prison for a robbery he says he did not commit -- Photo: Innocence Project of Florida/Facebook

A Florida man, who was sentenced to 400 years in prison for a 1988 armed robbery he claims he did not commit, has been exonerated after being incarcerated for more than 34 years. According to NBC 6 South Florida, 57-year-old Sidney Holmes became a free man on Monday after the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit filed a request.

“It’s surreal,” Holmes said after he was released. “I never would give up hope. I knew this day was going to come sooner or later and today is the day.” Despite being wrongfully imprisoned, Holmes said he “can’t have hate, just have to keep moving.”

The Conviction Review Unit looked into Holmes’ case after he reached out to them in 2020. Holmes is the second person to be exonerated after the state attorney’s office set up the unit the year prior.

“It keeps us honest. It ensures the integrity of the prosecutorial process. So I strongly believe in the importance and reliability of these units because it assures that we’ve got the right person and ensures that we exonerate a person who was wrongfully convicted,” Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said.

Holmes, who was convicted in connection with a 1988 armed robbery, had always maintained his innocence, but was convicted in 1989 after a jury found him guilty of the crime. Prosecutors alleged Holmes had been pointed out as the driver for two suspects involved in an armed robbery outside a convenience store. Besides robbing the male and female victims, the suspects also allegedly made away with the man’s car. 

Upon looking into his case, the Conviction Review Unit and the Innocence Project of Florida determined Holmes had a plausible claim of innocence; pointing to the circumstances surrounding how he was named as a suspect, and how questionable the eyewitness identification was. The main evidence at his trial was eyewitness identification. 

Investigators determined that the implemented law enforcement eyewitness identification procedures for photo and live lineups during that period likely contributed to Holmes being wrongly identified. Investigators said those practices were not reliable scientifically, adding that they went against modern-day procedures, NBC 6 South Florida reported. Besides that, investigators did not also find any evidence linking Holmes to the robbery. 

Holmes became the lone suspect after the brother of one of the victims initiated an investigation, prosecutors said, adding that the investigation relied on how the exonerated man’s car looked like the one the robbers used. Though the vehicles looked different, investigators failed to notice, hence the vehicle being likely misidentified, prosecutors said. 

Besides that, the Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies, who initially investigated the case, registered their shock over Holmes’ prison sentence and how long he had been incarcerated. However, prosecutors said they don’t believe witnesses or law enforcement deliberately committed any misconduct. They made mention of the identification practices and technology that were used at the time.

“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,” Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said in a statement. “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.”

Holmes’ exoneration comes in the wake of a meeting the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice had with regard to loosening a law on compensation for wrongfully incarcerated people, NBC 6 South Florida reported.

“It has very stringent eligibility criteria. Right now, Mr. Holmes wouldn’t qualify under the law because he has a prior criminal record,” Innocence Project’s Seth Miller said. “So that’s one of the things the bill going through the legislature would change. It would make it so that someone who has a previous record, but was convicted and served time for the unrelated crime and is subsequently wrongfully convicted is not prevented from getting compensation on the time they spent for that wrongful conviction.”

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: March 15, 2023


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