FLORIDA, UNITED STATES — A man who has served more than 34 years of a 400-year prison sentence was released on Monday after the state of Florida reinvestigated the case and determined he did not commit the armed robbery.
The exoneration comes after a 2 1/2-year investigation by the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project of Florida. According to Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor, the reinvestigation “raised reasonable doubts about his guilt.”
Sidney Holmes, now 57, arrested in October 1988, was accused of driving the getaway car for two unidentified men who robbed a man and woman at gunpoint outside a store. The two unidentified robbers stole the male victim’s car.
The man was convicted in a jury trial in April 1989 and sentenced to 400 years in prison. Prosecutors at the time had asked the judge to sentence him to 825 years.
“There is no evidence tying Mr Holmes to the robbery other than a flawed identification,” Arielle Demby Berger, assistant state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, told reporters outside the courtroom. “No fingerprints, no physical evidence. Nothing but one witness ID that we, your honor, believe was a bad ID.”
The state attorney’s office found that Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who conducted the original investigations “expressed shock” that the man was sentenced to 400 years and had served more than three decades.
Holmes’ family never lost hope during the decades of challenges, and the exoneration comes as a long-awaited relief for them. As the family fought for Holmes, they lost loved ones, including Holmes’ father and grandparents.
Imagine spending 34 years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit 💔 Sidney Holmes faced a 400 year sentence, and today, he’s a free man. #CBSNews #CBSNewsMiami @CBSMiami pic.twitter.com/tT3O5MNvY9
— Gabby Arzola (@GabrielleArzola) March 14, 2023
The Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit that helps innocent prisoners in the state obtain their freedom and rebuild their lives, took on the case after Holmes wrote to the organization in 2019.
The case had “indicators of actual innocence,” such as car and photo lineup misidentifications, according to Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.
In November 2020, he contacted the state attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU), a team tasked with identifying plausible claims of innocence on behalf of convicted defendants.
After CRU determined that Holmes had a plausible claim of innocence, it conducted an investigation with the help of the Innocence Project.
The CRU determined there was reasonable doubt about Holmes’ guilt because his conviction relied heavily on an eyewitness that likely misidentified him, partly due to the photo and live lineup practices commonly used by law enforcement at the time.
Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor and an Independent Review Panel also reached the same conclusion.
Despite the tortuous journey to prove his innocence, Holmes said he never lost hope. “I never gave up,” he told reporters. “My family was always by me the whole time, so (losing) hope wasn’t going to be an issue.”
The state attorney’s office stated that “prosecutors do not believe there was any intentional misconduct by witnesses or law enforcement as the identification practices and technology have vastly improved since 1988 and deputies followed the accepted standards at the time.”
The office added that “the methods used would not be acceptable practices today.”