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Man serving 400-year prison sentence exonerated after new probe finds wrongful conviction

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — (FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.) -- A man who has served more than 34 years of a 400-year prison sentence has been released after the state of Florida reinvestigated the case and determined he did not commit armed robbery.

“I can’t put it into words,” said Sidney Holmes, now 57, in an interview with ABC affiliate WPLG after he was exonerated and freed on Monday. “It’s overwhelming.”

According to Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor, a thorough reinvestigation of the 1988 armed robbery case that led to Holmes’ conviction “raised reasonable doubts about his guilt.”

“With the Christian faith I have, I can’t have hate,” Holmes said. “Just have to keep moving.”

Holmes was arrested in October 1988 for allegedly being the driver for two unidentified men who robbed a man and woman at gunpoint outside a store, according to Pryor. The two unidentified men stole the male victim’s car.

Holmes 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, the CRU report found.

"The reason for my recommendation and an exceedingly high number of years is to ensure that he won't be released from prison while he's breathing," prosecutor Peter Magrino said at the time, according to the CRU. He also said that he did not ask for a lifetime sentence because "back then Holmes would have been eligible for parole after 25 years," the report read.

Holmes was sentenced as a habitual offender, as he was previously convicted of armed robbery for two incidents occurring in August 1984 -- in which Holmes pleaded guilty and "immediately confessed."

The CRU memo also notes that Holmes never claimed to know who the robbers were, which was very unlike his previous robbery conviction in which he gave statements against the other person involved.

In 2020, Holmes contacted the State Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU) claiming he was “factually innocent” of the armed robbery of two people outside a convenience store, Pryor said in a statement.

The CRU found that there is "no evidence" connecting Holmes to the robbery besides a flawed identification of him and the vehicle involved in the robbery. The CRU found that witness identification of Holmes was likely a "misidentification," partly due to the photo and live lineup practices commonly used by law enforcement at the time, which are "scientifically unreliable," according to the state attorney's office.

The state attorney's office also found that Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who did the original investigations "expressed shock" that Holmes was sentenced to 400 years and had served more than three decades.

“We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office – do the right thing, always," Pryor said in a statement. "As prosecutors, our only agenda is to promote public safety in our community and to ensure that justice is served. 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."

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