Jonathan Fleming spent 24 years in prison, serving time for a 1989 murder he did not commit.
On Tuesday, Fleming learned that he would walk free later that day. The Conviction Integrity Unit, created by a former district attorney, had found a phone bill confirming the alibi Fleming had insisted on for decades: He was in Orlando, Fla., on vacation with his family, when the fatal Brooklyn, N.Y., shooting of Darryl Rush took place more than a thousand miles away.
Fleming told Newsweek on Thursday that his newfound freedom was still sinking in.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Fleming, 51, said by phone. “It feels wonderful, and I’m just taking it one day at a time. Enjoying the moment.”
His short-term plans, he said, are to find a job and some shelter.
As expected, his view of the justice system is less sunny, after the wrongful imprisonment that consumed most of his adult life.
“I have no faith in the system because it shouldn’t have taken this long for me to get out,” said Fleming, who has been staying in a New York hotel since his release. “The evidence was there all along that could have freed me 24 and a half years ago. If the documents were turned over 24 years ago, I would’ve gotten released then.”
Those documents, including a police report confirming Fleming’s stay at an Orlando hotel, were withheld from his trial attorneys in 1990. Prosecutors at the time disputed accounts from Fleming’s family and argued that he could have flown from Orlando to Brooklyn, where his car was used in the shooting, and then back to Orlando.
“The prosecutors at the time essentially argued to the jury that you shouldn’t believe his family,” one of Fleming’s attorneys, Anthony Mayol, told Newsweek. “What they didn’t turn over in addition to the phone receipts is a letter from the Orlando Police Department confirming he was down there. Those independent people who were not family members would have undercut the district attorney’s argument that, Oh, you can’t listen to his family.”
It’s unclear why the documents were withheld for so long. But they weren’t the only detail that could have overturned the verdict. Not long after Fleming’s conviction, a witness who claimed to have seen Fleming commit the murder recanted her statement. But Fleming remained behind bars.
Taylor Koss, Fleming’s other lawyer, said there’s now evidence pointing to the real killer.
“I would say there’s a few different pieces of evidence that point to a specific individual as being the gunman,” Koss said. “I will say that we have on-record affidavits and recorded statements from an individual who admits to being the getaway driver. This person admitted to being in possession of Mr. Fleming’s car and that he drove away from the scene that night. He identified in a photograph the person that did the shooting.”
Koss said that the Kings County district attorney’s office claims to be conducting an investigation into that person.
Fleming, who is black, declined to say whether he thought his race played a role in his conviction. “I really don’t like to think like that, because even if a person wasn’t the race that I am, it could’ve happened to him too,” he said.
He said he met other apparently innocent men in prison who were trying to get out.
“I learned that the system is—I don’t have no trust in it whatsoever,” he said.