Detroit Man Exonerated After Nearly 30 Years in Jail 'Always Had Faith This Day Would Come'

A Detroit man who spent nearly 30 years in prison for a crime he maintains he did not commit has described his relief after being exonerated.

Gerry Thomas, 62, was jailed in 1991 for the assault and attempted murder of a woman in Detroit in 1987.

According to lawyers at the Innocence Project, police had no physical evidence linking Thomas to the crime and his conviction was based solely on the victim identifying him as the culprit, two years after the attack took place.

Thomas also had an alibi on the night the attack took place and did not match the description of the assailant given by the victim "in conspicuous ways," according to the Innocence Project.

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Thomas was found guilty of criminal sexual conduct, armed robbery and assault with intent to murder. He was sentenced to a minimum of 50 years in prison.

His conviction has now been set aside after lawyers requested his case be reinvestigated by the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) of the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office.

"I'm just excited to get started. There are no words to describe how I feel. It is all good feelings," Thomas told Newsweek.

"We are incredibly grateful to the CIU and to District Attorney Kym Worthy for the significant time and resources they gave over the last two years to thoroughly reinvestigate this case," said Innocence Project attorney Jane Pucher, who represented Thomas along with local counsel Marla Mitchell-Cichon at the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School.

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"If the police had conducted a true investigation 30 years ago, Mr. Thomas never would have been arrested in the first place."

The case surrounds a 1987 incident involving a woman who was waiting for her son to come out of a Detroit convenient store. While waiting in her car, a man armed with a knife forced his way into her vehicle and demanded she drive away.

The suspect then forced the woman to perform oral sex on him before she was able to escape. The man then drove away in the victim's car.

Three weeks later, police pulled over a suspected stolen vehicle and detained the driver and the passenger. Police later found the victim's registration paperwork inside the driver's house.

The passenger of the vehicle told police that they had got the car from the driver's brother, who the Innocence Project say matched the description of the assailant.

As the victim did not identify either the driver or the passenger as the suspect, police did not investigate them further despite her paperwork being in the driver's home. The driver's brother was also not questioned by police.

Two years later on September 3, 1989, the victim told police she had spotted her attacker leaving a convenience store close to the initial crime scene. Nine months later, Thomas was arrested and charged in connection to the attack.

"Despite everything he and his family have experienced for the last three decades, Mr. Thomas has always had faith this day would come," Pucher added.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Worthy said Thomas deserves a new trial, but the victim is now deceased.

"As a result the Wayne county prosecutor's office is unable to retry the case," Worthy said.

The Conviction Integrity Unit has been contacted for further comment.

The Innocence Project recently worked to halt the execution of Texas man Rodney Reed, who spent more than 20 years on death row for the murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in 1996, a crime he has constantly maintained he did not commit.

Reed's death sentence was suspended indefinitely after his case attracted worldwide attention thanks in part to celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Rihanna urging Texas Governor Greg Abbott to spare him.

This article has been updated with comment from Thomas.

Detroit police
Detroit police department vehicles are shown in the parking lot of Detroit's 13th Precinct headquarters November 19, 2007 in Detroit, Michigan. A man has been exonerated after spending nearly 30 years in prison for an attack on a Detroit woman. Bill Pugliano/Getty
Detroit Man Exonerated After Nearly 30 Years in Jail 'Always Had Faith This Day Would Come' | U.S.