Despite out-of-state vacation alibi, man spent nearly 25 years in prison for murder he didn't commit

Jonathan Fleming couldn’t have shot his friend Darryl Rush to death in New York City decades ago because Fleming was on vacation in Florida at the time.

But Fleming spent nearly 25 years in prison for the 22-year-old’s murder, despite photographs, phone records and hotel receipts that supported his seemingly solid alibi that he and his family were on vacation at Walt Disney World in Orlando. On Tuesday, the 51-year-old left Brooklyn Supreme Court as a free man after the government dropped all charges against him and a judge agreed that Fleming had been in Florida at the time of the crime, according to Reuters.

“He’s extremely happy this day finally came but frustrated that he suffered for 25 years for a crime he didn’t commit,” said one of Fleming’s attorneys, Taylor Koss.

An investigation by the Kings County conviction integrity unit, for which Koss formerly served as deputy chief, helped clear Fleming, and the district attorney’s office agreed to drop the murder case in the interest of justice.

A single witness placed Fleming at the Brooklyn crime scene at the time of the crime but recanted soon after the trial, claiming to have testified under threat of criminal prosecution and incarceration. A 90th Precinct log book documented that the witness had been arrested prior to Fleming’s trial. However, a prosecutor argued that Fleming might have flown back to New York in the middle of his vacation to commit the crime, and the defense stipulated that could have been possible, Pro Publica reports.

Meanwhile, sworn statements from new witnesses located through reinvestigation of the case implicate a different suspect in Rush’s shooting.

Fleming admittedly dealt drugs in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood at the time of Rush’s slaying and had a criminal record. He maintained his innocence from the outset and through years of appeals, to no avail, until recently.

A receipt showed that he paid a Florida hotel phone bill hours before the murder and Orlando police said hotel employees remembered his stay. Yet that information not only didn’t point the investigation in another direction but was never turned over to defense counsel in his case, even though Fleming’s trial lawyer specifically asked the government for the receipt, the Pro Publica article says.

Fleming’s exoneration is the latest in a series of New York convictions now acknowledged as wrongful. However, it is unrelated to a police detective whose conduct has led to the review of 50 cases, reports the New York Daily News.

Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson announced Monday that a Harvard Law School clinical professor, Ronald Sullivan, will be the new head of the conviction integrity unit, to which additional staff is being added.

Thompson won election last year on a reform platform, but has since been criticized by some for not moving more quickly to exonerate those who were convicted without an appropriate evidentiary basis.

“We will continue our careful and deliberate review of these cases in our pursuit of justice and fairness,” the DA said.

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