It was the testimony of a single witness that put Sidney Holmes behind bars 34 years ago. Back in the summer of 1988, a man spotted him driving a brown 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass in South Florida. Three weeks earlier, the man's brother and a woman had been robbed by people in a similar vehicle. The man told his brother, the victim, about the car, who in turn informed the police. Officers quickly tracked Holmes down.
During said robbery near Fort Lauderdale on June 19, 1988, an Oldsmobile pulled up behind the man and woman. Two people approached them at gunpoint and demanded the car. Only the driver, who the victims described as "relatively small and heavy", remained in the suspect's car. Although Holmes was 1.80 meters tall and weighed 83 kilograms at the time, he was arrested and sentenced to 400 years in prison in 1989.
In November 2020, Holmes addressed the Conviction Review Unit, which works with the Innocence Project of Florida, an organization that helps free innocent prisoners. Unit investigators concluded that the eyewitness identification of Holmes was likely a misidentification, due in part to the then law enforcement practice of photo and live constellations, which they felt was scientifically unreliable and contradicted today's best practices.
They also determined that other than misidentifying Holmes as a suspect, there was no evidence linking him to the robbery. A civil investigation initiated by the brother of one of the victims had made Holmes the sole suspect. However, it was only based on some similarities between his very generic Oldsmobile and the car used by the robbers, according to prosecutors. The investigation overlooked differences between the two cars, so it was likely a mix-up of vehicles.
"The prosecutor would not charge him today based on these facts," the Broward County, Florida, Attorney's Office said in a statement Monday. And so a district judge agreed to overturn the sentence against Sidney Holmes. He could hardly believe his luck when he was able to leave prison as a free man on the same day. "I never gave up hope," Holmes told reporters waiting for him. "I knew that day would come sooner or later and today is the day."
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