A man who served more than 34 years of a 400-year sentence for an armed robbery was released from a Florida jail Monday, March 13, after a judge vacated his sentence based on new findings that the case against him was deeply flawed.
Sidney Holmes, now 57, spent more than 34 years behind bars for a 1988 carjacking near Fort Lauderdale.
‘I never lost hope and always knew this day would come,’ Sidney Holmes, said when he learned he would walk free, according to a statement from the Innocence Project of Florida, which worked on his case.
‘I cannot wait to hug my mother in the free world for the first time in over 34 years.’
In 2020, Holmes contacted the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit to say he was factually innocent. That got the ball rolling.
Prosecutors now firmly believe he didn’t do it, citing a flawed focus on his vehicle, a witness identification process rife with bias and a solid alibi.
‘The State Attorney’s Office would not charge him today based on these facts,’ the Broward County prosecutor’s office said in a statement Monday.
Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor praised those who participated in reinvestigating the case and said in the statement: ‘We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office — do the right thing, always.’ CNN reports.
Holmes was arrested in October 1988 in connection with an armed robbery that June of two people outside a convenience store in unincorporated Broward County, just west of Fort Lauderdale, according to the state attorney’s office.
Three weeks earlier, the man’s brother and a woman were robbed by people in a similar vehicle, according to the Conviction Review Unit’s final memo on the case, which was provided by county prosecutors.
The man told his brother, the victim, about the car, and the victim told police. Police quickly zeroed in on Holmes, who had been convicted for his role as the driver in two armed robberies in 1984, according to the memo.
In the June 19, 1988, robbery, the victim said an Oldsmobile stopped behind his car outside a convenience store and two people approached and took it at gunpoint, the review said. A driver stayed behind the wheel of the suspects’ car, he said.
The carjacking victims both described the person behind the wheel as relatively short and heavy. Prosecutors later said the person was Holmes.
But Holmes was 6 feet, 183 pounds at the time. The vehicle, believed to be a 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass, was described as having a hole where its trunk lock would have been, according to the memo. Holmes’ car had a trunk lock, it said.
The Oldsmobile Cutlass was often a bestseller in the U.S. from 1976 to 1983, a historian at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum told investigators reviewing the case.
The victim’s brother had been the target of a similar attempted robbery earlier in the day, he said, and the car was similar, the memo said.
Holmes had an alibi, and his car had key differences from the perpetrators’ vehicle, his attorneys said.
Holmes had six people willing to testify he was at his parents’ South Florida home celebrating Father’s Day when the crime took place, the memo said.
The case’s reviewers, including the Conviction Review Unit, the Innocence Project of Florida and an independent review panel, also found fault with the witness identification process.
The victim did not identify a suspect after having viewed a book of 250 possible suspects and after having viewed a six-photo lineup that included Holmes, they said.
After that, the victim picked Holmes out of another photo lineup, pointed him out in a live lineup of suspects and pointed at him as the driver that day in court, according to the review.
Holmes was identified by one of the victims in a second photo lineup — despite not being identified during an initial line up, the lawyers’ statement reads.
Holmes was the only person who was shown to the victim multiple times, it said.
A contemporary expert decried the process, saying it was tainted by Holmes’ repeated appearance, according to the review unit.
The woman in the car was unable to identify any suspects, the reviewers said. There was not a foundation for Holmes’ prosecution, those involved in the reinvestigation and the review concluded.
‘He cooperated with investigators because he had faith in his innocence, they said in the memo. There is no evidence tying Holmes to the robbery,’ the Broward State Attorney’s Office said in its statement.
Prosecutors asked for 825 years because Holmes had previous convictions for armed robbery and because he refused to name nonexistent co-conspirators, reviewers said.
The judge thought 825 years was excessive, so he went with 400, the memo said.
A sheriff’s deputy dispatched to the robbery, Kenneth Smith, said he barely remembered the case because there was so much crime at the time, according to the memo.
When he was informed of Holmes’ 400-year sentence, Smith said: ‘I’m in utter shock. He got that for this case?’
Last year, both victims told the unit they believed Holmes should be released from prison, the memo said.
Holmes said he is not holding a grudge against those who arrested him and prosecuted him.
‘I can’t have hate,’ Holmes said outside jail. ‘Just have to keep moving.’
On Monday afternoon, Holmes walked out of a Broward County detention facility and into the arms of his mother and family in an emotional embrace.
Innocence Project of Florida Executive Director Seth Miller, a co-counsel for Holmes, thanked Pryor and the conviction review unit in a statement for looking ‘objectively at old cases’ and ‘giving Sidney his life back.’
400 years for armed robbery when there were more serious crimes with much lesser punishments? What about compensations for wrongfully convicted him and the 34 years that he had served in jail? Obviously, the Government had made a big mistake to punish and jail the wrong guy.