Sean Thomas was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole in 1993. He then spent a chunk of his youth, his entire 20s, 30s and early 40s, fighting for his innocence from behind bars. He had been wrongfully convicted of the 1990 fatal shooting of Puerto Rican businessman Domingo Martinez who was taking a $25,000 check to a store in Philadelphia.
Thomas had an alibi, but the jury was not convinced. A court dismissed one of his appeals in 1999, and from 2004 to 2009, he unsuccessfully sought help in proving his innocence. His nightmare ended on Tuesday after a court reversed Thomas’ conviction on the basis of newly discovered evidence.
“There was a box that was found by the police department that contained documents that showed that there was an alternate theory of the murder that was never presented, never handed over to the defense,” James Figorski, Thomas’ attorney, told RT.
After a near quarter-century incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, Thomas feels “wonderful,” he told RT.
“I can feel the rain,” he said. “I get to do what I want to do, and I can enjoy life.”
When asked if he harbored any ill feelings toward the criminal justice system that robbed him of much of his life, Thomas surprisingly answered, “I don’t feel angry.”
“I feel more disappointed that the system let me down,” adding, “I support myself with a nice group of people that believed in me, and I believe in them.”
Figorski was always optimistic about Thomas’ eventual freedom, but he told RT that he expected it to come “a few years down the road.” Figorski’s surprise at getting justice within 24 years for a man unlawfully imprisoned just means for him that there is more work to be done.
“I think that if Sean had had money and power, this wouldn’t have happened to him. I think it was done to Sean, because he basically could not defend himself against the state,” Figorski said, describing US justice as a “two-tiered justice system.”
There is no provision in Pennsylvania that requires Thomas be reimbursed for wasting away in a cell. He will have to sue for a chance at monetary compensation for what happened to him.
Figorski’s organization, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, has heard from “hundreds of people” in the state’s jails and prisons who claim they too are innocent. The organization has exonerated 10 people since 2009.
Figorski told RT that legislation is needed, in order to make it possible to “challenge convictions in a meaningful way.”