New York to pay wrongfully convicted man $6.25 million

Fleming was convicted of shooting and killing his childhood friend in New York in 1989.

Bebeto Matthews/AP
Jonathan Fleming, who was exonerated of murder after almost 25 years behind bars, walks on the street on his way to get is first bankcard in New York on April 18, 2014.

New York City will pay $6.25 million in a settlement to a man who spent 24 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit.

"It's a bittersweet moment," Jonathan Fleming, 53, told USA Today. "On the same day I'm signing this settlement, I'm taking my mother off of life support."

Prosecutors had charged Fleming with shooting and killing his childhood friend in 1989 in New York.

A woman testified that she had seen him commit the crime but later recanted, according to the Associated Press. New witnesses implicated someone else.

Fleming told police he was celebrating his son’s 9th birthday with a trip to Disney World in Orlando when the crime took place.

Investigators hired by Fleming prompted the Brooklyn prosecutor’s office to review the case. They found a receipt in Fleming’s file in November 2013 that showed he was in Orlando five hours before the shooting.

“That receipt should have been turned over and it wasn’t,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson.

Fleming currently lives with his ex-wife and has depended on donated and borrowed money.

The city’s payment comes more than 14 months after a judge released Fleming. His lawyers praised the city for moving expeditiously to settle, according to the Associated Press.

USA Today notes it takes 3 years, on average, to receive compensation from American cities and states.

“We cannot give back the time that he served, but the city of New York can offer Jonathan Fleming this compensation for the injustice that was committed against him,” said comptroller of New York City, Scott Stringer.

Fleming is also seeking $25 million from New York State. Since 2000, the state has paid out more than $85 million to settle 66 wrongful conviction lawsuits.

Like 1,618 other Americans since 1989, Fleming has been ruled an exoneree, a person who was convicted of a crime but later declared innocent or acquitted because of new compelling evidence that hadn't been present at trial.

The Innocence Project, a national litigation organization, estimates that only about one-third of the wrongfully convicted are compensated. They recommend states provide a minimum of $50,000 per year and immediate funds for job training, legal services, healthcare and housing. Fleming told USA Today he left prison with a check for $93.

Presently 20 states in the US have no compensation law, which means exonerees receive no money or services. The 30 states that do have one offer reparations that vary from a flat maximum of $20,000 total in New Hampshire to $80,000 per year spent wrongfully imprisoned in Texas. In Illinois, the wrongfully convicted need to apply for a certificate of innocence and re-prove their case to get financially compensated and expunge their records.

The Innocence Project reports that 72 percent of wrongful convictions involve eyewitness misidentification. Other notable contributors to wrongful convictions include improper forensics, false confessions, and informants who provide false information.

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