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Man wrongly convicted of murder freed after nearly 25 years

NationCrime, Law and JusticeJustice SystemHomicideCrimeHotel and Accommodation IndustryWalt Disney World Resort

NEW YORK — Jonathan Fleming had videos of his Disney World holiday. He had a receipt from his hotel, where employees remembered him for running up a high phone bill.

But the perfect alibi couldn't save Fleming from serving nearly 25 years in prison for a murder he didn't commit — a murder that took place in Brooklyn, N.Y., more than 900 miles from the Florida resort.

On Tuesday, Fleming, 51, walked free after the Brooklyn district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, dismissed the case after an examination by his office's Conviction Review Unit. Fleming's relatives erupted in cheers, and his lawyers fought back tears as they hugged Fleming, who had always insisted he was innocent of the Aug. 15, 1989, slaying of Darryl Rush.

"Thank you, God!" one woman cried out.

"I've waited 24 1/2 years for this nightmare to be over," Fleming said as he left the courthouse, surrounded by his family and holding his mother, Patricia Fleming, close. "I'm finally a free man."

His mother was among the witnesses who had testified that Fleming could not have killed Rush, who was his friend, because Fleming was in Florida at the time.

But prosecutors argued that Fleming could have taken a flight back to New York, committed the crime, then returned to Florida. They also produced a witness who testified that she saw Fleming shoot Rush. That witness, a crack addict, later recanted her testimony.

Thompson said a $81.92 Quality Inn receipt, time-stamped four hours before Rush's killing, and a slew of other evidence helped clear Fleming. The receipt was found on Fleming when he was arrested two days after Rush was killed, but was not produced at his trial.

"At trial, Fleming asserted an alibi defense, and that receipt would have corroborated his defense," said Thompson, who took office in January and has vowed to speed up reviews of questionable convictions.

Taylor Koss, an attorney who helped with the exoneration effort, rejected the idea that the hotel receipt, which was found in Fleming's case file, had been accidentally withheld from the defense during the trial. "How was it a mistake?" he said of prosecutors' failure to produce it.

Patricia Fleming said she wasn't angry. "I'm just glad to have him back," she said as her son clutched her hand.

Asked what he planned to do next, Fleming replied: "I'm going to eat dinner with my mother and the rest of my family, and I'm going to live the rest of my life."

tina.susman@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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