Update: Jonathan Fleming was freed yesterday after a short hearing where all charges against him were dismissed based on withheld exculpatory evidence. See Joaquin Sapien’s update at ProPublica here.
When Jonathan Fleming’s attorney argued that his client couldn’t have committed the murder he was on trial for because he was in Florida – not Brooklyn – at the time of the crime, assistant district attorney James Leeper dismissed the evidence by telling the jury that Fleming could have flown home from Florida, shot the victim, and then flown back to Florida. The jury believed Leeper and convicted Fleming of murder.
Yet Leeper and his boss, former Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, all the while sat on evidence that showed Fleming had paid a phone bill at a hotel in Orlando just hours before the murder took place, and that several hotel employees told Orlando police that they remembered Fleming being there.
The uncovering of this exculpatory evidence more than 24 years after Fleming was imprisoned is expected to lead to yet another exoneration out of Kings County today when District Attorney Kenneth Thompson moves to dismiss the charges against Fleming in the Brooklyn Supreme Court “in the interest of justice.”
Joaquin Sapien at Propublica has the full story here (excerpt below).
Even after extensive exculpatory evidence surfaced during a joint review by former District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes’ Conviction Integrity Unit and Fleming’s attorney, Anthony Mayol, efforts to free Fleming appeared to have stalled…
Fleming’s quest to prove his innocence got a boost from Taylor Koss, the former deputy chief of the Conviction Integrity Unit, who agreed to help with Fleming’s exoneration effort late last year. Koss was also a central figure in Hynes’ decision to release David Ranta, an unemployed printmaker wrongly convicted of killing a Brooklyn rabbi in 1990.
Over the last year, investigators for Fleming and the unit discovered a range of evidence casting doubt on Fleming’s guilt and supporting his long-held assertion that he was in Orlando, Fla., visiting Disneyworld with his family when 22-year-old Darryl “Black” Rush was shot to death on August 15, 1989.
Investigators found a receipt showing that Fleming had paid a phone bill at a hotel in Florida just hours before the murder took place; an Orlando police report confirmed that several hotel employees remembered Fleming being there.
The team also found evidence supporting the claim that a key witness had only agreed to testify against Fleming to avoid criminal prosecution, unearthing a command log from the 90th Police Precinct showing the witness had been arrested prior to Fleming’s trial.
None of that material was turned over by prosecutors at Fleming’s original trial in the summer of 1990. Asked about the phone receipt, a detective testified that he had “no recollection” of it.
In an interview with ProPublica, Koss said he was “disgusted” when he learned that prosecutors hadn’t turned over the phone bill receipt, especially given that Fleming’s defense attorney had specifically asked for it.
Read about the Brooklyn DA’s office’s history of prosecutorial misconduct and the challenge for Kenneth Thompson in addressing it here.