New York man says his wrongful conviction is worth $162 million
NEW YORK (CNN) — A man who spent nearly 25 years behind bars for a 1989 Brooklyn murder he didn’t commit has filed a notice of claim to sue New York City for $162 million, according to his lawyer Wednesday.
Jonathan Fleming, 52, who was released from prison in April after spending 24 years and 8 months in prison for the slaying of Darryl Rush in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, filed the notice signaling his intent to sue the city, the police department and the King County district attorney’s office on Tuesday.
“It signifies the beginning of the process that will hopefully make him whole,” said his lawyer, Taylor Koss. “He will never be the same. It’s impossible to give him the time back.”
Fleming had always maintained that he was on a family trip to Disney World in Florida when Rush was shot to death early on the morning of August 15, 1989, in a dispute over stolen money. After years of reviewing documents and re-interviewing witnesses as part of a joint investigation between his attorneys and the Brooklyn district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, it was determined that the only evidence tying him to the crime was an alleged witness who later recanted her statement.
When he was released, Fleming had no place to live and less than $100 to his name, according to Koss. He still has no permanent home and no job.
“It has been a struggle since he got out,” Koss said, adding that the damages Fleming is seeking include the loss of wages, companionship and emotional anguish.
“It’s tough to put a value on those things,” Koss added. “I’m not sure how you value one year in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, let alone 25.”
A New York City Law Department spokesman said the claim will be reviewed.
At Fleming’s initial trial, defense lawyers provided family photos and home videos of Fleming in Florida around the time of Rush’s killing. But, according to Koss, they did not have evidence he was in Florida on the day of the slaying. The prosecution persuaded jurors to ignore the alibi.
Fleming told his attorneys he had paid a bill for phone calls made from his Florida hotel room the night before Rush was killed, and he believed the receipt was in his pocket when police arrested him. But authorities told the defense he had no such receipt, according to Koss.
In the course of the investigation, the Conviction Review Unit found the receipt in police records, time stamped and dated — solidifying Fleming’s claim that he was in Florida at the time of the crime, according to the district attorney’s office.
“This is proof of alibi that was basically purposely withheld,” Koss said.
The review unit also interviewed Fleming’s former girlfriend, who said she called Fleming the night of the killing while he was still at his hotel in Florida. The investigation found her story to be credible, with phone records to support it.
The prosecution also produced a witness who said she saw Fleming commit the crime.
According to Koss, the woman recanted her testimony weeks after Fleming’s conviction. She later testified in front of a judge that she was on parole and had been arrested with another woman for being in a stolen van the night of the killing. She said police persuaded her to give a statement against Fleming to avoid going back to jail.
Koss said the judge threw out her later testimony because she could not provide enough facts to back up her story.
Koss said defense investigators even found a witness in South Carolina who claims to have been the getaway driver during Rush’s killing and who identified someone they say is the real killer.