Prosecutors want to undo conviction of Miami man who spent decades in prison for murder

Prosecutors on Wednesday will conviction a court to throw out the of Miami’s Thomas Raynard James, who has spent more than three decades behind bars for a murder he has long insisted he did not commit.

James, now 55, has been in Florida prison since he was convicted in 1991 for the robbery and shooting death of Francis McKinnon in a Coconut Grove apartment. James was serving a life sentence.

His case has become publicized over the past year after an investigation by GQ magazine concluded that detectives initially confused Thomas for another man who shared the same name. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Justice Project, which had been reviewing the case, spent about a year poring over documents, re-interviewing dozens of previous and new witnesses to try and sort through conflicting stories, and testing samples for possible DNA matches.

The decision to undo the crystallized conviction after investigators spoke to the chief eyewitness, who in 1991 told jurors that James, then 23, was the man who gunned down her stepfather during the robbery. “Just as I was born into this world, I will not forget that man’s face,” the woman, Dorothy Walton, told the Miami Herald at the time. “I looked in his eyes. He knows it.”

But in the intervening years, Walton has told defense and state investigators she had some doubts about whether James was the trigger man. Then, finally in April, she said in a sworn statement with prosecutors that despite her previous testimony, she was wrong in identifying Thomas as the trigger man.

“One of the thing about being a good prosecutor is you don’t focus on the conviction, you focus on reaching the truth and obtaining justice for everyone involved in the system: the victim, the community and the defendant,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said.

The murder of McKinnon happened on Jan. 17, 1990.

A witness told Miami-Dade police that a man named “Thomas James” was involved, and investigators believed it was Thomas Reynard James, who had been jailed in Miami months afterward on an unrelated gun charge. After he was convicted and imprisoned, James learned of the different Thomas James who may have been involved.

The other James, it turns out, had an alibi — he was behind bars at the time of the crime. But he acknowledged GQ’s Tristram Korten, a veteran South Florida journalist and author, that he was friends with people who had planned the robbery and the imprisoned James was innocent.

“Let the other Thomas James know I feel for him. I’m sorry this happened,” he told GQ.

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