Prosecutors claimed Thursday that a photograph of a different person with the same name resulted in the false arrest of a New York City man who has spent more than 18 years in prison for murder.
The arrest of Sheldon Thomas, now 35, for the fatal shooting of Anderson Bercy, 14, on December 24, 2004, “was tainted from the very start by significant flaws and lack of probable cause,” Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez stated.
Thomas was one of three people accused of carrying out a drive-by shooting that claimed the life of Bercy and injured another teen.
According to a review of the case by the district attorney’s Conviction Review Unit, Thomas’ past arrest for allegedly pointing an unusable gun at police officers was requested to be made public so that investigators could utilize Thomas’ photo in a photo lineup.
As they questioned a witness about the shooting of Bercy, detectives also received a photo of a different Sheldon Thomas and displayed it to him.
The second Sheldon Thomas was in the car where the shots were fired, according to the witness, the investigation revealed.
Detectives allegedly proceeded to the residence of the first Sheldon Thomas and arrested him based on that identification.
When Detective Robert Reedy revealed under cross-examination that the defendant’s photo had not been in the lineup, it was discovered that the photo identification had been flawed during a June 2006 pretrial hearing.
But, based on “confirmed information from anonymous callers” and the fact that he allegedly resembled the other Thomas, the judge determined that there was probable cause to arrest Thomas.
Thomas received a sentence of 25 years to life in jail after being found guilty of second-degree murder and other offenses.
When the Conviction Review Unit investigators reinterviewed witnesses, they discovered that the detectives, particularly Reedy, had harassed Thomas after his earlier gun arrest and that they had coached a witness to identify Thomas as one of the shooters in the Bercy killing because they “were intent on proving that Thomas was one of the shooters in the Bercy killing.”
Once the Internal Affairs Bureau conducted an investigation, Reedy, who had since retired, was later reprimanded.
On Thursday, a phone number for Robert Reedy was called inquiring about remarks on the re-investigation into the 2004 shooting.
Thomas was due to appear before Brooklyn State Supreme Court Justice Matthew J. D’Emic on Thursday.
In its report, the district attorney’s office recommended that the conviction be overturned and the case not be retried due to flawed evidence.
Gonzalez referred to Thomas’ conviction as “fundamentally unfair” and continued, “I am resolved to continue conducting this essential work whenever we uncover a disputed conviction in Brooklyn.”
An email was sent to Thomas’s lawyer for a response.