It was the summer of 1989.
Jonathan Fleming and his family left their New York home and headed for Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
On vacation, he accumulated seemingly insignificant things: plane tickets, a few postcards and a hotel receipt for an $81.92 phone bill, which he says he slipped into his pocket.
That receipt was reportedly still in his pocket when police arrested him for the murder of a friend, Darryl “Black” Rush, who was shot to death in Brooklyn on Aug. 15, 1989, in what authorities suggested was a dispute over stolen money.
That receipt was time-stamped about five hours before the shooting, showing he was more than 1,000 miles away at the time.
But that receipt was never given to his attorney and never presented at his trial.
Fleming was convicted and sentenced to 25 years to life.
Just a few months shy of a parole hearing, a New York judge on Tuesday vacated Fleming’s conviction after prosecutors determined he was indeed innocent.
After serving 24 years and 8 months in prison for a crime he never committed, Fleming, now 51, walked out of a Brooklyn courtroom.
“The day is finally here. I’ve dreamed about it many nights,” he told reporters. “I’m finally a free man.”
Last month, a Louisiana man was released from death row where he had served nearly 30 years for murder. And like Fleming, he wasn’t even placed at the scene of the crime.
During Fleming’s trial in 1990, his attorneys presented evidence — plane tickets, video footage and vacation photos — to show that he was at Disney World at the time of the murder. Prosecutors argued he could have flown from Florida back to Brooklyn, shot Rush and then traveled back to Florida. They also doubted his family’s testimony.
That hotel receipt never surfaced.
A woman who said she was an eyewitness identified Fleming as the murderer. She retracted her statement before his sentencing, saying she lied so authorities would dismiss her felony charges, but the prosecution insisted the statement was true. Police reports have since confirmed that charges against her were dropped after she falsely identified him, The New York Daily News reported.
Last year, New Y0rk’s Conviction Integrity Unit looked into the case after investigators and attorneys for Fleming brought in new witness accounts. That’s when they found in his case file the key piece of evidence needed to prove his innocence — the Orlando Quality Inn receipt stamped at 9:27 p.m. Aug. 14, 1989. The shooting was in Brooklyn at 2:15 a.m. Aug. 15, The New York Times reported.
In addition, investigators found a report showing Orlando police interviewed hotel staff members who remembered seeing Fleming that evening. It was not presented at his murder trial.
Fleming’s attorneys recently re-interviewed witnesses to the murder. And a source said prosecutors are now aware of a person who is believed to be the real killer.
“It could not have possibly been a mistake,” Taylor Koss, one of Fleming’s lawyers, said on Tuesday, explaining that Fleming had asked about the receipt during his initial trial and a detective who was questioned about it said he did not remember it.
Brooklyn’s former district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, created the Conviction Integrity Unit after criticism of wrongful convictions.
Brooklyn’s new district attorney, Kenneth P. Thompson, is looking at 50 other murder cases. He has already been credited with the release of two people who were serving time for murder when new evidence came to light, the Times reported.