Thomas Raynard James, a 55-year-old Miami man, was exonerated and freed from prison Wednesday after serving 32 years of a life sentence for a murder that prosecutors and a judge say he did not commit.
James, who told NBC News affiliate NBC 6 South Florida he felt "good" as he strode out of the hearing Wednesday, has always maintained his innocence and helped reveal details into his own wrongful conviction.
No physical evidence ever tied James to the 1990 murder of Francis McKinnon during a home invasion in Coral Gables.
James has been incarcerated since age 23, when he was picked out of a photo lineup and charged for McKinnon's murder in what prosecutors now admit was a case of mistaken identity.
After the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Justice Project re-opened James' case in 2021, film crews from NBC 6 South Florida re-interviewed the murder case's star witness, Dorothy Walton, who told them "they had the wrong guy."
When they asked for clarification she "repeated that police arrested the wrong man for the murder," NBC 6 reported.
Eventually, Walton recanted the 1991 courtroom statement — "I’m positive of it. I will never forget his face." — that wrongfully identified James and led to his conviction.
The fact that another incarcerated man named Thomas James is serving a life sentence for a string of violent robberies may have led to what prosecutors described as a "a chance coincidence" that "led to the defendant’s photograph being included in a lineup, and set in motion a mistaken identification."
James' case of mistaken identity was reported in a July 2021 GQ magazine feature. The still-incarcerated Thomas James is quoted as saying: “I know the other Thomas James was arrested by accident, by mistake," and, “The officers were looking for me.”
However, because James was jailed on the date of the 1990 Coral Gables home invasion, prosecutors have reopened their investigation into McKinnon's murder.