A Florida man who spent 34 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit was just released after prosecutors dismissed the charges against him.
Sidney Holmes, 57, was convicted for his alleged role in a 1988 armed robbery and sentenced to 400 years in prison. But this week, he was released from prison.
“I never lost hope and always knew this day would come,” Holmes said after learning he would be released, according to a statement from the Innocence Project of Florida. “I cannot wait to hug my mother in the free world for the first time in over 34 years.”
Holmes was convicted of being the getaway driver for an armed robbery that occurred in 1988 at a convenience store just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but in November 2020, he contacted the conviction review unit of the Broward County state attorney’s office to have them look into his case. The review unit and the Innocence Project looked into Holmes’ case and found “reasonable doubts about his guilt,” the state attorney’s office said in a statement.
One of the two victims in the armed robbery identified the getaway vehicle as a brown Oldsmobile Cutlass with a tan roof and a hole in the trunk, CNN reported. A few weeks later, the victim’s brother saw a brown Cutlass on the road and gave police the license plate number, which was registered to Holmes. Even though Holmes had an alibi and his car had some key differences to the one described by the victim, he was arrested and charged with the crime.
“There was no physical or scientific evidence, nor any corroborating witnesses, linking Mr. Holmes to the crime,” the Innocence Project said.
One of the victims was only able to identify Holmes during a second photo lineup after not being able to identify him during the first lineup.
The state attorney’s office wrote in its press release that prosecutors “determined that Holmes had a plausible claim of innocence because of how he became a suspect and because of the precarious eyewitness identification that was the principal evidence against him at trial.” The office added that it “would not charge him today based on these facts.”
On Monday, a judge approved a request from the office and the Innocence Project to vacate Holmes’ sentence and conviction. Prosecutors also dismissed the charge and Holmes was released from prison that same day.
As to how Holmes was sentenced to 400 years in prison for being a getaway driver, the conviction review unit’s 25-page report explains that Holmes had two prior convictions for armed robbery. Both robberies occurred on the same day in 1984 and in both cases, Holmes was in his car while his co-defendant Steven Glover committed the robberies. When police tailed the vehicle, Glover attempted to run before turning himself in while Holmes immediately surrendered. Holmes also admitted to driving the car and gave up Glover, but in the 1988 incident, Holmes said he couldn’t identify the two men involved in the armed robbery (because he wasn’t part of it).
At sentencing, prosecutor Peter Magrino argued that Holmes deserved 825 years in prison and “should not be released from prison while his body is still functioning.” In Florida, a life sentence meant the possibility of parole after 25 years, which Magrino didn’t want, he told the review unit during its investigation.
The judge at the time thought 825 years was “perhaps a little bit too much,” so instead sentenced Holmes to 400 years.