On Monday, March 13, 2023, Sidney Holmes, an inmate who was serving a 400-year prison sentence for armed robbery charges, was exonerated after spending three decades in prison. The 57-year-old was convicted in April 1989 for armed robbery and was reportedly falsely identified as the getaway driver by the victim, who was robbed at gunpoint in 1988.
Authorities said that at the time, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence Holmes to 800 years in prison after he failed to identify the accomplices in the robbery. However, the judge who deemed the requested punishment excessive instead sentenced him to a 400-year prison sentence.
Sidney Holmes was misidentified in an armed robbery case on the basis of a biased witness statement
As per CBS News, after spending nearly three decades on a 400-year sentence, Sidney Holmes contacted the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit in 2020, stating his innocence.
Prosecutors, who began investigating the case, said that officials misidentified Holmes based on a biased witness statement that singularly focused on the suspect's vehicle that supposedly matched the description of the getaway car.
In 1988, Holmes was arrested after a robbery victim’s brother alleged that he spotted him behind the wheel of a brown 1970s-era Oldsmobile Cutlass vehicle. The victim’s brother told police that three weeks earlier, the victim and a woman were robbed by people at gunpoint in a similar car.
During the trial, prosecutors claimed that the victim’s description of the getaway driver, described as short and heavy, matched Holmes’ physique though Holmes was 6 feet and 183 pounds at the time. After reopening the case, the Broward State Attorney's Office said that prosecutors misidentified Holmes as the suspect by falsely focusing on his vehicle, which based on the evidence, did not accurately match the description provided by the witness.
According to witnesses, the getaway vehicle, believed to be a 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass, had a missing trunk lock with a distinctive hole in its place. However, the attorney’s office said that Holmes' car had an intact trunk lock, thus proving that his vehicle was not involved in the incident, as per NBC News.
After reviewing the evidence and based on the new findings, the judge vacated Sidney Holmes’ sentence. Following Holme’s exoneration, Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor issued a statement praising the efforts of investigators who helped free Holmes.
"We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney's Office – do the right thing, always. As prosecutors, our only agenda is to promote public safety in our community and to ensure that justice is served. I commend the victims, witnesses, and law enforcement officers for their candour and assistance in reinvestigating a crime that occurred more than 34 years ago."
Shortly after walking out of the courtroom, Sidney Holmes, who embraced his mother outside, told reporters that he always held onto the hope that he would be found innocent.