WOULD YOU SPEND 24 YEAR’S IN JAIL FOR A CRIME YOU DIDN’T COMMIT?
Shaurn Thomas was sentenced to life in prison in 1993, at the age of 19. This past tuesday he was granted freedom after spending 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Thomas walked out of the Schuylkill County Correctional Facility in Frackville and embraced family members, including his fiancée. Prosecutors in the case agreed with Thomas’ defense team that the evidence brought forth at trial did not support his conviction.
Thomas was convicted of the slaying of businessman Domingo Martinez, who was shot to death in November 1990 while taking a $25,000 check to be cashed. Thomas, then 16, had an alibi. He told authorities from the beginning that he was at a youth study center for juvenile offenders, dealing with the aftermath of an unrelated crime. Both Thomas and his mother said they were in court at the time of the murder, awaiting his initial appearance on an arrest the night before for a motorcycle theft. The sign-in logs from the youth center disappeared before Thomas’ murder trial began so his alibi did not convince the jury, who found him guilty of Martinez’s murder.
James Figorski lead attorney for Thomas was drawn to the case because he believed Thomas’ alibi. He worked with the Innocence Project to clear his client’s name. The defense team began working in January with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s Conviction Review Unit, which found the case file from the Martinez murder investigation. The file disappeared decades ago. In those files were 36 pages of witness statements taken days after the murder for which Shaurn would be arrested years later.
Figorski stats “Had that information been available at trial and had the story of Shaurn’s presence in court at the moment the murder was committed been told correctly, prosecutors agreed the trial would likely have ended differently.”
Despite his release, prosecutors could choose to refile murder charges against Thomas. They have until June 13 to make their decision. In the meantime, Thomas is adjusting to being back with his family. His mother, Hazeline Thomas, said it was difficult knowing that authorities did not believe her or her son. She said her son never gave up on proving his innocence.