Man freed after serving 34 years for Broward crime he didn’t commit

State Attorney announces case review results in exoneration

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – After more than 34 years in prison, deputies at Broward County’s main jail freed a 57-year-old man on Monday after prosecutors determined that he had been wrongly convicted.

A group of women rushed to hug Sidney Holmes when he walked out wearing a crisp white shirt and blue jeans instead of an orange jumpsuit. He said he had not gotten a hug from his mother in two years and he was craving seafood at Olive Garden.

“With the Christian faith I have, you know I can’t hate. I just have to keep moving,” Holmes told reporters on Monday after his release later adding, “I knew this day was going to come sooner or later.”

Detectives arrested Holmes, of Lauderhill, on Oct. 6, 1988, accusing him of working with two armed robbers on June 19, 1988, outside of a convenience store near the intersection of Northwest Sixth Street and 27 Avenue, according to prosecutors.

In 1989, a jury convicted Holmes of two counts of robbery with a deadly weapon and a judge sentenced him to 400 years in state prison. The Innocence Project, a non-profit organization that works to help innocent prisoners identified issues with the case, according to Attorney Seth Miller.

“We have lost loved ones while he’s been incarcerated — his father, his grandparents — but we just thank God,” Holmes’ aunt Jacqueline Dixson said on Monday outside of the jail.

Sidney Holmes was wrongly convicted in 1989, prosecutors announced after dropping the charges against him on Monday. (FDOC)

The Broward State Attorney’s conviction review unit worked with the Innocence Project with the help of a federal grant, according to Broward State Attorney Harold F. Pryor, who announced on Monday that charges against Holmes had been dropped.

“We review each case with an open mind, with no preconceptions, and we follow the evidence wherever it goes,” Pryor said in a statement after the unit’s review process found that Holmes’s identification as a suspect “was scientifically unreliable” as “deputies followed the accepted standards at the time.”

Holmes’ was driving a popular Oldsmobile Cutlass, which the victim’s brother suspected without much evidence had been present during the robbery. Holmes said he was innocent.

“Unfortunately no one believed him,” said Miller, the executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

Detectives never identified the gunmen who actually held the victims at gunpoint, and forged forward with the case against Holmes even though a victim did not identify Holmes from a first photo lineup and the other said she never saw him, according to the prosecution’s memo.

“We are thankful to State Attorney Pryor and the entire Broward Conviction Review Unit team for giving Sidney his life back,” Miller said in a statement.

During the investigation, the victim who said she never identified Holmes said he should be released from prison, and Broward Sheriff’s Office deputies who did the original investigation expressed shock that Holmes had served so much time in prison, according to the conviction review unit’s Feb. 20 memo.

“If the wrong person is incarcerated, the true perpetrator is free to commit more crimes,” Assistant State Attorney Arielle Demby Berger, who is in charge of the conviction review unit, said in a statement.

An Independent Review Panel voted 5-1 to exonerate Holmes. Corrections transferred him from the Everglades Correctional Institution to Broward County jail, and Broward Circuit Judge Edward Merrigan signed an order approving a request for his release.

“I was all elated; I was excited,” Holmes’s mother, Mary Holmes, said.

The review of the case also involved Assistant State Attorney Sarah Gresham and Investigator Joyce Cavallo. Holmes was in tears in the courtroom and he was all smiles once he was out of the jail. After his release, Holmes told reporters that he had a message for other innocent inmates: “You can’t lose faith.”

Read the conviction review unit’s final memo

Watch the raw video of his release

About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba.