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Deama Thomas

Other Robberies with Mistaken Witness ID
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On June 7, 1988, a gunman described as dark-skinned and heavy-set robbed the Sobieski Savings and Loan in South Bend, Indiana.

Vicki Bailey, a cashier at a nearby liquor store, heard about the robbery and contacted police. She reported that a man resembling the robber’s description had purchased cigarettes from her at about the time of the robbery. Police showed Bailey a photographic lineup and she selected the photograph of a man named Eric Nelson.

Not long after, however, police received a tip through their Crime Stoppers program that implicated 27-year-old Deama Thomas in the robbery. Police then put together a photographic lineup that included Thomas’s photograph, but not Nelson’s. Bank tellers present during the robbery viewed the lineup and identified Thomas as the robber. In fact, Nelson and Thomas closely resembled each other.

Thomas was charged with armed robbery. While Thomas was awaiting trial, Nelson was arrested on an unrelated charge. While in the St. Joseph County Jail, Nelson bragged to numerous people that he had committed the bank robbery.

In May 1989, Thomas went to trial in St. Joseph County Superior Court. The bank tellers identified him as the robber. Thomas’s defense lawyer called Nelson as a witness, but Nelson invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refused to testify. Thomas’s lawyer then sought to call as many as 20 witnesses who would testify that they heard Nelson admit he committed the robbery. The trial judge refused to allow the witnesses, ruling that it was proper to exclude a confession to a third party because such statements are “permeated with untrustworthiness.”

On May 19, 1989, the jury found Thomas guilty of armed robbery and he was sentenced to six years in prison.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, but on October 25, 1991, the Supreme Court of Indiana reversed and ordered a new trial.

The court noted that “sufficient corroborating evidence exists to allow the exculpatory statements to be presented.” The court noted that the liquor store clerk originally selected Nelson as the perpetrator, but he was dropped from the investigation after the Crime Stoppers tip.

“Additionally, (Nelson) allegedly bragged to as many as 20 people regarding the robbery, which he described in great detail,” the court said. “Clearly sufficient corroboration existed to indicate the trustworthiness of the statements.”

On February 3, 1992, the prosecution dismissed the charge and Thomas was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 9/5/2017
State:Indiana
County:St. Joseph
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Convicted:1989
Exonerated:1992
Sentence:6 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No