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Sidney Holmes

Other Broward County, Florida exonerations
At about 6:30 p.m., on Father’s Day, June 19, 1988, 20-year-old Vincent Wright and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Anissia Johnson, pulled into a One Stop convenience store at 2525 NW 6th Street, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Wright knelt by the right rear of the car to put air in the tire. Anissia remained in the front passenger seat with the car doors locked. As Wright was talking to a man he only knew as “Tommy,” two men approached, one of whom was putting an ammunition clip into a semi-automatic pistol.

One of the men put a gun to Wright’s head and said, “Give it up.” The other man, also holding a gun, said, “Shoot him.” Wright said he had no money. One of the gunmen then went to the passenger side of the car and demanded, “Where’s the money?” Johnson said she had no money as well.

At that moment, a brown car pulled up, and a man got out. He told the two gunmen to take Wright’s car, a 1983 silver Mercury Cougar. He added, “I’ll get with you later on. I’ll meet you up there.”

Johnson unlocked the car and got out. The two men got in and sped off. Johnson called 911. At about the same time, a friend of Wright’s pulled into the One Stop. Wright got into the friend’s car and they drove off in what turned out to be a futile attempt to catch up to Wright’s car.

Johnson told police the first two men who came up were Black. She said the man who came to the side of the car was “red” and “light-skinned.” She did not describe the third man or the car.

Wright did not talk to police until June 28, nine days later. He said the first man to approach him had a mustache, and wore jeans and a black shirt. The second man was “red” or very light-skinned, and was short. He did not describe the car that pulled up until a month later and then said that it was brown.

After the robbery, Wright told his brother, Milton Wright, what had happened, but said there were four perpetrators. In response, Milton said that four men had attempted to rob him earlier on Father’s Day when Milton was stopped at a traffic light about five minutes from the One Stop. Milton related that three men got out of a car which also was stopped at the light, and they shot at him. Milton managed to drive away. Milton said the men were in a 1970 to 1979 Oldsmobile that was one color and had a hole in the trunk where the lock would be.

Milton believed that the men who tried to rob him were the same ones who took Vincent’s car. He began looking for the perpetrators’ car, and, at one point, he wrote down a license plate number of a possible vehicle. He gave the plate number to Vincent, who gave the number to the police. That car was eliminated by police.

On July 1, 1988, Milton pulled up behind a brown Oldsmobile Cutlass driven by 22-year-old Sidney Holmes. Although the lock was intact on the trunk, Milton took down the license plate number, believing that the perpetrators probably had gotten the lock fixed.

After determining that the car was owned by Holmes, police created a photographic lineup containing a photo of Holmes from 1984 when he had been arrested for two robberies in which he was the driver. Vincent viewed the lineup, but did not make an identification.

On July 14, 1988, police asked Holmes to come in for an interview. He complied and allowed his photograph to be taken, confident that he would be eliminated from involvement in a crime he said he did not commit.

On July 25, Vincent viewed a second photo lineup, this one containing the new photo of Holmes. Vincent identified Holmes as the third man. This lineup would later be criticized by eyewitness identification experts because the photograph of Holmes had a darker background than the other photographs. A third identification process was held—a live lineup—and Vincent identified Holmes. This lineup also would be criticized because a photograph of it showedHolmes was looking down while all the others in the lineup were looking straight ahead. Moreover, Holmes was the only person to be in all the lineups that Vincent viewed, another flaw cited by the experts.

Vincent’s description of the man who came out of the car had become more distinct. Vincent, who was 5 ‘8” tall, said the man was about 5’ 6” tall, dark-skinned, was “muscle-bound” or heavy-set, and had big lips. Holmes was 6’ tall and weighed 183 pounds. Vincent said the car was brown.

On October 6, 1988, Holmes was arrested on a charge of robbery with a firearm. On October 20, 1988, Holmes stood in a live lineup. Vincent identified him as the third man. The two armed men who first confronted him were never apprehended.

In January 1989, Vincent testified during a pretrial deposition that the car was a brown Oldsmobile with a hole in the trunk. During a second pretrial deposition, Vincent said it was either a 1978 or 1979 Oldsmobile with a hole in the trunk.

Anissia Johnson, during her pretrial deposition, said the car was a rust or beige colored Cutlass Supreme or Buick Regal.

Holmes went to trial in Broward County Circuit Court on April 24, 1989. The prosecution’s case relied almost solely on Vincent’s identification. Vincent testified that the car was light brown with a cream-colored roof. He said there was a hole in the trunk where the lock would be, requiring a screwdriver to open it.

Anissia Johnson never made an identification of Holmes. She had been unable to identify him in a photographic lineup and never came to the police station to view a live lineup.

The defense presented four alibi witnesses who testified that Holmes was at his parents’ home that Father’s Day well into the evening and past the time that the robbery occurred.

On April 26, 1989, the jury convicted Holmes of robbery with a firearm. At sentencing, the prosecutor, Peter Magrino, asked the judge to sentence Holmes to 825 years in prison. Magrino noted that Holmes held “the keys to the prison in his back pocket.” Magrino said he had offered “an opportunity” if Holmes were to identify the two other perpetrators, but Holmes had refused.

“The reason for my recommendation [of] an exceedingly high number of years is to ensure that he won’t be released while he’s breathing,” Magrino said.

Holmes’s attorney sought a sentence of 40 years, arguing that it would likely be the same as a life sentence.

Judge Mel Grossman said that he thought the prosecution demand was excessive. “I think that 800 years is perhaps a little bit much,” Grossman said. So, he sentenced Holmes as a habitual offender to 400 years instead.

Holmes’s conviction was upheld on appeal. He sought post-conviction relief on two occasions, seeking a sentence reduction, but was not successful.

In 2019, the Broward County State Attorney’s Office established a Conviction Review Unit (CRU) to re-examine claims of wrongful conviction. In November 2020, Holmes wrote to the unit asking that his case be reviewed.

After determining the case should be reviewed, Arielle Demby Berger, the assistant state attorney in charge of the CRU, asked Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) to represent Holmes during a joint re-investigation of the case. IPF attorney Brandon Scheck and IPF staff investigator Amy Carr began tracking down and interviewing witnesses.

On February 20, 2023, Demby Berger and assistant state attorney Sarah Gresham completed the final report of the investigation that concluded Holmes’s conviction should be vacated. The report noted the results of the investigation conducted along with IPF was presented to an independent Review Panel consisting of six individuals from Broward County, five of whom were attorneys. The panel unanimously recommended that Holmes’s conviction be vacated and five of the six concluded that Holmes was factually innocent.

Two experts on eyewitness identification had reviewed the evidence in the case and both concluded there were multiple factors which caused Vincent’s identification to be questionable in addition to the suggestive nature of the photographic lineup. These factors included the lack of an evidence-based suspicion to put Holmes in the lineup, the elapse of time between the crime and Vincent’s identification of Holmes, and the presence of multiple perpetrators with weapons. The experts suggested that the post-crime discussion Vincent had with his brother, who became convinced that he had been victimized by the same perpetrators, likely distorted Vincent’s memory.

During the re-investigation, Vincent was interviewed. During the interview, he said that the driver had never gotten out of the car, calling into question his ability to describe the height and weight of the man. Vincent said during this interview that he did not remember what the driver looked like and the person he identified – Holmes – could have been either of the gunmen. “It happened so fast, it was like a dream,” he said.

During the re-investigation, the CRU re-interviewed all of Holmes’s alibi witnesses, who were adamant that he was with them on that Father’s Day. Family members and friends spent much of the day riding a go-cart.

The CRU consulted with Dave Pfaff, an Oldsmobile historian. Pfaff reported that from 1976 to 1983, the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the best-selling car in the United States, and was a “stand-out seller” throughout the 1980s.

The CRU concluded that the “eyewitness identification of Holmes was scientifically unreliable and contrary to modern-day best practices.”

On March 9, 2023, an agreed motion for post-conviction relief was filed by the CRU and IPF. On March 13, 2023, Holmes’s conviction was vacated, and the case was dismissed. Holmes was released, more than 33 years from the date of his conviction.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/16/2023
Last Updated: 3/16/2023
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1988
Sentence:400 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No