• Sun. Mar 26th, 2023


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After 31 Years in Prison, a Man Is Freed Over ‘Mistaken Identification’

Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the Miami-Dade state attorney, said the case pointed to the vulnerability of eyewitness identification. Mr. James’s conviction rested primarily on the testimony of Dorothy Walton, Mr. McKinnon’s stepdaughter, who had been in the apartment and had identified Mr. James as the gunman after the police put his photo in a lineup.

“I’m positive of it,” she testified during the trial, according to court papers. “I will never forget his face. I will never forget his eyes.”

No physical evidence tied Mr. James or anyone else to the crime, prosecutors said.

Over the years, Ms. Walton began to waver in her certainty about Mr. James, prosecutors said. Although reluctant to rehash the case and fearful that Mr. James could take revenge on her if he were released, she eventually “voiced concerns that maybe she had made a mistake,” and said she “wouldn’t want to go to her grave with the possibility that she may have made a mistake,” court papers said. She told investigators that, as a “good Christian woman,” she would pray on it.

On April 12, after prosecutors subpoenaed her to testify under oath, Ms. Walton told investigators that she “now believes she made a mistake” in her identification of Mr. James, and that she did not attribute her change to any “outside influence,” prosecutors said.

Ms. Fernandez Rundle called it “an unfortunate mistaken-identity case.”

“Around the country, eyewitness testimony, absent any forensic evidence, is always vulnerable,” she said.

Ms. Fernandez Rundle added that a different man named Tommy James told investigators that he had been eyeing Mr. McKinnon’s apartment with his cousin, Vincent Williams, for a possible robbery in the days before the murder.

That Tommy James, however, was behind bars when Mr. McKinnon was killed, she said. Mr. Williams later told Tommy James that he and another man had committed the robbery and murder. Mr. Williams has since died. The other man has denied any involvement.