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An Innocent South Florida Man Is Freed After Nearly 35 Years in Prison. Here’s How He Coped.

Sidney Holmes was sentenced to serve 400 years after a wrongful conviction for a 1988 armed robbery in Broward County. A judge exonerated him on Monday.

BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA — After a wrongful conviction and nearly 35 years in a South Florida prison, Sidney Holmes has been set free.

“I never gave up,” he told reporters at a press conference on Monday. “My family was always by me the whole time, so hope wasn’t going to be an issue.”

Courtesy Innocence Project of Florida


At 23 years old, Holmes was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery in Broward County in 1988 and sentenced to 400 years for a crime he didn’t commit. Now 57, Sidney is finally a free man.

Family members shed tears of joy in the courtroom as Broward Circuit Judge Edward Merrigan ordered Holmes’ release. He was hugged and kissed by his mom, aunts and other family members in an emotional reunion.

Holmes said he felt overwhelmed, but the first thing he wanted to do was to find something to eat. “I can’t have hate. I just have to keep on moving,” said Holmes.


In 2019, Holmes wrote to the Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit that helps innocent prisoners obtain freedom and rebuild their lives. The organization took his case because a review of the evidence showed he may be innocent. After a two-and-a-half-year investigation, the Broward State Attorney’s Office decided to drop the charges.

“There is no evidence tying Mr. Holmes to the robbery other than a flawed identification,” Arielle Berger, Assistant State Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit, told reporters outside the courtroom.

Berger told the judge that there were “no fingerprints, no physical evidence, nothing but one witness ID that we, your honor, believe was a bad ID.”


Holmes was accused in 1988 of being the getaway driver for two unidentified men who burglarized a man and a woman outside a convenience store in unincorporated Broward County. He was convicted after a jury trial in April 1989 and sentenced the following month.

Holmes was the only one arrested and convicted for the crime. In November 2020, he contacted the Broward County State Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit (CRU). The team determined that Holmes had a plausible claim of innocence and launched an investigation with the help of the Innocence Project.

Following the collaborative review, the CRU determined a reasonable doubt because Holmes’ conviction relied heavily on an eyewitness that misidentified him. Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor and an Independent Review Panel also reached the same conclusion.

“Prosecutors do not believe there was any intentional misconduct by witnesses or law enforcement as the identification practices and technology have vastly improved since 1988 and deputies followed the accepted standards at the time. The methods used would not be acceptable practices today,” the State Attorney’s Office said in a news release Monday.


“When someone’s been in prison for three decades telling everyone ‘I’m innocent, I’m innocent,’ – for many of these men and women, no one’s listened to them the entire time,” said Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida.

Miller said Holmes was flooded with emotions when he learned that someone was finally fighting for his freedom.

“When he was brought out [in court], he didn’t know that his conviction had been vacated already and that the state was going to drop charges,” said Miller.

Even after decades of challenges, Nicole Mitchell, Holmes’ sister, said the family never lost hope. She said she never let her brother lose his faith.

“It’s over,” Mitchell said. “It’s a long, long, long time overdue. A long-awaited day. We just thank God for allowing this opportunity to come forward.”