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Cleared of murder, man starts fresh 24 years later


NEW YORK (AP) - The day Jonathan Fleming was cleared of the murder that put him behind bars for almost 25 years, he strode out of a courthouse to congratulations from passers-by, a steak dinner with his family and the start of a new life.

The weeks since have been a mix of emotional highs and practical frustrations. He spent an evening as a VIP guest at a boxing match and slept that night on a cousin's couch. He marveled at strangers donating thousands of dollars to help him, but doesn't yet have a place of his own.

He had a first-ever meeting with a son he learned was his while in prison, even as he prepares to visit another son serving a prison term of his own.

"Coming back, you know, it's been hard. ... It's a lot to have to catch up on," Fleming says. But, he says, "I'm looking forward to it. Because I'm just so happy to be out here."

Fleming was cleared April 8 after prosecutors said they now believe what he had been saying all along: that he was on a family vacation in Disney World when a friend was shot dead in Brooklyn in 1989.

Defense investigators located witnesses who said Fleming wasn't the gunman. And prosecutors found previously undisclosed documents in their own files that supported Fleming's alibi, including a hotel phone bill he paid in Orlando, Fla., about five hours before the shooting.

During his years in prison, Fleming wrote letters to prosecutors, meditated, took vocational courses, and logged disciplinary penalties for drug possession, creating disturbances and other infractions. He says he gave up being angry about his conviction but never lost hope he'd be freed.

When the word finally came, "the feeling - you have no idea," he says. "I just sat down on my bed, and I cried."

___

After dropping into 2014 from 1989, Fleming spent a recent day opening the first bank account he's had in his 51 years, learned to use his new iPhone, and got an email address set up by one of his lawyers.

It has a "14" in it, for the year he was freed.

"Should have said '24' - the years that I did," he said, and laughed.

For all he had to celebrate, Fleming also was facing a struggle to get on his feet. He left prison with less than $100 and no permanent home. He's getting divorced from his second wife, and his ailing, 71-year-old mother in Brooklyn can't take him in because she is already accommodating other relatives.

Lawyers Taylor Koss and Anthony Mayol plan to file false-conviction suits that could eventually net substantial sums, and a stranger launched an online campaign that has raised more than $32,000 for Fleming so far. To get by in the meantime, Fleming has signed up for food stamps and taken out a loan against a potential lawsuit settlement.

Fleming is among more than 1,350 inmates exonerated nationwide in the last 25 years. Studies have found those exonerated often confront challenges finding jobs and housing, rebuilding family relationships and grappling with the psychological legacies of their experiences.

One legacy that haunts Fleming is regret over his 33-year-old son in prison, the one he left behind when he was arrested. The Disney World trip had been that son's ninth birthday present.

"Sometimes I feel like I failed him because I really feel if I was out there, I don't think he'd be in prison now," says Fleming, who is planning a visit.

He's also been reconnecting with his other three sons, including one born while he was in prison and a 32-year-old son he didn't know he had until after he was behind bars. Fleming visited him and his family in Pennsylvania.

"They had a cookout," he says. "Made me really feel at home."

___

Fleming doesn't want to talk about his life before his arrest. He'd had other brushes with the law; prison system records show he had served about a year in an auto-theft case.

What he will say is: "I'm not going to pick up where I left off. It's a new day."

"A New Day" is his working title for a book he started writing in prison and hopes to publish someday. He also wants to go to college, maybe law school, to help other inmates challenge convictions and to advise young people about staying out of trouble.

"I'm excited to move forward," Fleming says. "Because I know God has a plan for me."

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YOUNGBLOOD April 24 2014 at 5:00 PM

After that long a stay in prison, he is an institutionalized man. I hope there is a program or he has loads of family to help him get back into civilization. Sometimes these men are so embarrassed by not knowing how to fit back into society, they regress.

Good Luck, Mister.

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weynspirit April 24 2014 at 6:44 PM

if he's not guilty then i say good luck to him, pay him for ruining his life, and those involved in this case should be help responsible for his restitution, and should be fired or step down, do the right thing, for once, the courts system is broken

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1 reply
slaton289 weynspirit April 24 2014 at 7:03 PM

THANK GOD WE HAVE A GOD THAT CAN OPEN DOORS AND DID YES IT TOOK 24 YRS I TOO FEEL HE SHOULD BE COMPENSATED FOR ALL THOSE YRS HE DID UNJUSTLY BUT IT JUST GOES TO SHOW WE HAVE A VERY BROKEN SYSTEM. THERES NO LAW ANYMORE JUS A BUNCH OF BULL----. BY THE GRACE OF GOD THIS MAN WILL PROSPER. YOU PEOPLE KILL ME WORRYING BOUT FOODSTAMPS. PICTURE YOURSELF IN THIS POSITION.

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den April 24 2014 at 9:42 AM

first,he should get 24 million from the city,state that did this to him!!! then,he should get everything the DA,prosecutors,,judge ,anyone that had anything to do with him going to prison.
second,there are many people in prison that are not guilty.why does some people always got to bring race into the subject? there are people of ALL races in prison just so they can convict someone for something !!!!
then,if they would start doing something to the people responsible for wrongfully putting people in prison,a lot of these wrongfull prison convictions would stop !!!!!!!

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1 reply
blo2thehead den April 24 2014 at 9:51 AM

There would be no prosecutors if they knew the could go to jail if they made a mistake. So just as doctors have malpractice insurance.............
I'll let you figure it out for yourself.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
den April 24 2014 at 9:44 AM

by the way,24 million is not enough.what if this guy would of killed himself,or got killed while in prison??
there is not enough money to compensate him !!

Flag Reply +5 rate up
rasheedjimoh April 24 2014 at 9:48 AM

May Almigty God give him the grace to sustain the new damn in his life...amin

Flag Reply +2 rate up
estimatorone April 24 2014 at 9:56 AM

This shows you the terrible flaws in our system. Prosecuters, so interested in only their gains, use the power of their office to nail someone no matter what the cost. Most defendants do not have the resources of the prosecutor. Thus, they get swept up into what this man, and dozens of others, have. Lives lost forever, prosecutors/judges/police being rewarded for shoddy work. Taking 25 years to exhonorate this man was the final slap in the face. True, the overwhelming majority of people convicted of a crime was done with the person actually being guilty. However, the number of people being convicted of crimes they did not do is also alarming. Most of us should be concerned about things like this. For one thing, we, the taxpayers must foot the bill for the lawsuits filed for false arrest/imprisonment. And, this can happen to anyone of us.

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kjr5418 April 24 2014 at 6:29 PM

Food stamps and a 32k bank account !?!?!?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
cdebin April 24 2014 at 10:01 AM

I pray that he is able to get over the emotional scars of being made a slave.

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2 replies
cathymds cdebin April 24 2014 at 10:52 AM

oh.. get over the slave ****.. good lord

Flag Reply +1 rate up
gigi1105 cdebin April 24 2014 at 11:52 AM

slave???? 150 years ago!!!! time to get over it!!!! the irish were starved and killed by the british 150 yrs ago......do what they did rise above everyone of them!!!!!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
GLENN J. HANSEN April 24 2014 at 10:01 AM

the truth sets us all free

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endmillll April 24 2014 at 9:42 AM

I wish him luck.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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