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Marching for labor rights, ending a 400-year sentence, and the effects of a bank's collapse on South Florida

Andrea Melendez
Jose Gomez of Minneapolis, MN, carries a large sun that says “Fair Food,” during a five-day, almost 50-miles, march began in Pakokee, FL, Tuesday morning, and will end in Palm Beach, FL, to bring awareness to the abuse and mistreatment of migrant farmworkers.

On this episode of the South Florida Roundup, we spoke about the march across Palm Beach County for labor rights, the exoneration of a man who had been handed a 400-year sentence in Fort Lauderdale, and the impact Silicon Valley Bank's collapse had on South Florida.

Al Diaz (adiaz@miamiherald.com)
The Miami Herald
Sidney Holmes, 57 is hugged by his aunt Georgia Adams and his mother, Mary Holmes, after being released from the Main Jail Bureau, a maximum security facility adjacent to the Broward County Courthouse on Monday, March 13, 2023.

Why Broward prosecutors dismissed charges against man wrongly convicted for 1988 crime

Sidney Holmes, a 57-year-old Black man, was exonerated last week after spending nearly 35 years in prison under a wrongful conviction in connection to a 1988 armed robbery in Broward County. He had been sentenced to 400 years in jail.

His release came after the Innocence Project of Florida, a non-profit organization that helps innocent prisoners get out of the system, worked with the Broward County State Attorney's Office to reinvestigate the case against Holmes.

Speaking on WLRN's South Florida Roundup on Friday, Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said the exoneration of Holmes represents his goal to have a criminal system that is "fair and equitable for all people."

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He explained that the Broward SAO Conviction Review Unit, working alongside the Innocence Project of Florida, found that there was enough evidence to prove Holmes' innocence.

“Mr. Holmes' alleged involvement with that was that of a getaway driver,” Pryor said. “It was never alleged that he was one of the assailants that had the weapon or tried to commit the armed robbery.”

During Holmes' trial in 1988, eyewitness identification was the main evidence used to prosecute the case. He was put in a lineup twice and was pointed out both times by the brother of one of the victims.

The car he drove was an extremely common vehicle for the time: a General Motors Oldsmobile. It was similar to the car used by the robbers.

“Many of the practices used by law enforcement at that time in the 1980s are pretty much outdated practices that aren't used really anymore in criminal investigations,” Pryor told the South Florida Roundup . “And we felt based on that information … we wouldn't have presented charges based on those practices that were utilized in the 1980s.”

Although Holmes was serving a 400-year prison sentence, prosecutors originally sought a harsher sentence: 825 years.

The numbers shocked Pryor, especially because it was for a case that didn’t hold much weight.

“The motivation as to why they [wanted] 400 years was to ensure that Mr. Holmes would not see the light of day outside of a Florida state prison,” Pryor said.

A 2022 report from the National Registry of Exonerations went through 3,200 exonerations in the last 30 years. It showed widespread disparities in a criminal legal system that disproportionately affects Black people, who represent 13% of the U.S. population, but make up 53% of exonerations.

Pryor said the criminal justice system is not perfect, especially since it is traditionally stacked against people of color and low-income individuals.

“My goal is to ensure that we have a criminal justice system that's fair and equitable for all people. And this is a start,” he told WLRN.

Other topics on Friday's South Florida Roundup included:

  • A march organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers across Palm Beach County for labor rights.
  • The impact of Silicon Valley Bank's collapse on South Florida's banks and the tech industry.

Listen to the episode above.

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Natu Tweh is producer of The Florida Roundup and The South Florida Roundup at WLRN.