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A man serving a 400-year sentence for a 1988 armed robbery was exonerated, released

Semta News
Semta News
6 Min Read
Sidney Holmes hugs relatives outside the Broward County Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday.


A Florida man serving 400 years in prison for armed robbery walked out of jail Monday after a judge vacated his sentence based on new findings that the case against him was deeply flawed.

Sidney Holmes, 57, spent more than 34 years behind bars for a 1988 carjacking near Fort Lauderdale. After his release, he hugged his mother outside the Broward County Main Jail.

“I never would give up hope,” Holmes told reporters. “I knew this day was going to come sooner or later, and today is the day.”

Sidney Holmes hugs relatives outside the Broward County Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday.
Sidney Holmes hugs relatives outside the Broward County Main Jail in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Monday.NBC Miami

In 2020, Holmes contacted the Broward State Attorney’s Office Conviction Review Unit to say he was factually innocent. That got the ball rolling.

Prosecutors now firmly believe he didn’t do it, citing a flawed focus on his vehicle, a witness identification process rife with bias and a solid alibi.

“The State Attorney’s Office would not charge him today based on these facts,” the Broward County prosecutor’s office said in a statement Monday. 

Broward County State Attorney Harold F. Pryor praised those who participated in reinvestigating the case and said in the statement, “We have one rule here at the Broward State Attorney’s Office — do the right thing, always.”

A common car

Holmes’ plight began in summer 1988 when a man spotted him behind the wheel of a brown 1970s-era Oldsmobile Cutlass in South Florida. Three weeks earlier, the man’s brother and a woman were robbed by people in a similar vehicle, according to the Conviction Review Unit’s final memo on the case, which was provided by county prosecutors.

The man told his brother, the victim, about the car, and the victim told police. Police quickly zeroed in on Holmes, who had been convicted for his role as the driver in two armed robberies in 1984, according to the memo.

In the June 19, 1988, robbery, the victim said an Oldsmobile stopped behind his car outside a convenience store and two people approached and took it at gunpoint, the review said. A driver stayed behind the wheel of the suspects’ car, he said.

The carjacking victims both described the person behind the wheel — who prosecutors later said was Holmes — as relatively short and heavy, the memo said. Holmes was 6 feet, 183 pounds at the time, it said.

The vehicle, believed to be a 1970s Oldsmobile Cutlass, was described as having a hole where its trunk lock would have been, according to the memo. Holmes’ car had a trunk lock, it said.

The Oldsmobile Cutlass was often a bestseller in the U.S. from 1976 to 1983, a historian at the R.E. Olds Transportation Museum told investigators reviewing the case.

The victim’s brother had been the target of a similar attempted robbery earlier in the day, he said, and the car was similar, the memo said.

Holmes had six people willing to testify he was at his parents’ South Florida home celebrating Father’s Day when the crime took place, the memo said.

‘No evidence’

The case’s reviewers, including the Conviction Review Unit, the Innocence Project of Florida and an independent review panel, also found fault with the witness identification process.

The victim did not identify a suspect after having viewed a book of 250 possible suspects and after having viewed a six-photo lineup that included Holmes, they said.

After that, the victim picked Holmes out of another photo lineup, pointed him out in a live lineup of suspects and pointed at him as the driver that day in court, according to the review. Holmes was the only person who was shown to the victim multiple times, it said.

A contemporary expert decried the process, saying it was tainted by Holmes’ repeated appearance, according to the review unit.

The woman in the car was unable to identify any suspects, the reviewers said.

There was not a foundation for Holmes’ prosecution, those involved in the reinvestigation and the review concluded. He cooperated with investigators because he had faith in his innocence, they said in the memo.

“There is no evidence tying Holmes to the robbery,” the Broward State Attorney’s Office said in its statement.

400-year sentence

Prosecutors asked for 825 years because Holmes had previous convictions for armed robbery and because he refused to name nonexistent co-conspirators, reviewers said.

The judge thought 825 years was excessive, so he went with 400, the memo said.

A sheriff’s deputy dispatched to the robbery, Kenneth Smith, said he barely remembered the case because there was so much crime at the time, according to the memo.

When he was informed of Holmes’ 400-year sentence, Smith said: “I’m in utter shock. He got that for this case?”

Last year, both victims told the unit they believed Holmes should be released from prison, the memo said.

Holmes said he is not holding a grudge against those who arrested him and prosecuted him.

“I can’t have hate,” Holmes said outside jail. “Just have to keep moving.”

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