Philadelphia man released from prison after judge vacates sentence and conviction

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A judge vacated Shaurn Thomas' sentence and murder conviction at a hearing Tuesday morning after the Philadelphia DA's Conviction Review Unit reopened the case last fall at the request of the Innocence Project. On Tuesday evening, he walked out a free man with his family to talk to FOX 29 live at 6.

When asked how it feels to be free, he said, "It feels great to be home to be back...words, just speechless right now."

"I just put it in the hand of God and I just kept saying everything is gonna be okay." Hard to imagine how Hazel Thomas must feel after her son left prison after 24 years.

It was in 1990 at the corner of 6th and Lehigh where a man was shot and killed inside his car during a robbery.

Ron Smith, a Temple University student back then, happened to be driving by and saw everything.

"A gentleman came out of the car in front of me and went up to the car in front of him and shot somebody through the window," he said.

Three years later, Shaurn and his brother were charged and convicted, based on the shaky testimony of two men who fingered them in the crime, in exchange for leniency for crimes they committed.

Attorney James Figorski, a former police officer, teamed up with the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and immediately saw holes in the story.

"He said there's no evidence against me, other than these two people said. And I thought, it's a murder conviction, must have been some physical evidence or scientific evidence and there wasn't," Figorski said.

Turns out, Shaurn Thomas was arrested the night before the murder, accused of trying to steal a motorcycle. When the murder occurred the next morning, Shaurn was with his mother at a youth detention center off the Ben Franklin Parkway.  But somehow, the records verifying that disappeared. And Ron Smith, the witness? He was never asked to testify.

"I was told that my testimony wasn't consistent with other witnesses. And I wouldn't be needed," he explained.

"They had formed a picture of it. How this murder happened. And they were sticking to that, and they didn't seem to want to hear anything else that interfered with that picture," Figorski said.

One of the men who claimed Shaurn was involved later recanted the story. At the request of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, the Philadelphia DA's Conviction Review Unit re-opened the case last fal and on Tuesday is expected to ask a judge for Shaurn's release.

James Figorski spend 900 hours investigating this case pro bono.

No one happier than mom.

"It makes me feel real good. Real, real good, cause I finally have him back," she explained.

"This is one of those cases that never should have gone to trial, but unfortunately, it did and it's taken 24 years to undue that," Marissa Bluestine with the Pa. Innocence Project said. 

What's next for Shaurn? He's engaged and may look at a career in cooking. He got a culinary arts degree while in prison.  What did he miss the most in those 24 years? His grandparents who recently passed away.

Shaurn says he's forever thankful to the lawyers who worked for free and never gave up.