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Man who spent years behind bars after wrongful conviction is free: "I've lost 20 years already but ultimately I prevailed"

Brooklyn man freed after wrongful conviction
Sheldon Thomas freed from prison nearly two decades after wrongful murder conviction 05:52

Even though Sheldon Thomas walked out of a Brooklyn, New York, courtroom free earlier this month after nearly two decades in prison, the feeling of freedom still doesn't seem real to him.  

"I haven't even cried yet since I been home," Thomas said. "I haven't even got to the point where it actually hit me. I still have dreams about being in prison. I'm scared to go to sleep. As the days go by it dawns on me a little bit more. "

His freedom came after Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez moved to vacate what a recent investigation determined was a wrongful conviction. 

In 2004, Thomas was found guilty of second-degree murder, attempted murder and other offenses after he was arrested for his alleged involvement in a fatal shooting in East Flatbush, which resulted in the death of 14-year-old Anderson Bercy and left another person injured. 

Thomas was arrested for murder after an eyewitness identified a different person with the same name.  Prosecutors persisted in pursuing Thomas, ultimately leading to his wrongful conviction. 

Attorneys William Kastin and Leslie Resinger have been working with Thomas for over a decade and believe that the case should never have gone to trial. According to Kastin, the case was based on lies. He believes that every party in the system — the police, the prosecutors and the judge, among others — failed Thomas. 

"The people involved in decision-making refused to accept the fact that a mistake was made. How can a jury reach a fair verdict? It was rigged from the start," Kastin said. 

After years of unsuccessful appeals, the unit that reviewed Thomas' case concluded that he was "denied due process at every stage."  

Additionally, prosecutors said, one of the detectives involved had been harassing Thomas after a prior arrest and lied about knowing him.

When asked if he ever felt targeted, Thomas replied, "Most definitely."

He added that in his experience, people who look like him are often presumed guilty until proven innocent. 

"From my lenses where I see life, it's always like that for people like me. For people that look like me, it's always like that. You're guilty until you actually prove that you're innocent," Thomas said. 

He was arrested when he was just 16. Now 35, he is finally stepping into freedom. 

During a recent hearing, Thomas shared how he sustained hope for so long by releasing resentment. Despite the trial judge telling him he deserved to spend the rest of his life in prison when he was sentenced, Thomas said he forgave him, though acknowledged that he did not deserve what happened to him.

"I know I've lost 20 years already but ultimately I prevailed. I don't like losing, so I have to let go because I don't want that to be what defines me as a human, as a person. I want love to define me, " Thomas said.  

CBS News reached out to the detective who was involved in Thomas' initial arrest, but he chose not to provide a comment.

Following Thomas' release, he could potentially receive compensation through a lawsuit, but he said he has not decided whether to pursue that option.   

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