MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A man who spent three decades in prison for a murder he has always denied he committed is a free man.

Surrounded by cheering family and friends Thomas Raynard James walked out of the Miami-Dade State attorney’s office a free man.

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“What’s the first thing you’re going to do now?” asked a reporter. “Go enjoy my family and eat chicken!”

On Wednesday, prosecutors asked a court to throw out the conviction of Thomas Raynard James, who was found guilty in 1991 for the robbery and shooting death of Francis McKinnon in a Coconut Grove apartment.

According to the motion to vacate the conviction, there was a requested polygraph of James. Although not admissible in court, it was another factor to be considered.

James was asked three questions: 1. Were you physically there in the room when Francis McKinnon was shot? 2. Did you shoot Francis McKinnon? 3. Were you involved in the robbery/murder of Francis McKinnon in any way?

The state was advised James was truthful and passed all three questions. In court Judge Miguel de la O told James, “ Mr. James your conviction and sentence is hear-by vacated.”

“I actually short-circuited right there,” James said. “I don’t know what I was feeling. To describe it, put it into words, all I know is it felt good.”

Before the court hearing, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said she met with James’ defense team who were completely dedicated to proving his innocence.

“They never stopped believing in his innocence. For family members of Mr. James, for the next of kin for Francis Mckinnon, the victim, this is both a day of joy and a day of sadness. For the James family, this has been a day-long in coming,” said Fernandez Rundle.

Thomas Raynard James at State Attorney’s Office news conference on April 27, 2022. (CBS4)

There was never any evidence that linked James to the murder, no DNA, and no fingerprints. At the time, McKinnon’s stepdaughter said she unequivocally could identify James as the shooter. Decades later, she said she made a mistake. James said he’s already forgiven her.

“I definitely thank her for allowing her conscience to get the best of her. I forgave her a long time ago because I don’t think she done it intentionally,” he said.

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The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office Justice Project spent a year reviewing the case, going over documents, and re-interviewing witnesses.

A witness at the time told investigators that a man named “Thomas James” was involved, they believed it was Thomas Raynard James. After he was convicted and imprisoned, James learned that another man named Thomas James may have been involved.

The other James, however, was behind bars at the time of the crime. However, he reportedly acknowledged that he knew the people who had planned the robbery and said the imprisoned James was innocent.

“Today we are going to undo the conviction of an innocent man. Today we are undoing an injustice that was an unintentional wrong. We are going to ask the court, our court of law, to give Mr. James the freedom he deserves,” said Fernandez Rundle.

Fernandez Rundle said their most likely suspect in McKinnon’s murder died without ever being held accountable.

James said he hope to get a job, then create an organization to help others who say they were wrongly convicted.

For now, he’s happy to be back in the arms of family and thrilled to be a free man. “The greatest feeling in the world, Family, friends, freedom, I couldn’t ask for more. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” he said.

While it was a joyous day for some, it was a difficult day for the McKinnon family.

“Now we go back through this whole process again,” says Samuel McKinnon, the son of Francis McKinnon.

He and his brother, Charles, say they have no closure now for the death of their father.

“My father was a decorated Vietnam veteran. He was a Korean War veteran. He was suffering from PTSD, and he was shot in his own home,” says Charles McKinnon.

“We thought the case was resolved,” he continues. “At this point, now we’re being told we had it wrong, and there’s nothing else we can do. My father’s murder just goes on answered and basically uninvestigated.”

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CBS4 reached out to Miami-Dade Police to inquire about next steps and if the case would be reopened.
They did not return our request for comment.

Karli Barnett