Thomas Raynard James is a free man after spending more than 30 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. HeWednesday, and sat down with CBS Miami’s Kendis Gibson the next day to talk about life as a prisoner and what has changed since his incarceration.
“I never stopped believing this would happen,” he told Gibson, speaking of his release.
James was told he would be released on Tuesday evening and was released from jail less than 24 hours later. After hearing the news, James said he was at peace and able to sleep through the night of last night in jail. But first, he spent a lot of time talking to other inmates and guards, telling them he was leaving.
That night, he said he thought to himself, “The war, the fight, the battle, it’s pretty much over.”
When he walked out Wednesday morning, the first person he kissed was his mother.
“It was a warm feeling,” James said. “It was a real hug.”
Then he ate comfort food and slept in a “real bed”. James described the joy he felt upon waking up and being able to stretch his limbs without fear of falling out of a bunk.
He said that in his years behind bars he never gave up hope of ever being released.
James was convicted in 1991 of the 1990 death of Francis McKinnon. As he described to Gibson, James, then 23, was arrested on an unrelated charge. He failed to appear in court for a hearing and was subsequently arrested for McKinnon’s death, months after the murder.
His trial lasted two and a half days, he said, and despite the fact that nine fingerprints that did not match his were found at the scene, he was convicted. An eyewitness told jurors she saw him shoot her stepfather during a robbery at his Coconut Grove apartment.
While behind bars, James, who is now 55, said he told his story to anyone who wanted to hear it: “If you had ears, I told you.”
“I wasn’t going to stop until I was free or dead,” he later added.
Although he thinks most of those involved in his case – the jury, the prosecutors, the police – failed to do their due diligence, James said he has forgiven them all. And although he doesn’t feel deprived of a life, he knows he has lost a lot.
Before going to prison, James wanted to be a businessman. He had opened a car wash and wanted to start investing. He hoped to get married and have a family too.
Now James will meet with his lawyer to decide if they can sue for the wrongful conviction. If he is successful with a lawsuit, he says he will use the money to fulfill some of his dreams and to ease his transition into society.
He tried to keep up with what was happening in the world while he was behind bars so he wouldn’t have too much culture shock when he got out. James said he had access to tablets and emails in prison. He tried to read as much as he could about advances in technology and said he asks new inmates questions about the world beyond prison walls.
When he was released, however, he said he was surprised by the tall buildings in downtown Miami and the new cars on the road. Soon he will receive his first smartphone.
James also wants to visit his childhood neighborhood, try a Popeyes chicken sandwich, which he’s heard a lot about, and ride the new trains.