Representative image of a prison. Photo: AFP / FADEL SENNA

Sydney Holmes, from Florida, USA, had to wait more than 34 years to get justice after being wrongly convicted for an armed robbery that took place in 1988.

The state of Florida reopened the investigation into the case in 2020 after Holmes approached the State Attorney's Conviction Review Unit (CRU) saying that he was innocent.

He was convicted in April 1989 and sentenced to 400 years in prison for allegedly being the driver for two unidentified men who had robbed a man and a woman at gunpoint outside a store a year ago.

The two men had stolen the car from the male victim, according to a report on ABC News. Holmes had earlier been involved in two-armed robbery incidents in 1984, which is why he was sentenced as a habitual offender.

However, in these previous cases, he had confessed to the crimes, unlike the one that took place in 1988. He had told the investigators he did not know who the robbers were.

He was eventually convicted of being the getaway driver for the robbers. "The reason for my recommendation and an exceedingly high number of years is to ensure that he won't be released from prison while he's breathing," prosecutor Peter Magrino said at the time.

A CRU report revealed that the prosecutor did not ask for a life sentence for Holmes because he would have been eligible for parole after 25 years.

He was only 23 years old when he was sent to prison. He is now 57 years old but has no hatred for the system despite having spent the better part of his life caged. "I never did give up hope," said Holmes. "I knew this day was going to come, sooner or later, and today is the day."

"With the Christian faith I have, I can't have hate," he added. "Just have to keep moving."

Holmes might have just ended up spending the rest of his life in jail had it not been for the CRU. The investigation by the organisation revealed that there was "no evidence" connecting Holmes to the crime. It found that the witness identification of Holmes was likely a "misidentification."

This is not an isolated incident where the authorities failed to do their job properly. In 2017, a 65-year-old man who spent 45 years in jail for the kidnap and rape of a nurse in Louisiana was freed after his conviction was overturned.

Jones had been arrested at the age of 19 and sentenced to life without parole for the rape in 1971. He was arrested on suspicion of abducting a nurse at gunpoint from a Baton Rouge hospital's parking lot and raping her behind a building on the night of October 2, 1971.

He was convicted of aggravated rape at a 1974 retrial that "rested entirely" on the nurse's testimony and her "questionable identification" of Jones as her assailant, Judge Anderson said.

The nurse, who died in 2008, picked Jones out of a police line-up more than three months after the rape, but she also told police that the man who raped her was taller and had a "much rougher" voice than Jones had.

Jones's lawyers claimed the nurse's description matches another man who was arrested but never charged in the rape of a woman abducted from the parking lot of another Baton Rouge hospital, just 27 days after the attack on the nurse.

The same man was also arrested on suspicion of raping yet another woman in 1973, but was only charged with and convicted of armed robbery in that case. Judge Anderson said the evidence shows police knew of the similarities between that man and the nurse's description of her attacker. "Nevertheless, the state failed to provide this information to the defence," the judge wrote, while ordering Jones's release.

In both cases, the identification was carried out through a live line-up of possible suspects, a practice commonly used in those times.