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Receipt helps clear New York man of murder of 1989 murder

APTOPIX Murder Exoner_Cham.jpg

April 8, 2014: Jonathan Fleming, hugs his attorney Anthony Mayol while his other attorney Taylor Koss applaud in Brooklyn's Supreme Court, after a judge declared him a free man. Fleming, who spent almost a quarter-century behind bars for murder, was cleared of a killing that happened when he was 1,100 miles away on a Disney World vacation in 1989. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Twenty-four years after Jonathan Fleming was found guilty of a murder he didn't commit, his alibi -- that he had gone on a vacation to Disney World with his mother -- was finally proven. 

At the request of Fleming's defense attorneys and prosecutors alike, a Brooklyn judge dismissed Fleming's conviction for the 1989 shooting death of a man who had allegedly stolen money from Fleming. 

From the start, Fleming told authorities he had been in Orlando, when a friend, Darryl "Black" Rush, was fatally shot in Brooklyn early on Aug. 15, 1989. 

Fleming had plane tickets, videos and postcards from his trip, his lawyers said, but authorities suggested he could have flown back to New York to commit the crime, and a woman testified that she had seen him shoot Rush.

The eyewitness recanted her testimony soon after Fleming's 1990 conviction, saying she had lied so police would cut her loose for an unrelated arrest, but Fleming lost his appeals.

The defense asked the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office to review the case last year.

Defense investigators found previously untapped witnesses who implicated someone else as the gunman, the attorneys said, declining to give the witnesses' or potential suspect's names before prosecutors investigate them.

And prosecutors' review produced a hotel receipt that Fleming paid in Florida about five hours before the shooting - a document that police evidently had since they found it in Fleming's pocket while arresting him, defense attorneys Anthony Mayol and Taylor Koss said.

Patricia Fleming, 79, was with her only son in Orlando at the time of the crime. She testified at his trial, but the jury didn't believe her. "I knew he didn't do it, because I was there," she said. "When they gave my son 25-to-life, I thought I would die in that courtroom."

Still, she said, "I never did give up because I knew he was innocent."

After acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Matthew D’Emic dismissed all charges, Fleming's supporters burst into shouts of "Thank you, Jesus!" and Patricia Fleming told her son, "After 25 years, come hug your mother."

Fleming's exoneration comes amid scrutiny of Brooklyn prosecutors' process for reviewing questionable convictions.

District Attorney Kenneth Thompson took office in January. In February, his office agreed to dismiss the murder convictions of two men who had spent more than 20 years in prison for three killings, saying newly discovered evidence had raised substantial doubts about their guilt.

Koss told the New York Post a civil suit is planned in Fleming's case, and questioned whether the prosecution had deliberately withheld evidence in the original murder trial, saying the vital receipt had surfaced "with relative ease."

“I can’t accept it was a mistake,” Koss said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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