Against the demands of the prosecution, a Syracuse man charged with criminal possession of a firearm was temporarily released from jail on October 23, after a prosecutor proved unable to find a key document that would have kept behind bars at least a bit longer. Alfred J. Thomas, 28, of 332 Green St. Apt. 2, had been held in the county justice center awaiting an arraignment at the Onondaga County Supreme Court for 97 days.
Judge John J. Brunetti ordered him released over the weekend when no one in the court could locate the prosecution’s letter declaring itself ready to try Thomas.
Thomas was arrested on gun and driving charges on May 29, when police found him at the wheel of a car without a license but with a passenger who claimed he planted a gun in her purse, said Thomas’s defense lawyer, Irene A. Flores.
“The problem in these cases is that juries often put weight on things lawyers and clients don’t find important,” Flores said. “This woman has no criminal history, and if the jury believes her, he’s going to be convicted.”
If a defendant is held in custody on a felony charge, either the prosecution or the District Attorney’s office must send the defense a letter announcing they are ready for a trial within 90 days. The DA’s office cannot make such an announcement without the defendant being indicted by a grand jury. Flores claimed she never received a letter, while prosecutor Cindi Newtown said she had mailed it.
“This was a fast-track jury case,” said Newtown. “The people have been ready since day one.”
Brunetti ordered that Thomas be temporarily released until October 26, when the court would reconvene to assess whether Flores had actually received the letter.
“This defendant is very dangerous to the community because he knows how to work the system,” Newtown said, asking Brunetti not to release Thomas.
“I don’t have the authority to do that,” Brunetti said. “I’m doing this because of the clerical inadvertence of someone at the DA’s office.” Instead he placed conditions of release on Thomas: from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. he must stay indoors.
“If he violates these conditions, I hope the court revokes his release,” Newtown said.
Thomas rarely spoke during the hearing, only saying he was “going to stay at my momma’s house at 753 James St.”
This is not Flores and Newtown’s first time opposing each other in court. In September 2014, Thomas’ DNA was found on a stolen gun that was not in his possession. Flores was Thomas’ court-appointed lawyer, and Newtown was the prosecutor. Thomas was eventually acquitted.
“I’m ticked off that he got arrested a second time for the same thing,” Flores said.
Despite Thomas not having been violent, he has been charged with a Class C violent felony and faces up to 15 years in prison.
“They believe he’s a gangbanger,” Flores said, referring to the prosecution’s decision to pursue a stiffer charge. If a few members of a family get into trouble, “they assume you’re part of a gang too,” Flores said. “It’s unfortunate but true.”
Thomas had been severely beaten by Onondaga County sheriff’s deputies at the county justice center for refusing to submit to a body cavity search, according to Flores. Since then he has been having severe headaches and memory loss, as well as a broken tooth.
Four deputies “had pounded his head into the ground,” Flores said. One of her colleagues will file a suit for Thomas, Flores explained.
Thomas’ physical condition poses problems when it comes to employment. “He’s trying, but he can’t find anything that will accommodate him now,” Flores said, referring to Thomas’ need to provide for his five children.
Flores has a habeas corpus petition drafted on different grounds to get Thomas released if the court decides to detain him until his trial.
Said Flores, “I’d be surprised if we go to trial before February on this.”