Judge: ‘No direct evidence proving the guilt’ of Rochester man freed after serving 37 years in wrongful murder conviction

Conviction Overturned

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — After nearly four decades in prison after a faulty murder conviction, a Rochester man has been set free.

Thirty-seven years: That’s how long Michael Rhynes spent in prison. On Tuesday, he walked out of Attica Correctional Facility, a free man.

Rhynes was incarcerated at the age of 25. He’s 62 years old now.

He was convicted in the murder of a bar owner and customer after an attempted robbery and shooting at Rico’s Bar in Rochester. He was believed to have been one of the men who fired the deadly shots — but a state Supreme Court justice decided the murder conviction was based on lies.

Rhynes has been fighting to overturn his murder conviction since 1986.

He was arraigned on Oct. 9, 1984, in the shooting death of the owner of Rico’s Bar on Lexington Avenue in Rochester as well as a customer. He was found guilty, although the case against him was based on all circumstantial evidence. The Monroe County district attorney at the time, Howard Relin, even agreed to drop the charges due to a lack of evidence — but the trial judge denied his motion to dismiss the case.

But recently, Rhynes appealed the conviction after two jailhouse informants — whose testimony landed him behind bars — admitted they had lied in the hopes of getting reduced time on their prison sentences.

In a written decision, state Supreme Court Justice Stephen Miller tossed out the conviction based on their recanted testimony, saying that after a careful review of the transcript of the 1986 trial, there was no direct evidence proving the guilt of the defendant: No DNA, no eyewitnesses and no admissions by Rhynes (page 11 of decision).

News10NBC spoke with attorney Don Thompson, who worked with Rhynes on previous appeals.

“The takeaway should be this is not particularly rare. This happens on a fairly regular basis, and what it does is it points up some of the defects in the system. This case points up the particular defect of relying upon jail informant testimony, because here there was nothing else,” Thompson said, adding, “Turns out because these guys want to benefit themselves, naturally enough, the evidence they provide is false and Mr. Rhynes’ life is ruined as a result.”

Rhynes was released from prison Tuesday afternoon. News10NBC spoke with his sister Petronia on the phone, and she was ecstatic and thankful he has been freed.