BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — After nearly twenty years behind bars, Cory Epps is a free man.
Epps was convicted in the shooting death of 23-year-old Tomika Means in May of 1997; Means was shot in the face while sitting in a parked car near East Delavan and Chelsea Place.
Epps, who argued his innocence from the start, stating he was eating dinner at a Perkins with his wife that night, was found guilty of Second Degree Murder in April of 1998.
Friday, after nearly twenty years at the Attica Correctional Facility, Epps’ conviction was tossed out.
Erie County Court Judge James Bargnesi vacated the conviction after new evidence was brought to light.
According to his defense team from the Exoneration Initiative, Epps’ was convicted on circumstantial evidence.
“This was a one witness identification case. And it’s a case that we think probably wouldn’t be prosecuted in today’s climate,” said Glenn Garber, Founder and Director of the Exoneration Initiative.
“20 years later, with all we know about eyewitness identification, we’re on a whole other level,” Garber continued.
Epps wrote the Exoneration Initiative in 2010 from prison; prior to that, Epps and various legal teams worked to have his case re-opened several times, but their motions were never granted.
The new evidence presented to Judge Bargnesi is under seal, in part to protect a new witness. However, Erie County District Attorney John Flynn indicated that Epps looks very similar to the man prosecutors believe actually shot and killed Means.
“The information that the new witness provided clearly showed that someone else is potentially responsible for this murder,” Flynn said Friday.
The aunt of an eye-witness reported a sketch of the suspect looked like Cory Epps in June of 1997. It was that report that led Epps to volunteer for a line-up; during that line-up, he was selected as the shooter by the eye-witness.
“He volunteered for a line-up, never released. He volunteered for everything because he knew he was innocent, there was no reason to run. How do you walk in and never walk back out?” said Epps sister Michelle Williams Friday.
The man prosecutors believe actually committed the crime is serving 25-years to life for a separate crime. Flynn was not able to identify him, but did say charges against him for Means death are possible.
“I feel vindicated, man. It was a lot that I went through, now I’m here,” Epps said Friday after leaving the Erie County Holding Center.
Epps thanks Judge Bargnesi and his defense team, and said while legal action on his part is possible, he’s focused now on living.
“I’m just trying to get my life back,” he said.
Flynn told News 4 use of sketching and line-ups are still common and legitimate tools in the criminal justice system. He expressed sympathy for the families of both Epps and Means, but said he believes prosecutors did their jobs with that they had back in 1997 and 1998.
Epps, who held his grandchild for the first time outside of prison Friday, said his family and faith kept him strong while incarcerated.