Click here for “Revelations of Lie-Witness Testimony Leave Anthony Sims Murder Conviction in Doubt Two Decades Later,” more coverage by Theodore Hamm.
Prisoners who seek parole while maintaining their innocence are in an “impossible situation,” an advocate told The New York Times late last year. A refusal to confess guilt to the board typically results in at least one or two rejected bids for parole.
In late August, however, Brooklyn defendant Anthony Sims cleared that extremely high bar, earning an upcoming release on his first appearance. Prison-watchers say that it is too early to declare that the decision indicates a new stance by the parole board. But from his 1998 arrest for a Bushwick murder through his recent parole hearing, Sims has never wavered in asserting his innocence.
That Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez’s office did not take any position regarding Sims’ parole bid removed a powerful obstacle. Gonzalez’s progressive shift on parole has earned praise.
The letters of support for Sims that the parole board received describe a model prisoner who in the words of one supporter, “single-handedly reduced the recidivism rate in New York State.”
Yet at the same time, the DA’s appeals bureau continues to firmly oppose Sims’ convincing claim of innocence. Closing arguments in Sims’ hearing that determines whether he will receive a new trial are set for Friday, Sep. 9.
Sims’ parole application contained 32 letters of support. In addition to those from family and members of his legal team, over a dozen letters came from people who have known and/or worked with Sims during his 23 years in prison.
A decade into his confinement, Sims enrolled in the Bard Prison Initiative, eventually earning a degree and roughly 140 credits. In his letter, BPI founder Max Kenner described Sims as “always a good and committed student [and] an even better neighbor and citizen.” While at Woodbourne Correctional Facility over the past few years, Sims has worked with Rehabilitation through the Arts. As RTA founder Katherine Vockins told the parole board, “Anthony has conducted himself with a positive attitude [and] modeled behavior consistent with someone working on improving his self-development.”
Several letters also emphasized Sims’ beneficial impact on his incarcerated peers. At Woodbourne, Sims has helped lead a cognitive-behavior therapy program overseen by Network Support Services. Art Jones, a Network board member and filmmaker who has sat in on sessions at Woodbourne, told the parole board that “Anthony’s love for others is an active love” (emphasis original). In Jones’ view, “Anthony has single-handedly reduced the recidivism rate in New York State.”
Former prisoners explained how their experience with Sims helped them succeed on the outside. Khalil Cumberbatch, now the director of strategic partnerships at the Council on Criminal Justice, recalled Sims’ role as a “mentor” to him when the former first arrived at Green Haven prison in 2004. “Anthony was wise beyond his years,” wrote Cumberbatch, adding that Sims “taught me life lessons that I carry to this day.”
In voicing their support for his parole, leading New York exonerees Jabbar Collins and Jeffrey Deskovicm also argued that Sims is innocent. Collins, who also spent time at Green Haven with Sims, remembered him as “a positive influence in an environment where there are so few” — a trait all the more notable because “Anthony should not have been in prison in the first place.” After delineating the many problems with Sims’ conviction, Deskovic implored the parole board not to “weigh Anthony’s assertion of innocence against him.”
Sims hopes to follow in the footsteps of other notable Brooklyn exonerees — including Derrick Hamilton, John Bunn and Sundhe Moses — who saw their convictions overturned while out on parole.
New York State Senator Julia Salazar, in whose district the 1998 murder occurred, also expressed both strong support for Sims’ parole and “serious doubts” regarding his guilt. Given his strong family ties and stellar track record within prison, the release of Sims, in Salazar’s view, “would not create any public safety risk.” The senator then stated that she is “convinced that Anthony did not receive a fair trial, in part due to the improper withholding of exculpatory information and evidence by the prosecutors.”
There has never been any dispute that along with his friend Julius Graves, Sims entered a Chinese food restaurant and the counterman Li Run Chen was then murdered. Sims’ legal team contends that Graves, not Sims, shot Chen (because Graves was angry that Chen had made overtures towards his girlfriend). The current hearing has focused on evidence not presented at the trial regarding an eyewitness whose claim that Graves was the killer shows up in a police report from the time.
As The Indypendent reported, Julius Graves has provided multiple different accounts of what happened at the crime scene. In his testimony last fall, Graves admitted to two lies during his 1999 trial testimony — including that he had been meeting regularly with his probation officer.
During the trial, Sims’ defense attorney argued that Graves committed the murder. Upon conviction, Sims met with the parole officials for a pre-sentence report. As the report summarizes, “the defendant stated that he was asked by a friend to go with him to a Chinese restaurant and that the friend shot the deceased.”
Unlike Graves, Sims has thus told the same story from day one. He now hopes to follow in the footsteps of other notable Brooklyn exonerees — including Derrick Hamilton, John Bunn and Sundhe Moses — who saw their convictions overturned while out on parole.
“We’re over the moon regarding Anthony’s parole status,” says Keisha Sims, Anthony’s wife and number-one advocate. “But we’d rather celebrate his exoneration.”
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