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Will the real Thomas Simpson please stand up?

On Dec. 14, Atlanta police officer R. Abrahams testified at a preliminary hearing that he had arrested the defendant, seated before him, for buying a hit of crack a month earlier, on the corner of Boulevard and North Avenue.

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There was just one problem: The man, Thomas Simpson, had been in jail at the time of the alleged drug deal.

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It turns out there were two Thomas Simpsons being held at the Fulton County Jail at the time of the hearing. Deputies had grabbed the wrong one.

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But that didn't stop the officer from positively identifying him in court.

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Erik Friedly, spokesman for the Fulton County district attorney's office, says the judge dismissed the case for lack of probable cause.

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"We still could accuse," Friedly says. "But given what happened at the preliminary hearing, it might be difficult to prosecute the case."

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Shortly after the officer identified the wrong Simpson as the man he arrested, Judge Richard Hicks instructed lawyers for both sides to attempt to reach a plea deal, the judge recalls.

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That's when they realized something wasn't right.

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"The public defender went back to her client and told him what was being proposed," Hicks says. "Then the guy started vehemently objecting and saying he had been in jail for six months and it couldn't have possibly been him."

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Fulton County Sheriff's spokeswoman Sgt. Nikita Hightower says she isn't sure how the wrong suspect ended up in court. She says one possibility is that the case calendar was incomplete.

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"Some case managers put down a whole lot of information on a defendant and some put just a little," says Hightower. "The calendar could have had only 'Thomas Simpson' on it."

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Of course, it didn't help that the two men also look somewhat similar.

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Thomas Lanford Simpson, the man who was supposed to be in court, is 58 years old, 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, and has a receding hairline.

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Thomas Simpson, aka Tommie Jones, is 53 years old, 6-foot-2, 185 pounds, and has a receding hairline. Both men were in jail on cocaine charges.

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Atlanta Police spokeswoman Sylvia Abernathy says the department stands by the officer's testimony and that the mistake could've happened to anyone.

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"Atlanta police officers make hundreds of arrests," Abernathy says. "And we rely on the court and the corrections systems to keep track of the defendants from the time that they are booked to the time that they show up in court."




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