leifertlaw August 5, 2013 Courts
In April 1985, a horrific crime was committed.
An 8-year-old girl was found unconscious in her Fort Lauderdale home. She had been raped, beaten, suffered an attempted strangling and was left for dead. She died nine days later of head injuries.
Our Broward felony defense lawyers know this case was doubly tragic because we now know that the man who was arrested, tried and served 15 years on death row before dying of pancreatic cancer in 2000 – was innocent of the crime. He died in prison, labeled a child rapist and murderer.
From the beginning, the defendant had vehemently denied the charges and insisted on his innocence. Very few people, aside from his lawyers and a few close family members, believed him.
In the end, it was DNA evidence that exonerated him.
This case shows how sometimes police and prosecutors zero in on a single suspect and then spend all their efforts proving the theory that this individual is the guilty party. In many cases, disregarding evidence that might point to an even more likely suspect.
Sure, advanced technology and forensic sciences are available today that weren’t back then. However, there is ample evidence that sometimes even forensic science isn’t full-proof.
Sadly, the defendant in this case was a man whose own mother had been raped and murdered in Davie when he was still a teenager. As he sat on the witness stand during the penalty phase of his trial, he wept before jurors, imploring them to believe in his innocence. He told them, “My momma was killed like this… How do you think I feel about a rapist, and beyond that, a baby?”
Allegations have since surfaced that two detectives in the case railroaded this man, whom they had identified early on in the case and refused to ease their stance, to the exclusion of evidence that might have freed him.
In a recent civil lawsuit won by the now-deceased defendant’s last surviving relative, it was revealed that the detectives pressured several witnesses to testify against the defendant. The case was weak.
The more likely individual was a man who reportedly raped and killed several women in the area. He was the cousin of the victim’s mother. Photo sketches of the suspect also bore a striking resemblance to him – not the defendant.
There was evidence that a photo lineup, in which a witness identified this other man, was not turned over to defense attorneys until many years later. It was only turned over after several witnesses came forward to say they had been pressured by police to testify against the defendant.
One of the surviving sister’s civil attorneys, after securing a $340,000 settlement from the county in the case, called for a U.S. Department of Justice investigation to be launched into Broward County’s rape and murder convictions. Those in the 1970s and 1980s have later been found on numerous occasions to be riddled with errors.
Not only were innocent men deprived of years of their freedom, their reputations forever scarred, those who actually committed these crimes continued to prey upon new victims.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office called the case at hand an “isolated remnant” of an era during which criminal investigations were less scientific. We reject this characterization. In fact, it was sloppy police work – something that undoubtedly still exists today.
If you are charged with a crime in Palm Beach or Broward counties, contact the Law Offices of Leifert & Leifert, a Partnership of Former Prosecutors, for a free consultation to discuss your rights. Call 1.888.5.DEFEND.
BSO settles lawsuit with family of man exonerated by DNA, July 21, 2013, By Paula McMahon, Sun Sentinel
More Blog Entries:
Broward Felony Defense: When DNA Provides Conflicting Results, July 25, 2013, Broward Felony Defense Lawyer
Florida Criminal Lawyers