Florida Exonerated Death Row Prisoners
1. David Keaton Florida Conviction 1971 Charges dropped 1973
On the basis of mistaken identification and coerced confessions, Keaton was sentenced to death for murdering an off duty deputy sheriff during a robbery. Charges were dropped and he was released after the actual killer was identified and convicted.
2. Wilbert Lee Florida Conviction 1963 Released 1975 AND
3. Freddie Pitts Florida Conviction 1963 Released 1975
Although no physical evidence linked them to the deaths of two white men, Lee and Pitts’ guilty pleas, the testimony of an alleged eyewitness, and incompetent defense counsel led to their convictions. The men were sentenced to death but maintained their innocence. After their convictions, another man confessed to the crime, the eyewitness recanted her accusations, and the state Attorney General admitted that the state had unlawfully suppressed evidence. The men were granted a new trial but were again convicted and sentenced to death. They were released in 1975 when they received a full pardon from Governor Askew, who stated he was “sufficiently convinced that they were innocent.”
4. Delbert Tibbs Florida Conviction 1974 Conviction overturned 1977
Tibbs was sentenced to death for the rape of a sixteen-year-old white girl and the murder of her companion. Tibbs, a black theological student, was convicted by an all-white jury on the testimony of the female victim whose testimony was uncorroborated and inconsistent with her first description of her assailant. The conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court because the verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence, and the state decided not to retry the case. Tibbs’ former prosecutor said that the original investigation had been tainted from the beginning and that if there was a retrial, he would appear as a witness for Tibbs.
5. Anibal Jarramillo Florida Conviction 1981 – Released 1982
Jarramillo was sentenced to death for two counts of first degree murder, despite the jury’s unanimous recommendation of life imprisonment. On appeal, his conviction was reversed when the Florida Supreme Court ruled the evidence used against him was not legally sufficient to support the conviction. Evidence suggests that the murderer may have been the victims’ roommate.
6. Anthony Brown Florida Conviction 1983 – Acquitted 1986
Brown was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death despite a jury recommendation of life imprisonment. At trial, the only evidence against Brown was a co-defendant who was sentenced to life for his part in the crime. At retrial, the co-defendant admitted that his testimony at the first trial had been perjured, and Brown was acquitted.
7. Joseph Green Brown Florida Conviction 1974 – Charges dropped 1987
Charges were dropped after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the prosecution had knowingly allowed false testimony to be introduced at trial. Brown was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death on the testimony of Ronald Floyd, a co-conspirator who claimed he heard Brown confess to the murder. Floyd later retracted and admitted his testimony was lie. Brown came within 13 hours of execution when a new trial was ordered. Brown was released a year later when the state decided not to retry the case.
8. Anthony Ray Peek Florida Conviction 1978 – Acquitted 1987
Peek was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, despite witnesses who supported his alibi. His conviction was overturned when expert testimony concerning hair identification evidence was shown to be false. He was acquitted at his third retrial.
9. Juan Ramos Florida Conviction 1983 – Acquitted 1987
Despite a jury recommendation of life in prison, Juan Ramos was sentenced to death for rape and murder. No physical evidence linked Ramos to the victim or the scene of the crime. The Florida Supreme Court granted Ramos a new trial because of the prosecution’s improper use of evidence. At retrial, Ramos was acquitted.
10. Willie Brown Florida Conviction 1983 – Released 1988
11. Larry Troy Florida Conviction 1983 – Released 1988
Brown and Troy were sentenced to death after being accused of fatally stabbing a fellow prisoner. The main witness against them was Frank Wise, who’s original statements exonerated the men. Pending retrial, the charges against the men were dropped when Wise admitted that he had perjured himself.
12. William Jent* Florida Conviction 1980 – Released 1988 AND
13. Earnest Miller* Florida Conviction 1980 – Released 1988
These half-brothers were convicted and sentenced to death largely based on testimony of three alleged eyewitnesses. However, a re-examination of the autopsy report demonstrated that the crime never took place the way the eyewitness’s described it. When the actual time of the murder was established, it was discovered that the men had airtight alibis. In 1987 a federal district court ordered a new trial because of suppression of exculpatory evidence, and Jent and Miller were released immediately after agreeing to plead guilty to second degree murder. They repudiated their plea upon leaving the courtroom and were later awarded compensation by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department.
14. Robert Cox Florida Conviction 1988 – Released 1989
Cox was convicted and sentenced to death, despite evidence that Cox did not know the victim and no one testified that they had been seen together. In 1989, Cox was released by a unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction.
15. James Richardson Florida Conviction 1968 – Released 1989
Richardson was convicted and sentenced to death for the poisoning of one of his children. The prosecution argued that Richardson committed the crime to obtain insurance money, despite the fact that no such policy existed. The primary witnesses against Richardson were two jail-house snitches whom Richardson was said to have confessed to. Post-conviction investigation found that the neighbor who was caring for Richardson’s children had a prior homicide conviction, and the defense provided affidavits from people to whom he had confessed. Richardson’s conviction was overturned after further investigation by then-Dade County State Attorney General Janet Reno, which resulted in a new hearing.
16. Bradley P. Scott Florida Conviction 1988 – Released 1991
Scott was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His arrest came ten years after the crime, when the evidence corroborating his alibi had been lost. Scott was convicted on the testimony of witnesses whose identifications had been plagued with inconsistencies. On appeal, he was released by the Florida Supreme Court, which found that the evidence used to convict Scott was not sufficient to support a finding of guilt.
17. Sonia Jacobs Florida Conviction 1976 – Released 1992
Jacobs and her companion, Jesse Tafero, were sentenced to death for the murder of two policemen at a highway rest stop in 1976. A third co-defendant received a life sentence after pleading guilty and testifying against Jacobs and Tafero. The jury recommended a life sentence for Jacobs, but the judge overruled the jury and imposed death. A childhood friend and filmmaker, Micki Dickoff, then became interested in her case. Jacobs’s conviction was overturned on a federal writ of habeas corpus in 1992. Following the discovery that the chief prosecution witness had given contradictory statements, the prosecutor accepted a plea in which Jacobs did not admit guilt, and she was immediately released. Jesse Tafero, whose conviction was based on much of the same highly questionable evidence, had been executed in 1990 before the evidence of innocence had been uncovered.
18. Andrew Golden Florida Conviction 1991 – Released 1994
Golden, a high school teacher in Florida, was convicted of murdering his wife. His conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 1993. The court held that the state had failed to prove that the victim’s death was anything but an accident. Golden was released into the waiting arms of his sons on January 6, 1994.
19. Robert Hayes Florida Conviction 1991 – Released 1997
Hayes was convicted of the rape and murder of a co-worker based partly on faulty DNA evidence. The Florida Supreme Court threw out Hayes’s conviction and the DNA evidence in 1995. The victim had been found clutching hairs probably from her assailant. The hairs were from a white man, whereas Hayes is black. Hayes was acquitted at a retrial in July, 1997.
20. Joseph Spaziano Florida Conviction 1976 – Not Released
Spaziano was tried for the murder of a young woman which had occurred two years earlier. No physical evidence linked him to the crime. He was convicted primarily on the testimony of a drug-addicted teenager who, after hypnosis and “refreshed-memory” interrogation, thought he recalled Spaziano describing the murder. This witness has recently said that his testimony was totally unreliable and not true. Hypnotically induced testimony is no longer admissible in Florida. Death warrants have been repeatedly signed for Spaziano, even though the jury in his case had recommended a life sentence. In January, 1996, Florida Circuit Court Judge O.H. Eaton granted Spaziano a new trial, and this decision was upheld by the Florida Supreme Court on April 17, 1997. In November, 1998, Spaziano pleaded no contest to second degree murder and was sentenced to time served. He remains incarcerated on another charge.
21. Joseph Nahume Green Florida Convicted 1993 – Acquitted 2000
Joseph Nahume Green was acquitted on March 16, 2000 of the murder of Judith Miscally. Circuit Judge Robert P. Cates entered a not guilty verdict for Green, citing the lack of any witnesses or evidence tying Green to the murder. Green, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted largely upon the testimony of the state’s only eye witness, Lonnie Thompson. In 1996, Green’s conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court, which held that Thompson’s testimony was often inconsistent and contradictory, and that he not been fit to testify during Green’s trial. (St. Petersburg Times, 3/17/00)
22. Frank Lee Smith Florida Convicted 1985 – Cleared 2000
Frank Lee Smith, who had been convicted of a 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl, and who died of cancer in January 2000 while still on death row, was cleared of these charges by DNA testing, according to an aide to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. After the trial, the chief eyewitness recanted her testimony. Nevertheless, Smith was scheduled for execution in 1990, but received a stay. Prosecutor Carolyn McCann was told by the FBI lab which conducted the DNA tests that: “He has been excluded. He didn’t do it.” Another man, who is currently in a psychiatric facility, is now the main suspect. (Washington Post, 12/15/00 (AP))
23. Joaquin Martinez Florida Convicted 1997 – Acquitted 2001
Former death row inmate Joaquin Martinez was acquitted of all charges at his retrial for a 1995 murder in Florida. Martinez’s earlier conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court because of improper statements by a police detective at trial. The prosecution did not seek the death penalty in Martinez’s second trial after key prosecution witnesses changed their stories and recanted their testimony. An audio tape of alleged incriminating statements by Martinez, which was used at the first trial, was ruled inadmissible at retrial because it was inaudible. The new jury, however, heard evidence that the transcript of the inaudible tape had been prepared by the victim’s father, who was the manager of the sheriff’s office evidence room at the time of the murder and who had offered a $10,000 reward in the case. Both the Pope and the King of Spain had tried to intervene on behalf of Martinez, who is a Spanish national. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar welcomed the verdict, saying: “I’m very happy that this Spaniard was declared not guilty. I’ve always been against the death penalty and I always will be.” (Tampa Bay Tribune (AP) 6/6/01).
24. Juan Roberto Melendez Florida Conviction 1984 Released 2002
Juan Roberto Melendez spent nearly 18 years on Florida’s death row before being exonerated of the crime for which he was sentenced to death. Melendez, who was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in Puerto Rico, was sentenced to die in 1984 for the murder of Delbert Baker. In December 2001, Florida Circuit Court Judge Barbara Fleischer overturned Melendez’s capital murder conviction after determining that prosecutors in his original trial withheld critical evidence, thereby undermining confidence in the original verdict. The judge noted that no physical evidence linked Melendez to the crime. The state had used the testimony of two witnesses whose credibility was later challenged with new evidence. (Associated Press, 12/5/01) Following the reversal of the conviction, prosecutors announced the state’s decision to abandon charges against Melendez. (Associated Press, 1/3/02)
25. Rudolph Holton Florida Conviction 1987 Released 2003
Florida death row inmate Rudolph Holton was released on January 24, 2003, making him the 103rd person exonerated and freed from death row nationwide since 1973. Holton’s conviction for murder was overturned in 2001 and prosecutors announced today that the state was dropping all charges against Holton, who had spent 16 years on death row. Crucial evidence had been withheld from the defense that pointed to another perpetrator.
26. John Robert Ballard Conviction 2003 – Aquitted 2006
Death row prisoner John Robert Ballard was acquitted by a unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court, which ordered his conviction overturned due to a lack of evidence connecting him to the crime. After serving almost three years on death row for a crime he did not commit, Ballard was freed and has become the 26th person to be exonerated and released from Florida’s death row since 1972.