Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row, Final

Joseph 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.

Joseph Nahume Green was convicted of the 1992 killing of the society page editor of the weekly Bradford County Telegraph and sentenced to death primarily on the testimony of Lonnie Thompson, the state's only eyewitness, who was "often inconsistent and contradictory." according to the ruling of the Florida Supreme Court. Thompson, with an IQ of 67 is mildly retarded and has suffered head traumas that have caused memory problems. Thompson also admitted to drinking 8 cans of beer and using cocaine and marijuana before the shooting. He also told police at first that a white man shot the victim. Green is black.

On March 16, 2000, Green was acquitted 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.

John Robert Ballard had served nearly three years for the 1999 murders of Jennifer Jones and Willie Ray Patin Jr. at their Collier County apartment, even though there was little to connect him to the slayings of his friends. Ballard's conviction had been based almost entirely on the discovery of one fingerprint and arm hair being found in the victims' apartment - a place he had visited numerous times.

The Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of Death Row inmate John Robert Ballard and ordered his acquittal. The court concluded that the evidence against Ballard was so weak that the trial judge should have dismissed the case immediately. At Ballard’s trial, only 9 of the 12 jurors recommended a death sentence. The judge decided to sentence Ballard to death, commenting, “You have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all.” After serving three years on death row for a crime he did not commit,the State of Florida gave Mr. Ballard a paltry $100 in cash when they freed him after more than 3 years of incarceration on death row. He became the 26th person to be exonerated and released from Florida's death row since 1972.

“Had it not been for what some call pure luck or what I like to think of as miracles, the state of Florida would have killed me.” -Juan Roberto Melendez Exonerated from Florida’s Death Row
We know how rare miracles are so there is no telling how many innocent people have been murdered by the State of Florida.


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