Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row, Part Two

Delbert Tibbs, was born in what he describes as Apartheid Mississippi, before the coming of "the King and Mrs. Parks". He moved to Chicago at the age of twelve with his widowed mother. He attended Southeast City college and Chicago Theological Seminary. After dropping out in 1972, Delbert began what he has described as his "Wilderness Experience", walking around the U.S.A.

Mr. Tibbs, who was a black theological student at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to death for the rape of a sixteen-year-old white girl and the murder of her companion.

He 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

Wilbert Lee and Freddie Pitts were beaten, denied legal counsel, and threatened with death if they didn't sign "confessions" for the 1963 robbery and murder of two Port St. Joe gas station attendants.

Within 28 days, an all white jury, white judge, white prosecutor, white policeman -- convicted both of them, sending them off to die in Florida's electric chair. While all this transpired, the real killer, Curtis Adams Jr., a white man who had already been convicted of another murder continued his killing spree.

Florida's governor Reubin Askew, who served from 1971 through 1978, in 1975 approved a full pardon for Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, who had spent 12 years in prison, eight of them on death row for another man's crime . Despite their innocence, news that he was considering the pardon was poorly received in the Panhandle and cost him votes in his 1974 re-election.

At the time, Pitts, 31, and Lee, 40, walked out of prison. The state gave them $100 each.

Pulitzer-prizewinning Reporter Gene Miller of the Miami Herald began an investigation that helped win a new trial for Pitts and Lee in 1972. The two men were so hopeful about the outcome that just before their second trip to court, they passed up a chance to join a jailbreak. But Adams refused to repeat his confession on the stand, the tape made by the lie detector expert was barred as hearsay evidence, and the all-white jury took only 90 minutes to find Pitts and Lee guilty of murder all over again. They would have been convicted, said a shaken defense attorney, even "if the Twelve Apostles testified for them." Refusing to give up, Miller* and others continued to fight until Governor Reubin Askew agreed to order a new investigation a year and a half ago. Askew personally participated in part of the inquiry and sent his legal aide to talk with Adams. He confessed again, recanted and then confessed a third time to Florida Attorney General Robert Shevin.
"I thought there was our case and maybe a few others like it. But last fall I went to a conference at Northwestern University in Illinois and found 30 others who were innocent and got released. I was shocked! And there are others. Who knows how many didn't get out because they couldn't get the legal help or had no outside support?" - Wilbert Lee
Correction: The Florida Commission on Capital Cases issued a study that listed 23 inmates on death row in Florida who were wrongfully convicted. One more died while on death row who was innocent. And one was released shortly after the study was finished. That makes for 25 wrongfully convicted persons on Florida's Death Row, according to authorities. Frank Lee Smith was not included amongst the 23.

2 comments:

Anonymous,  12:17  

It's amazing how our society tries to brush these people under the rug, acting as if these people are the rare exception, when they know they are anything but. These were the "lucky" ones when you think of the almost miracle it took to reveal their innocence.

Yet, we keep on killing, as if it makes us better than the killers we're killing.

Roth's stepchild 22:24  

Exactly. I can't even imagine the number of innocent people put to death over the years. We'll never know because we don't have enough resources to dedicate to the living, let alone those already murdered.

Anyone who is okay with putting innocent people to death in order to maintain a system that not only doesn't work, but is prohibitively expensive, is no better than the guilty on death row, themselves.

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