Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row, Part Three

Joseph Green Brown - In 1974, a Hillsborough County jury convicted him of raping and murdering Earlene Treva Barksdale, a clothing store owner and wife of a prominent Tampa lawyer. The case hinged on Ronald Floyd, a man who held a grudge against Brown because Brown once turned him in for a robbery. The jury also got to see a purported smoking gun, a .38-caliber handgun that prosecutor Robert Bonanno said was the murder weapon, even though an FBI ballistics expert said the handgun could not possibly have fired the fatal bullet -- a witness the jury never heard from.

Several months later, Floyd admitted that he lied but Florida courts granted no relief.In the fall of 1983, Gov. Bob Graham signed a death warrant. Brown’s mother suffered a stroke. Brown was within 15 hours of death, forced to listen to technicians in Florida’s death house test the electric chair in which they were about to kill him, when a federal judge in Tampa issued a stay.

Asked if there were any particular indignities he was subjected to on death row," Mr. Brown answered,

"One time was just before I was to be executed. They came to measure me for a burial suit. While I stood there, they put the tape measure around my chest, and around my waist, and then they measured the inseam. They did it in such a mechanical way, as if I were an inanimate object. I thought to myself, no, no, this is enough. It was like a ritual about killing me. I struck out, and then the guards hit me in the mouth. That's how I lost my front teeth. They beat me, even though they were going to kill me in less than 24 hours. But I wanted them to know I was a human being, with feelings."
Two and a half years later, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, ruling the prosecution knowingly allowed false testimony from the states’s star witness. One year later, Brown was released after the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office decided not to retry him. was sentenced to death after having been falsely convicted or a murder, rape and robbery. The only evidence against him was the testimony of Ronald Floyd, a man who held a grudge against him because he had previously turned him into the police on an unrelated crime. At trial, Floyd denied that there was any deal for his testimony and the prosecution repeatedly emphasized to the jury that Floyd had no deal. Several months after trial, Floyd admitted that he had lied at trial, and that he had testified in return for not being prosecuted himself for the murder, and for a light sentence on another crime.

Willie A. Brown (l) and Larry Troy(r) were convicted of first-degree murder and both sentenced to death. The conviction was based entirely upon the testimony of another prisoner who testified that he saw them leave the victim's cell shortly before his body was discovered. A German anti-death-penalty activist took an interest in the case and, fitted with a hidden microphone, obtained an admission from the witness, Frank Wise, that he had lied about the two men's involvement. The witness was then convicted of perjury and Messrs. Brown and Troy were released after spending five years on death row. Brown is African American, the victim Caucasian.

Anibal Jaramillo, an illegal Colombian immigrant, was convicted for the murders of Gilberto Caicedo and Candellario Castellanos and sentenced to death. The prosecution's case was built on the fact that Jaramillo's fingerprints were found on a knife casing, a table, and grocery bag in the victims' home. At trial, Jaramillo explained that he had been in the victims' home earlier that day and had helped the victims' nephew cut open some boxes, and evidence emerged that tended to incriminate the victims’ roommate, but the jury convicted him nonetheless. The victims' nephew was unavailable to corroborate or contradict Jaramillo's testimony, as he could not be located. Dade Circuit Judge Ellen Morphonios-Gable overruled the jury’s recommendation of life in prison.

On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the prosecution evidence was completely inadequate to support a conviction, and ordered Jaramillo's acquittal in 1982. The day Jaramillo left death row, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms arrested him for lying on a form when he bought a .45-caliber pistol from a gun shop in 1980. In 1983, a federal judge sentenced him to four years in prison. Jaramillo was eventually deported to Colombia, where he was murdered in Medellin.

Anthony Silah Brown, was sentenced to death after having been convicted of murder. At trial, the only evidence against Brown was a co-defendant who was sentenced to life for his part in the crime. After returning a guilty verdict, the jury recommended a life sentence for Mr. Brown, but the trial judge overrode this recommendation and imposed a sentence of death. At retrial, the co-defendant admitted that his testimony at the first trial had been perjured, and Brown was acquitted, after spending three years on death row, who watched and listened 12 times as guards prepared for executions.

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