Thursday, March 11, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row, Part Four

Juan Ramos grew up in Cuba and came to Florida in the 1980 Mariel boat lift. Within a year, he was married, and working in a steel factory. In June 1982, police arrested him for raping and murdering Sue Cobb, 27, who lived a block away. There was no physical evidence that linked Ramos to the homicide, but the police dog, after sniffing an empty pack of Ramos' cigarettes, and subsequently put in a room with five knives and five blouses, stopped at blouse No. 5, the victim's bloody blouse, then licked knife No. 3, the bloody knife that had killed her. However, only that knife and that blouse had blood on them, which only proved that the dog liked blood. That was enough for a jury to convict Ramos, who barely spoke English, and for a judge to overrule its recommendation of life and sentence him to death.

In October 1985, 20/20 exposed the unreliability of scent-tracking dogs, including the German shepherd that put Ramos behind bars. The dogs and their trainer, several times, identified suspects who were innocent.

In August 1986, the Florida Supreme Court granted Ramos a new trial because of the prosecution's improper use of evidence and at retrial, Ramos was acquitted. O n April 24, 1987, after spending five years on death row, where he learned to speak English, Ramos walked out a free man.

Anthony Ray Peek was twice convicted of murder and sentenced to death, the first time, on May 3, 1978 for the rape and strangulation of a Winter Haven nurse, despite witnesses who supported his alibi. The white judge who presided over the trial demonstrated prejudgments when he said,

"Since the nigger mom and dad are here anyway, why don't we go ahead and do the penalty phase today instead of having to subpoena them back at the cost of the state." [Debating the Death Penalty, p. 87]
Peeks remained on death row in Florida for nine years, from 1978 until 1987.

It was later shown that the prosecution's expert witness had lied about test results and that the hair found at the scene did not match Peek's hair. His conviction was overturned and he was acquitted at his third retrial in 1987.

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