Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Meet the Exonerated: Florida Death Row, Part 6

Robert Craig Cox was convicted of murdering a nineteen-year old woman and subsequently sentenced to death.

The evidence against him was entirely circumstantial.
Cox stayed at the same motel where the victim's body was found. He cut his tongue that night, and hair and blood samples found near the victim were generally compatible with those of Cox. ( 0+, a trait shared by 45% of the population.) A boot print at the crime scene was consistent with a military boot and Cox had a military job.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Florida unanimously reversed Cox's conviction. The Court ordered that Cox be released immediately.



Bradley P. Scott was convicted of murdering a 12-year old girl, and sentenced to death, despite the police ruling him out initially as he had a sound alibi--he was with his girlfriend shopping at the mall at the time.

Seven years later a new sheriff reopened the investigation. His arrest came ten years after the crime, when the evidence corroborating his alibi had been lost, so 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.


Andrew Golden, a former teacher, and law-abiding citizen, who was married to his wife, Ardelle, for twenty-four years, and with whom he had two sons, was sent to death row in 1991 for allegedly drowning his wife, despite the police investigators and medical examiner who stated at trial that the evidence did not suggest foul play. Her death was initially ruled accidental.

Golden's lawyer did almost nothing to prepare for trial, having assumed that he would have the case thrown out beforehand. When the case was announced for trial, it was too late to prepare. The attorney put on no defense. He never presented the jury with the reasonable explanation that Golden's wife might have committed suicide, having been depressed over the recent death of her father. He never told the jury about the coffee mug wedged near the brake and accelerator pedal, or the four death notices of her father which Ardelle had with her in the car. The jury accepted the prosecution's theory that Golden pushed his wife off the dock in order to get insurance money. The jury was never told that the water by the dock was not even over Ardelle's head.

On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously decided that the prosecution had failed to prove that Ardelle's death was anything but an accident. After two years on death row, he was freed in 1994.



Sonia Jacobs and her boyfriend, Jesse Tafero, were sentenced to death for the murder of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Phillip Black in 1976. Walter Rhodes, who was also with them was the only one who tested positive for gunpowder residue. But after he agreed to testify against Jacobs and Tafero, he got a life sentence. They were sentenced to die.

Jacobs spent the next five years in solitary confinement. She meditated and practiced yoga. She said, "I figured if people could survive the concentration camps, then surely I could survive this."

In 1981, the Florida Supreme Court commuted Jacobs' sentence to life in prison after her lawyers uncovered a polygraph test suggesting that Rhodes, the prosecution's chief witness, might have lied. The next year, Rhodes recanted, saying he -- not Jacobs or Tafero -- pulled the trigger. Tafero was executed in May, 1990.

When Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs went to prison for murder in 1976, her son was 9. Her daughter, 10 months old, was still nursing.

When she was freed in 1992, her son was married with a child of his own and her daughter was a 16-year-old stranger.

"Getting back family is the hardest part," says Jacobs, now 51, who teaches yoga and lives in Los Angeles. "They live with embarrassment for so long: You say you didn't (commit the murder), but everyone says you did."
A childhood friend of Jacobs, filmmaker Micki Dickoff, became interested in her case. Using court transcripts, affidavits and old newspaper stories, Dickoff found discrepancies in testimony and put together a color-coded brief for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. It was enough to overturn Jacobs' conviction.



James Richardson, a poor migrant farm worker, was sentenced to death after being convicted of murdering 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.



Robert Hayes was convicted of rape and murder and was sentenced to death. The prosecution presented testimony that placed him with the victim, at the time that the murder took place. The prosecution also introduced DNA evidence that supposedly linked Mr. Hayes to the crime.

A new trial was ordered because of faulty DNA analysis that rendered it unreliable and contaminated. At the second trial, evidence emerged that the victim was found clutching hairs of a white ma; Hayes is African-American. Evidence also emerged of the possibility of another suspect. After six years on death row, the jury at the second trial acquitted Mr. Hayes of all charges.

5 comments:

Dag,  11:24  

This is really heart-breaking. I can't imagine what it must be like to spend the best part of your life accused of something you didn't do, just waiting to die. At the same time it makes me so angry that people who represent our justice system are worse than the criminals themselves †

Roth's stepchild 22:49  

I agree. The hypocrisy is monumental. Individuals that compose the "We" in "We, the people" are absolved of the moral responsibility for the murder of another human being by transferring that responsibility onto the state...a nameless, faceless entity which not only lacks a conscience, but is extraordinarily prone to making egregious mistakes, as we see here. This fact alone renders the death penalty nothing more than an act of State sanctioned murder.

Anonymous,  10:34  

My name is penni and i was jesse tafero's girlfriend. I spent many hours with jesse on florida's death row. I also pray for the trooper and canadian constable that were killed by scumbag walter rhodes. Only god knows what happened on february 20, 1976.

Penni [Jesse tafero's girlfriend],  10:48  

My name is penni and i was the love of jesse tafero's life. I spent many hours with jesse on florida's death row. Jesse was a very spiritual man and i also pray for the trooper and canadian constable that were killed by that scumbag pig walter rhodes. God is the judge.

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