Evidently the beautiful scene at Hardee Correctional last week, where Derrick Williams was exonerated and released to his huge, loving family, must have really torqued the State Attorney’s Office and the Manatee County Sheriff. They must have expected that when they dropped the charges earlier on Monday that everyone would agree with their assertion that Derrick Williams was actually guilty despite the mountain of evidence and a court ruling suggesting otherwise.
In an attempt dampen Derrick’s life changing moment, the State Attorney did the most cowardly thing possible. They completely ignored the long list of infirmities in their case against Derrick and use the victim as a human shield:
“In meeting with the victim, we determined that it wasn’t in her best interest to go forward,” Arend (the prosecutor) said Tuesday.
Although the victim did not want Arend to share her confidential views and feelings concerning Williams’ emotional release from jail, she did offer one opinion that she did not mind being made public, Arend said.
“She said that she is still adamant that Derrick Williams is the man who raped her,” Arend said. “She identified him in multiple photo arrays and in a live line-up and in a trial.”
. . .
“Williams is the one who did it,” Arend said. “We fully believe he is the one who did it. The evidence didn’t exonerate him, it just gave him a new trial. But, ultimately, because the remaining evidence was contaminated and because we had a victim unwilling to move forward, we decided to end it.”
Never mind that there was a african american hair with a root on the perpetrator’s shirt collected after the crime that didn’t match Derrick, or that new DNA results on the shirt corroborated that hair result by showing that someone else, not Derrick, wore the shirt, or that Judge Gilner, after hearing two full days of testimony and performing a painstaking review of the entire record, determined that this new DNA result “directly contradicted” the victim’s identification, or that the victim viewed a photo lineup that was tainted with two photos of Derrick in it, or that the victim’s inconsistent statements related to the ID became more favorable to the state as the trial got closer, or that a member of the Sheriff’s office gave perjured testimony that incorrectly put Derrick around the victim’s house around the time of the crime. I could go on and on.
No one can blame the victim for not wanting to believe that she was mistaken in her ID. Victim’s in other exoneration cases have talked about the obsessive guilt they feel when they realize they mistakenly identified an innocent person. While some victims eventually realize that, although originally certain, they were wrong, other victims, like those in Alan Crotzer‘s case, refuse to believe the DNA evidence proving innocence even when the prosecutors support the exoneration. But that is ok. These victims were damaged by a traumatizing event and, frankly, they get a pass.
But the prosecutor had the benefit of seeing the evidence in this case fall like a house of cards, not to mention having the experience of losing after a deliberative court process. It is disgusting for them to hide their recalcitrance behind the victim’s traumatization. They are using and manipulating the victim for their own political ends, to save face, and they should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.
Now to the Sheriff’s office. Sheriff Brad Steube is now talking about the MSO’s unlawful destruction of evidence and it is now abundantly clear that he has no clue what he is talking about:
“We did not destroy that evidence,” a bristling Steube said at one point. “It would be ludicrous to think we would do that. What we did is destroy evidence that was already destroyed.”
. . .
“The judge says in his report that our evidence and records manager Jeanne Dixon had a plan for disposal of evidence that included getting an OK from the state attorney’s office,” Steube said. “In actuality, we don’t have to get the state attorney’s permission to destroy evidence because the state statutes tell us how long we have to keep things. So I disagree with what Judge Gilner put in there.”
Steube said the sheriff’s office doesn’t deserve to be cast as an irresponsible party, as some have cast it, due to the damage in the evidence room.
“The judge said we violated a law because we did not go in that room and recover that DNA,” Steube said. “I will say this. There are photographs that show our staff in moon suits going into that room. First of all, there were items stacked and they had all glued together, like mush. We couldn’t even get the case numbers that were written on the boxes. We were able to get items that could be salvaged, like guns and jewelry, things that are hard in nature.
“Here is my disagreement with the judge’s statement,” Steube added. “If you had seen the inside of that vault you would know it does not make sense to send your people in there even with moon suits on. It would have been hazardous to their health. Let’s say that hair was in there. It would have been impossible to find in that big of a mess.”
What’s ludicrous Brad, is you trying to suggest that incinerating 3,600 cases worth of evidence is somehow not destroying it. A DNA expert testified at the hearing that you can get DNA results from moldy evidence. No one at MSO examined the evidence to determine its exact nature. Everything that Steube is saying is pure conjecture to, again, save face. The preservation law required evidence to be kept for the entirety of one’s sentence. No exceptions for dangerous moldy conditions. Derrick Williams had a life sentence. So they violated the law by destroying his evidence while he was still incarcerated. There is no other possible interpretation of the events that transpired at MSO. And Steube needs to go read the statute that existed in 2003, which actually did require MSO to notify the State Attorney, among others, before any destruction.
These guys are flat earthers, relying on the same gut feelings that led to Derrick’s wrongful conviction in the first place instead of simply performing an objective examination of the evidence. We could produce the actual rapist and they would probably stick to their story that Derrick raped this poor woman because they are incapable of admitting that they were wrong.
Tom Lyons, a columnist with the Sarasota Herald Tribune, summed up the prosecutor’s duty in this way:
But prosecutors? They are supposed to be on the side of justice. To insist that a defendant is guilty even after new and strong evidence suggests otherwise, is flat out wrong.
Their job, in such an instance, is to drop the charges. Or, if things are past that point, to help reverse a wrongful conviction. It is absolutely not our State Attorney’s job to try to keep an apparently innocent person locked up just because that person had once appeared to be guilty.
But prosecutors can become way too focused on winning, it seems.
Winning at all costs, or in this case, getting the last word even though the evidence suggests otherwise, should not be the end game in these cases. To Earl Moreland and Brad Steube, this may be a political game. To Derrick Williams, this was and is his life. Thank goodness he is home with his family and, hopefully, he will be able to move past this and lead a productive life as Florida’s 13th DNA exoneree.