Posts Tagged ‘Derrick Williams’


My Experience at Innocence Project of Florida’s 2016 Steppin’ Out Spring Gala

Kate Mathis — June 16, 2016 @ 1:00 PM — Comments (0)

Innocence Project of Florida’s annual Steppin’ Out Spring Gala on May 12 was a huge success this year. The major fundraising event for the project generated over $70,000 in funds that will go towards litigation efforts in IPF’s fight to free the wrongfully convicted in Florida prisons.

Serving as a Criminal Justice Communications Intern at IPF since the beginning of January 2016, I was looking forward to the event in the months leading up to it for several reasons. I used to complain about having to write papers for classes, but in my position as an intern, I research topics related to wrongful conviction and write blog posts and articles about them throughout the day. I came to love something I once groaned about because through writing countless pieces about the issue of wrongful conviction in this country, not only have I greatly improved my writing skills, but I have also learned so much about the topic and have a newfound admiration for the innocence movement. I have learned about hundreds of exonerees and read their tragic stories of how the criminal justice system literally took their lives away from them, and in turn have written a number of articles about a handful of them. I knew that I would finally be able to meet a few of the courageous men I had written about at Steppin’ Out, which is one of the main reasons I was quick to volunteer for and attend the event.

I think I speak for the majority of the innocence movement when I say that we look at exonerees as celebrities, on par with the likes of any famous movie or sports star. But unlike most Hollywood A-listers, exonerees did not earn their fame by starring in movies or being really good at a sport; they earned it solely through their courage and determination to prove their innocence—no matter how long it took. After Netflix released Making a Murderer last December, Steven Avery became a household name practically overnight. The nation, and now even the world, was astonished and disgusted with the injustices Avery had experienced. And while his story finally brought the long-time issue of wrongful conviction to widespread public attention, Avery’s story is just one of thousands. Take, for example, James Bain, who was exonerated in 2009 with the help of IPF after spending 35 years in prison for a crime that he did not commit. Thirty-five years. To put that into perspective, since James went to prison in 1974 and before his release, the text message was invented, terrorists attacked our country on 9/11, and Americans elected the nation’s first African American president. At the time of his release, James had served the most time wrongfully incarcerated of all the DNA exonerees across the country.

James was just one of the few exonerees that attended Steppin’ Out and that I had the pleasure of briefly meeting. Also in attendance was Orlando Boquete, who I was particularly excited to meet because of all the great things I had heard about him through staff members at IPF. Orlando actually managed to escape from his wrongful conviction twice, and although that makes him ineligible for compensation, he was able to fulfill his dream of becoming a U.S. naturalized citizen on March 27, 2015. The moment Orlando walked into the gala event, he lit up the entire room with his positive, outgoing, and warm presence. To have such a great attitude and outlook despite everything he has been through is truly amazing. Other Florida exonerees also in attendance included Seth Penalver, who was exonerated from death row in 2012, and William Dillon and Derrick Williams, who were exonerated through the efforts of IPF.

Some of the wrongfully convicted from other states also attended Steppin’ Out, including Clay Chabot and Richard Rosario. I was especially excited about meeting Richard, who actually had his conviction overturned recently on March 23. A series about Richard’s story was even featured on Dateline NBC. Having written a couple blog posts about him due to his recent release from prison and the series about him, it was surprising to see him at the event, but just as exciting nonetheless. Watching all of the exonerees interact with each other was such a unique experience, and it was truly rewarding to observe first-hand a bond they share that only they can understand.

Another main reason I was excited to attend Steppin’ Out was because Sister Helen Prejean was being honored at the event. I first have to thank Gordon Waldo, whose capital punishment class I took during my Spring 2015 semester at the Florida State University. Within the first couple weeks of class, he showed us the film Dead Man Walking, in which Susan Sarandon stars as Sister Helen, and depicts her first time serving as a spiritual advisor for an inmate on death row. Later on in the semester, Mr. Waldo dedicated an entire section of the course to innocent people awaiting the death penalty and showed us a few different films about the wrongfully convicted and the innocence movement. His capital punishment class is where I learned that someone could go to jail for a crime they did not commit, and also where I learned about innocence projects and the amazing pro-bono work that they do to free the wrongfully convicted. Had it not been for Mr. Waldo’s class, I may not have known about the issue of wrongful conviction and the innocence movement until much later, and perhaps I would have never applied to be an intern at IPF. Therefore, I credit the irreplaceable and incredible experience I have had interning at IPF to Mr. Waldo. He actually attended Steppin’ Out, and I was extremely happy for him that he was able to meet the remarkable woman whose movie he has shown in his capital punishment class for several years.

Often called the “Mother Teresa of Death Row,” Sister Helen is known for her extensive work in advocating against the death penalty, and continues to touch lives with her selfless passion for helping others. She is one of the nicest, most humble, and welcoming human beings I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, and to even be in her presence was truly an honor. Upon accepting her Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award, Sister Helen delivered a speech that left not a single dry eye in the room. Listening to her stories and experiences was inspiring and perhaps even life changing, and it seems almost impossible that one person could be so selfless and caring. One part of her speech in particular resonated with me. After commending the exonerees for their bravery and relentless efforts to prove their innocence and how happy they must be now that they are finally free again, Sister Helen asked, “but what about the people advocating and fighting for them and the people working at innocence projects?” She went on to tell the exonerees and other patrons in attendance to imagine how great the lawyers and other members of innocence organizations must feel, knowing that their efforts to free the wrongfully convicted were worth it because they were victorious. Although I am just an intern and play no direct role in litigating cases or securing exonerations, I think that even one more person who learns more about the criminal justice system, necessary reforms, and especially the problem of wrongful convictions can make a difference. In addition to my internship at IPF, Sister Helen’s speech inspired me to want to remain an active member in the innocence movement and to one day hopefully make a difference—no matter how small—in at least one person’s life.

Overall, to sum up my first experience at the annual IPF Steppin’ Out Spring 2016 Gala, it was humbling, to say the least.

Here are a few photos from the event:

Exonerees Orlando Boquete and Richard Rosario

Exonerees Orlando Boquete and Richard Rosario

Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean

From left to right: IPF Executive Director Seth Miller, exoneree James Bain, exoneree Orlando Boquete, IPF Staff Attorney Melissa Montle, exoneree William Dillon, IPF Assistant Director Toni Shrewsbury, exoneree Clay Chabot, Sister Helen Prejean, IPF Director of Social Services Anthony Scott, death row exoneree Seth Penalver, exoneree Richard Rosario, exoneree Derrick Williams, IPF Investigator Jennie Nepstad

From left to right: IPF Executive Director Seth Miller, exoneree James Bain, exoneree Orlando Boquete, IPF Staff Attorney Melissa Montle, exoneree William Dillon, IPF Assistant Director Toni Shrewsbury, wrongfully convicted Clay Chabot, Sister Helen Prejean, IPF Director of Social Services Anthony Scott, death row exoneree Seth Penalver, wrongfully convicted Richard Rosario, exoneree Derrick Williams, and IPF Staff Investigator Jennie Nepstad

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Today in Wrongful Conviction History: April 4

Kate Mathis — April 04, 2016 @ 10:00 AM — Comments (1)

Happy exoneration anniversary Cornelius Dupree, Derrick Williams, and Randall Mills!

Cornelius was exonerated in Texas in 2011 with help from the Innocence Project.

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Derrick Williams is one of the Innocence Project of Florida‘s very own exonerees. He was exonerated in 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and battery that he did not commit. More can be read about Derrick’s case here. He was exonerated through the great efforts of IPF attorneys Melissa Montle and Mike Minerva.

DNA EXONERATE

Randall was exonerated in Tennessee in 2014 with help from the Innocence Project.

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IPF Exonerees Speak to Students about their Wrongful Convictions

Kate Mathis — March 03, 2016 @ 4:00 PM — Comments (0)

On Wednesday, February 24, two of Innocence Project of Florida’s (IPF) very own exonerated clients spoke to students at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) campus about their wrongful conviction experiences. The panel was hosted by USFSM, IPF, and the Evelyn M. Duvall Family Studies Initiative. Exonerees James Bain and Derrick Williams presented during the panel, among others.

On the night of March 4, 1974, a nine-year-old boy was taken from his home, brought to a nearby baseball field, and raped. When the boy returned home following the rape, he was wearing only a t-shirt and underwear. Upon describing his assailant and that he identified himself as Jimmy, the victim’s uncle implicated 19-year-old James Bain, who went by Jimmy at the time. Bain was a student at the high school where the uncle served as assistant principle. The victim then identified Jimmy Bain as his attacker to the police form a photo lineup containing a school photo of Bain. Despite having an alibi and the lack of confession, Bain was arrested for the crime.

A full description of the crime and Bain’s trial can be accessed here.

Despite all the testimony presented by the defense, Bain was convicted of rape, breaking and entering, and kidnapping and handed a life sentence.

While serving time, he filed four motions for DNA testing, all of which were denied. His fifth motion was originally denied, but an appeals court overturned the denial. Bain’s case was then accepted by IPF, with Bob Young, General Counsel for the 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender, serving as co-counsel. Bain’s motion for DNA testing was finally accepted, and victim’s underwear were sent to a private laboratory in Ohio for testing. Results concluded that Bain was excluded from having left the semen in the victim’s underwear, proving that someone else was the victim’s attacker.

Bain was declared actually innocent and released from prison on December 17, 2009. Having been arrested when he was only 19-years-old, Bain was 54 when he was finally released from prison. He spent 35 years in prison for the crimes he did not commit, one of the longest sentences served by a DNA exoneree nationwide.

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On August 6, 1992 at 5:30 PM, a woman arrived at her home where she saw a black male on her porch holding a white cloth. After a physical altercation, the man drove both of them to a nearby orange grove. After vaginally and orally raping the victim, the assailant tied her up and then exited the vehicle to smoke one of the victim’s cigarettes. During that time, she managed to untie herself and she drove away with her attacker’s cloth and shirt still in the vehicle, leaving him in the orange grove.

Originally, the victim described her assailant as standing 5’6” to 5’8” tall, with a scar near his stomach. Derrick Williams was 5’11” with a scar on the center of his back. The victim also stated that she did not get a good look at the attacker, nor did she look at his back. During a photo lineup, the victim was shown 33 photos, two of which were photos of Williams. Noticing the occurrence of these two photos, the victim identified Williams as her attacker.

Williams was convicted of kidnapping, sexual battery, robbery, grand theft motor vehicle, and battery and received to consecutive life sentences.

A full description of the crime and Williams’ trial can be accessed here.

IPF accepted Williams’ case after his sister-in-law wrote to the organization in August of 2006 seeking help for her relative. A full description of Williams’s case and IPF’s post-conviction representation of Williams can also be viewed in the link above.

Williams was exonerated and released from prison on April 4, 2011 after spending 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.

Bain received $1.7 million from the state of Florida in compensation for his wrongful conviction, while Williams has yet to receive any.

Both exonerees discussed their wrongful incarceration struggles. Bain told listeners:

“I tried and tried, ladies and gentlemens, to get my case heard. But each time, it was a failure. Each time.”

Williams also lamented his time in prison:

“I cried many days, many days about ‘Why this happened to me? Why this happened to me?’ But there’s only one person you got to ask that question to.”

Pointing upwards, Williams went on to explain how he got through his struggles:

“God, what’s going on in my life? When God do open doors for you, you make the best of it…. There come a time in life when things happen to you. You don’t look at the bad, you look at what’s bringing you forward.”

Along with Bain and Williams, the panel also included presentations about their own perspectives from Robert Cromwell, a retired FBI agent and president of IPF’s board of directors, Larry Eger, a public defender for the 12th Judicial Circuit, and Harriet Hendel, a retired educator and an IPF board member.

Cromwell also explained to listeners that eyewitness misidentification is the leading cause of wrongful conviction and that eyewitnesses are not reliable, especially if they are of a different race than the person they saw committing a crime. He also commented on the criminal justice system, stating that:

“Something that I learned through my career that I didn’t necessarily know when I was a criminal justice student is this not a level playing field that we’re working with. The criminal justice system is not a level playing field. I saw it as a cop, I saw it as a NCIS agent, I saw it as a FBI agent. A lot of things need to change and there are a lot of things that could be done better.”

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Innocent Children Fall Victim to Wrongful Convictions

Ileejah Hutchinson — July 30, 2013 @ 10:19 AM — Comments (1)

In recent years with a growing number of exonerations of innocent individuals, there needs to be a discussion about who is effected by wrongful convictions. Of course the individual who is incarcerated for a crime he or she did not commit is considered victim number one, but where do the victim’s children fall on that extensive list?

sad_black_girlAccording to the the KIDS COUNT Data Center, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation providing information regarding the well-being of children and families in the United States, 24,718,000 children live in single parent households. That number represents 35 percent of the children in the nation. In Florida, 1,493,000 kids are living with a single parent, which is 39 percent of the children in the state and the number continues to grow yearly.

In 1980, Luis Diaz  – father of three – was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for a crime he was adamant he was innocent of. Twenty-five years later, with the help of the Innocent Project of Florida and the Innocence Project, Diaz was exonerated. At the time of of his conviction, Diaz’s three children were ages 6, 8 and 14.

white and black girlCHAT First: Children and Teens First, a website developed by the Children and Families in Transition Project, reports the ages of Diaz’s children were crucial ones for their development. Children in the age group 5 to 8 frequently miss the parent they are not spending time with deeply and can become highly emotional resulting in early depression, and teenagers between the ages of 12 to 18 are more likely to react in anger due to the absence of a parent.

It would be an immense reach to blame wrongful convictions as the primary cause of children growing up with single parents, because numerous circumstances play a part. However ripping a father away from his children at such an acute time in their development to have him labeled as a murderer or rapist is more than cruel; it is also avoidable. Children of Diaz and many of the exonerees were robbed of the chance to have their fathers watch them in school plays, congratulate them for A’s on report cards, send them off to school dances and to create lifelong memories during family vacations; the question remains why.

Imprisoned at age 22, William Dillion had the opportunity to have children of his own ripped away from him after spending 27 years in prison due to a miscarriage of justice. As Dillion mentions the injustice of fatherhood being hijacked from the palms of his hands in Unlock The Truth, his voice cracks, his chin drops, and his eyes water with emotion, and the questions remains, why?

On April 4, 2011, Derrick Williams became the 13th Florida DNA exoneree, but not before serving 18 years in prison for a crime he was innocent of, and almost two decades away from his son Omar Edwards.

Why should innocent children grow up without a parent if they don’t have to? Why should a man be robbed of the the opportunity to be a father if he is willing and able to take on that responsibility? The answer to these questions are buried beneath bad lawyering, prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, unreliable or limited science as well as other elements that make up the body of causes of wrongful convictions. Unlocking the truth can no longer be the job of one, but must be the duty of many. It is truly a myth that only innocent prisoners are effected by wrongful convictions and now that we are aware of the far reach of wrongful convictions, we must do our part to help correct this growing issue, if not for ourselves, then for the innocent children.

Preschool Daycare

 

 

 

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Two FL Exonerees to Speak this Sunday

Anna Fitzpatrick — June 21, 2013 @ 9:30 AM — Comments (1)

This Sunday, June 23rd, Florida exonerees James Bain and Derrick Williams will be speaking at Impact Church in Tampa, FL. Combined, these men spent 53 years in prison, with James Bain serving the longest sentence of any of the DNA exonerees nationwide.

The event begins at 2:30 pm. The church is located at the following address:

8019 N Himes Ave Suite 102

Tampa, FL 33614

If you’re in the area we hope you can make it out!

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MAYDAY: A Call of the Innocent

Ileejah Hutchinson — May 21, 2013 @ 3:20 PM — Comments (0)

Mayday, mayday, mayday!

This universal call is used to signal and aid individuals who are in distress and seeking assistance. The term is mainly used by marines and aviators; however, in some countries it is also used by law enforcement, fire departments and transportation groups.

The mayday call, which originated in the early 1920s, comes from the French words “venez m’iader,” which means “come and help me.” After a mayday call is given and if there is no response from the coast guard or any person designated to assist within two minutes, any person who hears the call for distress is required to perform a mayday relay, which is a call by one vessel on behalf of another.

IPF has vigorously worked for 10 years to aid persons in distress as a result of wrongful convictions. Exonerees such as, Orlando Boquete, William Dillon and Derrick Williams, to name a few, are perfect examples of successful mayday relays.

The United States of America prides itself on having the best criminal justice system in the world. Sadly it has been proven time and time again that the system is not immune to human error and in some cases, willful misconduct by prosecutors and law enforcement, and outright lies by jailhouse snitches. An innocent person, generally, believes that the justice system will do nothing but protect them, and do its best to eradicate the actual criminals.

Boquete, Dillon and Williams, collectively, spent 58 years in prison before their “mayday calls” were answered. Like all exonerees, Dillon made multiple cries for help; “to anyone who might listen” is how Dillon describes his desperate pleas. Finally with the help of IPF and assistant public defender Mike Pirolo, DNA testing on a key piece of evidence proved that Dillon was innocent. Dillon’s distress calls were finally answered after more than 27 years.

Williams’ sister-in-law took the first step in successfully performing a mayday relay on his behalf. With the help of IPF, Williams was finally able to go home after serving 18 years in prison.

Later this week Orlando will celebrate the 7th anniversary of his exoneration – the day his call for help was answered.

Place yourself in the shoes of Boquete, Dillon, or Williams – imagine spending years locked away from loved ones, family and friends; imagine not being able to fulfill the goals you mapped out for yourself; imagine not being able to make choices of what to eat and where to go. The small things we take for granted everyday are the things they missed, because the system failed and they were convicted of crimes they did not commit.

Because prosecutors, judges, and the State have turned their backs and ignore the cries of the innocent, IPF will continue to respond to mayday calls from those in Florida’s prisons.

It is everyone’s obligation to assist after hearing a mayday call, a cry from the wrongfully convicted, a cry that will prove to be the first step in unlocking the truth. Your assistance can be in many forms – share this post, tell others about IFP and our work, and provide financial support so we can bring home the innocent still in prison.

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RSVP to Step Out for Justice with IPF

Chelsea — April 11, 2012 @ 12:28 PM — Comments (2)

RSVP today to reserve your spot to step out and support the innocence movement and sponsor fairness in our justice system. The evening will feature a special VIP reception where you’ll get to meet and speak with some of Florida’s exonorees, a magnificent silent auction, dinner with keynote speaker Professor Larry Marshall, an awards ceremony, and more.

Buy your ticket for justice today!

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William Dillon to Perform at IPF’s First Annual Gala

Chelsea — March 28, 2012 @ 1:23 PM — Comments (2)

Can you imagine losing decades of your life to punishment for a crime you did not commit?

Florida’s 13 DNA exonerees don’t have to imagine; they know just how it feels to serve time for crimes that they had nothing to do with. At Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida, IPF’s first annual gala, you will get to hear the stories of these amazing men. Amazing, inspiring, and horrifying – the stories that they have to offer are the best proof that our justice system is broken and needs to be fixed.

William “Bill” Dillon is one of Florida’s DNA exonerees, and he will share his stories through song with a performance at this special event. Dillon learned to play guitar while serving 27 years for a murder he didn’t commit and released his first album, Black Robes and Lawyers, in 2011.

Reserve your spot today to step out for justice and hear these inspiring men share their stories.

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Steppin’ Out with Florida’s Exonorees

Chelsea — February 28, 2012 @ 5:56 PM — Comments (2)

Steppin’ Out with the Innocence Project of Florida is your opportunity to meet many of Florida’s exonerees who spent two or three decades wrongfully imprisoned for crimes they did not commit. Chat with them one-on-one at the VIP reception. Hear their inspiring stories of hope and perseverance.

You’ll get to know Derrick Williams, Alan Crotzer, Orlando Boquete, James Bain, William Dillon and others.  Learn what life is like after exoneration for them and their families.

William Dillon will perform several songs from his CD including Black Robes & Lawyers.  He wrote all of the songs on the CD during his 27.5 years of wrongful incarceration.

Buy your tickets today and step out for justice for the many others remaining in prison yet completely innocent.

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Release of Innocents, Destruction of Evidence & Examination of Eyewitness Testimony: News Round-up

Susan — August 30, 2011 @ 12:32 PM — Comments (1)

West Memphis Three Released. “I cannot believe that this day has come…” said Damien Echols upon his release August 19 from an Arkansas prison. Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were set free after serving 18 years for wrongful 1983 murder convictions of three children. A rarely used agreement called an Alford plea that is much like a sentence commutation provided the basis for letting the three innocent men out of prison.

Longtime supporter Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder said, “We are so grateful for the release of these three innocent men through the ‘Alford plea,’ a plea which essentially exists to right the wrongs of an imperfect system of justice. While we celebrate the freedom of Damien, Jason, and Jessie, we are also mindful that justice has been only half served. Three men lost 18 years of their lives to a wrongful conviction, and the killer of three young boys has still not been brought to justice. It is my hope that as the West Memphis Three begin to build their lives anew, the investigation of the real killer is pursued with renewed vigor.”

Many supporters from the legal, music and entertainment worlds worked hard on behalf of the West Memphis Three. Read more about it at BusinessWire or check out information about the HBO documentaries or a book on the subject at National Public Radio.

Justice Delayed, Stored, Then Finally Destroyed in Manatee County. We keep finding out more about destroyed evidence in a Bradenton bank vault. Thanks to legal efforts of the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) on behalf of Derrick Williams (later proven innocent and released), it came to light in 2002 that lots of evidence belonging to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office was destroyed due to water damage. The number of involved cases that occurred from 1980 to 1995 is staggering – 3,637 – some possibly containing exculpatory evidence for others who were wrongfully convicted.

Said Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, “One would have to think there are other Derrick Williams in those 3,600 cases…The takeaway is we’ll never know…Derrick was lucky,” he added. “He had a key piece of evidence held in the clerk of court. He had a key to unlock the truth about his case. For other people, their evidence was destroyed. Their chance at freedom may have burned along with the rest of the evidence that was incinerated.”

To learn more, read Lee Williams’ article at Bradenton.com.

U.S. Supreme Court to Take Another Look at Eyewitness Testimony.  Adam Liptak of The New York Times reports that the U.S. Supreme Court will explore again what the U.S. Constitution has to say about using eyewitness evidence – at once powerful and frequently wrong. The last time The Court considered this issue was 1977 and much has changed since then, namely DNA evidence. In fact, of the first 250 DNA exonerations, fully 190 included mistaken eyewitnesses.

Former Justice William J. Brennan once wrote “There is almost nothing more convincing than a live human being who takes the stand, points a finger at the defendant, and says, ‘That’s the one!’”

While legal scholars and experts are happy that The Court is showing an interest in eyewitness testimony, the bigger issue of what is specifically involved in taking that look will likely not be addressed in the particular case of Perry v. New Hampshire, No, 10-8974. Barry Scheck, a director of the Innocence Project at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, calls for a new “legal architecture” in which judges are gatekeepers of eyewitness testimony with increased discretion to manage it.

More on Eyewitness Testimony from Florida. Todd Ruger of the Herald-Tribune reports of false eyewitness testimony in Sarasota County – it was at least 50 percent wrong at any rate.

An eyewitness identified two assailants in the June fatal shooting of a man on a Sarasota street. One of the men, Timothy Jenkins, Jr., declared his innocence but turned himself in. He was sure justice would be served. However, after 15 days of solitary confinement he asked his family to hire a lawyer. His lawyer with the help of a private investigator found other witnesses and a gas receipt to corroborate Jenkins’ story.

Jenkins was released after 39 days in jail and plans to start a new life in a state other than Florida.

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