Posts Tagged ‘Frank Lee Smith’

Memorial Day

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 24, 2013 @ 2:09 PM — Comments (0)

Memorial Day – the final Monday in May – provides the opportunity for everyone to remember the men and women who have died in the United States Armed Forces. This year IPF asks that while we remember this nation’s great heroes, who have fought extremely hard to preserve the freedoms of this country, that we allow ourselves adequate time to reflect on the individuals who have lost their lives in the state corrections system due to wrongful convictions.

Florida Death Row inmate, Frank Lee Smith, who was sentenced to death in 1986, spent 14 years in prison due to an eyewitness misidentification and ultimately died of cancer before his exoneration in December 2000. This man deserves our thoughts during this time of remembrance. Smith, who suffered from mental illness, spent most of his life in poverty, dealt with abandonment, neglect, abuse and ultimately wrongful incarceration before his passing on January 30, 2000.

This Memorial Day we encourage you to celebrate the lives of the brave soldiers who have fought for our nation, and make it possible for us to live our lives as freely and as selfishly as we desire, and also take the time to remember men like Smith, whose life was stolen because of a death sentence for a crime he did not commit.

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Steppin’ Out with Florida’s Exonorees

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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Award Recipients Announced: Holland & Knight and Martin J. McClain, Esq.

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 24, 2012 @ 5:31 PM — Comments (1)

At our first annual gala on April 27, 2012 we will be giving two very special awards to honor some of the people who inspire IPF with their commitment to justice and the innocence movement.

We are proud to announce that the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award will go to Holland & Knight LLP. Holland and Knight has a long history of providing substantial assistance to the Innocence Project of Florida. Holland & Knight’s work on our behalf included taking on the bulk of the pro bono representation of our first 40 cases in 2003 to prevent those clients from being time barred by the DNA testing deadline then in effect. Holland & Knight was also the counsel of record in the Luis Diaz and Chad Heins cases, both of which led to exonerations. These are but a few examples of the continuing contributions to the cause of justice made by Holland & Knight over a span of decades, and we are thrilled to be able to honor them for those contributions.

The Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award will go to Martin J. “Marty” McClain. Marty is the post-conviction attorney who represented Frank Lee Smith, in whose name this award is given. Marty also represented Juan Melendez in his post-conviction case. Melendez is a non-DNA Florida exoneree who was on death row and now is an anti-death penalty advocate living in New Mexico. Marty has been tirelessly representing inmates on death row, innocent and guilty alike, since the 1980s. He was chief assistant and director of litigation at the Office of the Capital Collateral Representative and has continued his representations of those on death row in Florida and elsewhere since leaving that office. He is currently in private practice in Ft. Lauderdale. His sterling advocacy is a primary reason that Frank Lee Smith was proven innocent.

“Marty’s work as a post-conviction litigator representing death row inmates has earned him the deserved reputation as a top defender of those in peril of execution.  Among his many successes over the past two decades is the bittersweet posthumous exoneration of Frank Lee Smith. We are so pleased to honor Marty in this way,” said Michael Minerva, IFP’s CEO.

Congratulations to both of our awardees! We’re excited to see them at the gala in April, and will hopefully see you!

Get your tickets to step out with IPF and support justice.

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Awards Named in Honor of Sandy D’Alemberte & in Memory of Frank Lee Smith

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 20, 2012 @ 1:34 PM — Comments (1)

At the Innocence Project of Florida’s first annual gala on Friday, April 27, 2012 we will be presenting two awards to an individual, group, or organization for their commitments to justice and stopping wrongful convictions. We have named these two awards in honor of two individuals who inspire the Innocence Project of Florida with their work for the cause of innocence.

The first is the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award. This award will be given to a person, group or organization who has inspired us with their spirited defense of truth, sustained commitment to justice, and tireless advocacy for the innocent.

“The whole of Sandy’s professional life is encapsulated in the criteria developed to select the award recipient. He has been a mentor, friend and colleague to so many, and has made an immeasurable impact in correcting years of injustice,” said Seth Miller, IPF’s executive director. Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte served as IPF’s founding chair of the board of directors and has demonstrated a life-long and inspiring commitment to justice and made a tremendous personal impact on the innocence movement in Florida.

“We wanted to honor Sandy in an enduring and meaningful way in consideration of all that he has done and continues to do in furtherance of the cause of justice in Florida, throughout the U.S. and abroad, including the establishment of the Innocence Project of Florida,” said Mark Schlakman, chair of the board of directors.

We will also be presenting the Frank Lee Smith Innocence Award, and this award will be given to a person, group or organization who has made a significant contribution to advancing the cause of innocence.

Frank Lee Smith, the first Florida DNA exoneree, died in prison of cancer before his exoneration. It was his struggle and persistence that in part led to the passage of Florida’s post-conviction DNA testing law and ultimately, the formation of the Innocence Project of Florida.

We’re very excited to be able to honor Sandy D’Alemberte and the memory of Frank Lee Smith, as well as the deserving recipients, which will be announced in the next few days.

Get your tickets today and step out for justice!

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Mike Farrell: Human Rights Activist

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 01, 2012 @ 11:34 AM — Comments (0)

Mike Farrell, actor and life-long opponent of capital punishment, often and passionately speaks about the inhumanity of state-sanctioned killings and our collective response to it.  He believes that there are “appropriate sanctions that protect society and punish wrongdoers without forcing us to stoop to the level of the least among us,” and he is hopeful that public response against capital punishment “will at least give [people] pause in their support for death.”

Among a myriad of reasons for his belief that capital punishment should be abolished, Farrell sees the abolishment as a cost-effective measure, arguing that a life sentence “spares us the barbarity of killing our own [as well as it] it teaches our children that violence will be punished, but not by emulating the violent.” We shouldn’t be willing, he asserts, to “continue to share the killing stage with some of the world’s worst human rights violators.”

In a recent  interview, Farrell  discusses his work over the years, what he sees as a viable alternative to capital punishment, and what he views as some of the greatest barriers to its repeal in the United States.

Anne:   What experiences, if any, helped shaped your views on the need for the abolishment of the death penalty?

Mike Farrell:  Working with a program for ex-offenders in the 60s took me into prisons for the first time. The soul-crushing dehumanization in these institutions troubled me deeply. I wondered how anyone whose life experience had been so miserable that he or she had responded by acting out in a violent or anti-social way and [who] ended up in one of these places could ever be expected to get better under the circumstances that were present.

I had been taught as a child that “thou shall not kill,” and I took it to heart. Believing that killing was wrong, I thought it was just as wrong for the state to do it as for an individual to do it, so I signed petitions and spoke against the death penalty in conversations but was not particularly active on the issue. After the death penalty was reinstated by the Supreme Court in the Gregg Decision (in 1976), I was contacted by Reverend Joe Ingle, who ran the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons. I was doing a television show at the time and Joe asked me to help him head off what he saw as a coming avalanche of killing by the State. Joe took me to my first Death Row, at Tennessee State Prison, and introduced me to a number of abolitionists with whom he worked. That began what has become thirty years of working to abolish capital punishment.

Anne:  Do you believe that a person convicted of a heinous crime and sentenced to death is capable of being rehabilitated if given a life sentence without the possibility of parole?

MF:  Absolutely. Of course it depends on the individual, but I believe in the ability of human beings to transform their lives. I’ve worked with many people over the years whose life experience has been so immiserating that it defies belief, but I’ve seen them overcome circumstances and experiences that defy the imagination and become powerful, meaningful, and productive citizens.

Let me quickly add  that though I absolutely believe in the capacity of even the most damaged individual to transform his or her life, I realize that some may be so bent by the cruel circumstances of their experience that it would not be safe to release them into society. For that reason, I believe we should maintain the penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole as a last resort.

Anne:  If you are aware of the Troy Davis case (Georgia, September 2011), where worldwide attention–and much controversy–surrounded his execution, what response do you have to those who believe that Davis “got what he deserved” for his involvement in the killing of the off-duty police officer, despite overwhelming evidence that pointed to Davis’ innocence.

MF:  I corresponded with Troy and knew his sister. Bless them both. I think it was a huge miscarriage of justice that the State of Georgia refused to stop the execution in spite of the serious doubts about his guilt and the international outcry against his execution. Those who support his having been executed, in my view, either do not fully understand the facts of the case or are blinding themselves to reality. Both views are further evidence of why we must stop this hateful process [of state-sanctioned killings].

Anne:  Your involvement in the anti-death movement is long and varied. Can you discuss one or two particular cases wherein the convicted person’s repetitive claims of innocence led to a re-evaluation of their case and their (subsequent) sentencing to life without parole?

MF:  Well, let’s be clear: The re-evaluation and re-sentencing of someone usually results when it is proven in court or demonstrated to a head of state that while the individual may be guilty, the circumstances of the crime, the mitigating factors in the individual’s life or the changes he or she has demonstrated while incarcerated show that death is not appropriate.

However, in some instances it’s not the proverbial ‘half a loaf.’ In the internationally known Pennsylvania case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, the federal court threw out the death sentence because of an error by the trial judge and ordered the Philadelphia District Attorney to either re-try the penalty phase of the case or agree to a sentence of life without parole. The D. A. appealed the decision and recently lost, so Abu-Jamal’s sentence has been changed to life without parole. For many people who believe him innocent, that is not a satisfactory conclusion to the matter.

I, for one, feel that Mumia Abu-Jamal never received a fair trial and deserves one. I can’t comment on his guilt or innocence since there are contradictory allegations and many contrasting “facts” that pollute the case, but it’s quite clear to me that he deserves a fair trial and will not–and should not–be content with a life sentence.

Anne:  In Florida, there have been thirteen men who have been exonerated through DNA evidence. One of the men, Frank Lee Smith, died in prison (after having served 14 years behind bars) before his scheduled release date. Another man, James Bain, has the dubious distinction of having served, at 35 years, the nation’s longest sentence behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Has your work involved any aspect of court-ordered DNA evidence, and, if so, how has such DNA evidence impacted your work on capital punishment cases?

MF: I believe the DNA test in Frank Lee Smith’s case proved him innocent after he died in prison. That is a ghastly error and should move the people of the State of Florida to demand an end to capital punishment. I don’t see DNA [however] as the ‘magic bullet’ that will solve all the issues pertinent to capital punishment, but  innocence projects are doing a fine job of using it to demonstrate–in over 250 cases so far–that wrongful convictions take place regularly.

It’s important to point out, though, that fewer than twenty of their [Innocence Projects across the nation] DNA exonerations have been for people sentenced to death. That’s because murders often take place without any traceable DNA (blood, semen or tissue) being left at the scene by the perpetrator.

Anne:  In your work as an advocate against capital punishment, what do you see as some of the greatest barriers to its repeal in the United States? People’s attitudes? The courts’? An eye-for-an-eye mindset by victims’ families? People’s religious views?

MF:  All of the above. Many of our nation’s citizens have been frightened into averting their eyes from a horrendously broken system by prosecutors’ stories and a sensationalistic press, both of which emphsize blood, gore and violence. Out of fear and revulsion, they go along with it, assuming the condemned are ‘getting what they deserve,’ and that ‘they [the accused]  don’t deserve to live.’  These attitudes are bolstered, in some instances, by fundamentalist religious teachings, a vague notion that the Bible supports it, or a belief that the court and the law in general are handling things well enough, despite the fact that they are not.

Anne:  Statistics show that people of color are disproportionately sentenced to death more frequenty than others accused of the same crime. Can you address the issue of racial disparities associated with death penalty sentencing among minorities and what perhaps accounts for such disparities?

MF:  There’s no question that racism taints the use of the death penalty and everyone who pays attention knows it. Despite the Supreme Court’s unwillingness to face it in the McClesky Case many years ago, the rise and growing interest in the Racial Justice Act in this country is evidence of the inevitability of the exposure of the rampant racism in the criminal justice system and ultimately the end of the death penalty.

NOTE: This is the first part of a two-part interview with Mike Farrell. Farrell is perhaps best known as “Captain B. J. Hunnicutt” from the CBS show M*A*S*H, where he appeared from 1975-1983.

Farrell is actively involved in numerous abolition and human rights organizations, including: the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty; the Human Rights Watch, where he served as Co-Chair of the California Committee from 1994-2005; the Committee to Save Mumia Abu-Jamal, which he co-chaired with Ossie Davis from 1994-2002; and the ACLU, for its “active and effective opposition to the death penalty.” An activist in every aspect of the word, he was recently bestowed the Donald Wright Award for “Special Contributions to the Criminal Justice System” by the California Attorneys for Criminal Justice. He is the second person to receive the award who is neither an attorney or judge.

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A bit more on recantations

Seth — July 14, 2009 @ 2:40 PM — Comments (0)

What sticks out about the Detroit case highlighted by Lenore this morning is that the judge only found this victim recantation credible because of the extreme circumstances surrounding it.  The victim, a parapalegic, had to be surreptitiously removed from his home and brought to court to recant his trial testimony that once implicated the DeShawn and Marvin Reed.  The victim’s family was using the victim’s immobility to functionally hold him hostage, thus preventing  him from coming forward with the truth.

While the judge found these circumstances compelling enough to make the recantation reliable, what about every other run-of-the-mill recantation that judges in Florida and around the country routinely reject?  Do we really need extraordinary bordering on bizarre circumstances to use a recantation as a basis for a postconviction innocence claim?  Is it really possible that normal recantations are never credible and should always be rejected?

Take the case of Frank Lee Smith from Broward County, Florida.  Smith was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986 for raping and murdering a female child.  At his trial, eyewitness Chiquita Lowe testified that, on her way home, she was flagged down by an unidentified black male (the murderer) who had a full beard, scraggly hair, and a droopy eye. She identified Smith as this black male both in a photo pak and in court at trial.  But a decade later, after being shown a picture of a known serial rapist/murderer, Eddie Lee Mosely, who had done his deeds all over Broward County during the time of this crime, Lowe realized she had made a grave mistake and that Mosely was actually the person she saw the evening of this murder.  She attempted to recant.

In 1998, the Florida Supreme Court ordered a hearing on the credibility of Lowe’s recantation.  At the hearing Lowe provided her recantation and the State countered with a newly manufactured additional photo pak that supposedly had Mosely in it where Lowe supposedly did not pick Mosely as the man she saw night of the murder.  Predictably, the court brushed aside the recantation and denied Smith’s motion for new trial.

While the State never did execute Frank Lee Smith, he died a horrible and painful death of cancer a year later while on death row.  DNA testing after his death proved conclusively that he did not rape and murder the female victim. Instead, the DNA testing confirmed what Chiquita Lowe had been saying: that Eddie Lee Mosely was the man she saw that night; thus, Mosely, not Smith, was the murderer.

Smith’s is just the most egregious instance of courts and prosecutors summarily rejecting recantations only for reality to eviscerate the wisdom of their decisions.  The judicial aversion to giving any credit to recantations is problematic, especially in those cases where DNA evidence is not an issue and the recantation may be the only path to demonstrating innocence.  Court’s need to take a hard look at the questions I posited above and how their answers reconcile with cases like that of Frank Lee Smith.

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