Posts Tagged ‘innocent’

Michigan Man Exonerated After 17 Years in Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — September 09, 2014 @ 9:01 AM — Comments (0)

Jaime Lee Peterson was exonerated today after spending 17 years in custody and in a Michigan prison for the rape and murder of a elderly woman that he did not commit. He was serving a life sentence. The cause of his wrongful conviction stems from his false confession during the interrogation process which happened four months after the murder. Despite knowing that DNA testing of the victim’s rape kit excluded Peterson as the rapist, the jury convicted Peterson at a 1998 trial. The prosecutor led the jury to believe that semen found at the crime scene that was, at that time, untestable most likely belonged to Mr. Peterson. Along with his initial confession, this was enough to sentence him to life in prison. New DNA testing was conducted last year at the urging of Mr. Peterson’s new attorneys, the testing sought to prove that the previously untestable DNA belonged to the same person whose DNA was found initially with the rape kit. All of the male DNA  tested in this case was found to match a man named Jason Ryan (who was actually interviewed during the initial investigation).  Ryan was arrested last year for this decades old crime and currently is awaiting trial. Petersen’s case was led by the Michigan Innocence Clinic.

This case is just another one to add to the troubling ever growing list of coerced false confessions. After initially confessing Jaime (who is cognitively impaired) recanted his statements, but that usually does the person in such a situation no good. Roughly a fourth of those exonerated in America falsely confessed to crimes at some point during their interrogation. Jaime is the fourth man in Michigan to be exonerated by DNA evidence.

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Kentucky Women Close to Exoneration

Alejandra de la Fuente — August 14, 2014 @ 10:07 AM — Comments (0)

In 1998, Kyle “Deanie” Breeden was found bound with electrical cord and shot dead in the Kentucky River. For eight years, the case remained a murder mystery until Kentucky State Detective Todd Harwood announced he had solved it in only three weeks. The accused was a slight, 97-pound, one-legged women who had dated the 190-pound Breeden on-and-off for several months. Susan Jean King maintained her innocence, but was persuaded by Det. Harwood and her public defender to plead to second-degree manslaughter pursuant to North Carolina v. Alford. In other words, King did not admit guilt, but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to find her guilty. She served eight years of a ten-year sentence. She later described herself as being “railroaded” and “set up by a corrupt cop.”

On July 20, 2014, after Richard Jarrell, Jr., who was being questioned by police about an unrelated crime, confessed in great detail to robbing and killing Breeden and throwing him off the Gratz Bridge and into the Kentucky River — and after Louisville Police Department Det. Barron Morgan, who took the Jarrell’s confession, was ordered off the case and summarily demoted to patrolman on the graveyard shift — and after a circuit court judge denied King’s motion for a new trial because she had pleaded guilty — and, finally, after the Kentucky Innocence Project (KIP) got involved, Susan Jean King was granted the hearing that is expected to exonerate her of Breeden’s murder in mid-August 2014.

The millstones of Justice turn slowly, as the saying goes, but this is in order to “grind exceedingly fine.” In other words, no detail should be overlooked to discover the Truth. When Det. Harwood solved the long-cold case, he should have wondered if his pat conclusion was too good to be true. Or as KIP attorneys wondered, if a one-legged, 97-pound woman could realistically heave a 190-pound body off a bridge. Or if Det. Morgan, who took the real killers confession and shared the details with KIP, should have been ordered off the case and demoted. Morgan sued the City of Louisville in 2012 and was awarded $450,000 in taxpayer money when the city settled the suit he filed after being demoted and humiliated. The Kentucky Innocence Project, the Innocence Project of Florida, and all the members of the Innocence Network nationwide work tirelessly to ensure that Justice and its millstones grind solely in the interest of Truth.

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Ohio’s Man Charges Dropped After 20 Years Behind Bars

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 07, 2014 @ 12:41 PM — Comments (0)

An Ohio man spent more than 20 years in prison for a high profile murder he did not commit. Dewey Jones, more commonly known as “Santa”, finally had all charges dropped for the kidnapping, robbery, and murder of Akron man and family friend, Neil Rankon.

“The truth is the truth and it always comes out… I sure would like to know who I did 20 years for,” Jones told a local Ohio news reporter.

DNA evidence proved that Jones could not have been the perpetrator in the crime committed in 1993. This truth came about after the rope that was used to tie up Rankon contained male DNA that was not Jones.

After his release, he was quick with laughter as it all sunk in and he was asked what he would do next. All Jones really wants to do? Take a bath. He says 20 years of showers is just too much. Jones could expect to receive almost $47,000 for every year he was incarcerated, plus lost wages.

Here is Jones last week when after all charges were dropped standing outside the Ohio courthouse with Jodi Shore, an employee of The Exoneration Project; Adam Vanho, an Akron Attorney; and David Owens of Loevy and Loevy.


You can find an article related to the release from the Columbus Dispatch here.


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Innocent Children Fall Victim to Wrongful Convictions

Alejandra de la Fuente — 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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Former Police Captain Exonerated After 15 Years in Ohio Prison

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 30, 2013 @ 10:33 AM — Comments (0)

Persons who have been wrongfully convicted often speak of what kept them going while incarcerated. Some find hope through music, their families, or higher powers. For Douglas Prade, it was a diary. In it contained the names of all the students who worked on his case during the past ten years. Every year he would add new names and cross out previous ones, giving him hope that one day he would be a free man.

After many years of appeals and applications for post-conviction DNA, Prade was declared innocent and walked out court a free man on January 29, 2013 for the murder of his wife. Congratulations to all involved. The Ohio Innocence Project worked feverishly for years in order to produce a compelling case with DNA results against the State of Ohio for his wrongful conviction.

Margo Prade was a highly respected doctor and Doug Prade was a police captain awaiting a promotion to become Akron, Ohio’s newest police chief.

In November of 1997, Dr. Margo Prade was found fatally shot in her car outside her medical facility in Akron. Testimony from two eyewitnesses that placed him at the scene of the crime as well as a forensic dentist claiming the bite mark on Margo’s jacket belonged to Doug, left him with little hope.

In 1998, Judge Mary Spicer sentenced Douglas to a life in prison for aggravated murder.

As one of the largest high profile murder cases in Ohio, Douglas Prade maintained his innocence. Douglas filed multiple applications for post-conviction DNA testing. In 2010, testing was granted; the Court declared new methods had arose which had invalidated previous DNA testing done in the murder case. After expert testimony and questioning was completed, Judge Judy Hunter claimed, “the evidence was clear and convincing.” The DNA testing performed on the sleeve of Margo’s lab coat eliminated the possibility of Douglas as the victim’s killer. In that moment, the Court overturned his convictions and was ordered to be released from prison.

Congratulations to Douglas Prade and to the Ohio Innocence Project as their hard work and dedication made this exoneration possible.

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The Real. The Authentic. The Bona Fide.

Alejandra de la Fuente — May 10, 2012 @ 9:48 AM — Comments (0)

While many of us might enjoy the cerebral pleasures that films may bring into our busy—and sometimes over-extended—lives, we, typically, are not privy to the real-world, everyday realities of what goes on in courtrooms, jails, prisons and associated legal institutions across the nation, unless, of course, we are professionally associated with a specific legal case (or cases).

Our lives are most often not directly affected with the burdens associated with individuals incarcerated in county, state and/or federal facilities. Some of the quiet mantras or prejudices those of us on the “outside” may sometimes harbor might suggest a private, subtle reservation: those on the “inside” most likely engaged the act for which they have been imprisoned. No Questions Asked.  End of Story.

With the influx of cable television and “reality” shows, and cable programming’s prominent place in our living rooms, viewers are sometimes left to decipher the good, the bad and the ugly from the fictional, false and artificial.

Herewith are ten solid films and programs which address real, authentic and bona fide matters of wrongful convictions, false imprisonment, eyewitness identification, recantations, forensic evidence, prosecutorial misconduct and related issues:

  • The Exonerated (2006): Starring Danny Glover, Susan Sarandon and Aidan Quinn. The film tells the story of six individuals who were exonerated after being sentenced to death. (The film is Court-TV’s film version of the play of the same name.)
  • Conviction (2010): Starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell. “Conviction” presents the true-life story of a woman determined to prove her brother’s innocence for a crime for which he has been falsely convicted.
  •  American Justice: Programs include “Lying Eyes” (2001); “Another Man’s Crimes” (2007); “The Green Beret Murder Mystery” (2000). Bill Kurtis serves as the show’s host.
  • Dead Men Talking (1998): The program covers the National Conference on Wrongful Conviction and the Death Penalty. The show includes a discussion with Barry Scheck, Rolando Cruz, Dennis Williams, and Kirk Bloodsworth.
  • After Innocence (2005): After Innocence tells the dramatic and compelling story of the exonerated – innocent men wrongfully imprisoned for decades and then released after DNA evidence proved their innocence. Focusing on the gripping stories of seven men, including a police officer, an army sergeant and a young father that were sent to prison for decades – in some cases death row – for crimes they did not commit, After Innocence explores the emotional journeys these men face when thrust back into society with little or no support from the system that put them behind bars.
  • ABC (Prime Time): False Confessions (2006): The program focuses on the phenomenon of false confessions and interrogation tactics that can lead people to confess to crimes they did not commit. The cases of John Restivo, Dennis Halstead, and John Kogut, who were exonerated through DNA evidence in New York.
  • Murder on a Sunday Morning (2001): This Oscar-winning documentary follows the defense case of an African American teenager wrongly accused of robbing and murdering a white tourist in Florida. The film focuses on racism and misconduct in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
  • The Trials of Darryl Hunt (2006): The story of Darryl Hunt’s decades-long fight for justice after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. The film follows Hunt’s multiple appeals and chronicles the police misconduct that contributed to the 20 years Hunt spent in prison for a crime he did not commit. The documentary was short-listed for an Academy Award for best documentary.
  • Dallas DNA (2009): A program presented by Investigation Discovery highlights the Conviction Integrity Unity, a division of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office dedicated to clearing innocent inmates through post-conviction DNA testing.
  • A Tale of Death, A Tale of Life (2011): A film by Werner Herzog, the documentary tells the story of two death row inmates in the United States. Conversations were filmed at the prison facilities in Livingston and Huntsville, Texas, with the accused: Michael Perry and Jason Burkett. Herzog maintains that he doesn’t present a position on the issue of the death penalty, but he does have “a story to tell.”

Many of these videos are available for purchase through this website along with several books also dealing with wrongful conviction from A portion of the proceeds are returned to IPF. Click here to review and purchase.

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Weekly Update: While Some States Move Forward, Others Seem to Be Holding Back on Justice Reform

Alejandra de la Fuente — April 02, 2012 @ 2:46 PM — Comments (1)

Virginia Seems Disinclined to Free the Wrongfully Convicted

A surface level examination of Virginia’s massive DNA evidence evaluation seems to indicate that the State is taking wrongful convictions seriously and is attempting to uncover and exonerate those who were convicted of crimes they did not commit. Seven years and $5 million ago, then-governor Mark Warner ordered a random examination of 31 old cases containing biological evidence that hadn’t been tested for DNA. The audit revealed two wrongful convictions which, in turn, prompted the governor to call for an audit of all cases from 1973-1988 that contained biological evidence.

The problem surrounding this project, however, is that there appears to be an inclination to keep the project hidden, to keep information away from the public eye. No one really knows how this testing is being conducted, and oftentimes innocent people aren’t informed of their proven innocence until months or even years later (as in the case of Bennett Barbour). Conducting wide-scale DNA testing on cases closed before the testing was available is an excellent and necessary step towards freeing the innocent, but it means nothing if there is inclination to keep the information hidden. Pride and ego have no place in the justice system, especially not when the freedom of innocent people is on the line.

Read more here.

New York DNA Database Expansion Signed into Law

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that will expand the state’s DNA database into law last week.

Before this law, DNA samples were only collected from people convicted of a felony and a small group of misdemeanors. Now, anyone convicted of a felony or any misdemeanor must give DNA to be collected in the state’s database. The State hopes that this will  both decrease and expose wrongful convictions and also lead to putting the real perpetrators behind bars.

Read more about this bill here, here, and here.

Washington State Neglects to Compensate Wrongfully Convicted People Two Years in a Row

The State of Washington’s legislature allowed a new bill that would compensate wrongfully convicted people to die in committee. This is the second year in a row that legislators have allowed this to happen. The bill would have allowed for compensation of up to $20,000 per year of wrongful incarceration.

Exoneree Alan Northrop has spoken in front of the legislature in favor of this bill, but clearly without any success thus far. CNN did a story on Northrop and his wrongful conviction and his efforts with this bill. Watch the story here.

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Mike Farrell: Human Rights Activist

Alejandra de la Fuente — February 03, 2012 @ 10:29 AM — Comments (2)

NOTE: This is the second (and final) installment of an interview with Mike Farrell,  a life-long opponent of the death penalty. Part I appeared on February 1, 2012.

Anne:  How has your public work affected your view of the criminal justice system in the United States in terms of death penalty cases involving questionable sentencing?

Mike Farrell: It has taught me that the criminal justice system in general is not just. It is anti-human, degrading and shows no interest in helping those who get caught up in it learn how to comport themselves appropriately and become productive citizens. It is, in my view, a destructive system that makes huge profits for some people and companies at great costs, not only to those who are incarcerated, but to our entire society.

Anne:  The execution of Donald Beardslee (California, 2005) attracted  a number of  anti-death penalty advocates. Can you speak of a specific capital punishment case in which you were involved that addresses state-sanctioned killings involving persons with limited capacity to understand their actions and/or subsequent fates?

MF:  There are too many: Robert Alton Harris in California, Johny Paul Penry in Texas (has not yet been executed, but they keep trying), Ricky Ray Rector in Arkansas, Barry Fairchild in Arkansas, Wanda Jean Allen in Oklahoma.  The Supreme Court’s 2002 decision regarding Daryl Atkins, in Virginia, stopped the execution of mentally challenged individuals, though they left the determination of who was or was not mentally challenged up to the states. Human Rights Watch released a study (around 2005) stating that we have more than 250,000 demonstrably mentally ill people in our prison system, more than in our mental institutions.

Anne:  Do you believe that it is an individual state’s right to impose a moratorium on capital punishment, or do you feel that the issue should be addressed in a broader forum (by higher court’s outside one’s state)?

MF:  I think, especially given the current makeup of the United States Supreme Court, it will be a state-by-state process that will create (as did the Simmons Case about the death penalty for juveniles) a clear sense that the people of the United States recognize that there is no longer any value to maintaining the death system.

And yes, of course, each state has the right to declare a moratorium on state killings. It happened here in California six years ago, though it was imposed by a judge. We’re still waiting for the final determination. In Illinois, then-governor Ryan declared a moratorium and ordered a study of the death penalty. That eventually led to his clearing the state’s Death Row by commuting almost all death row inmates to life without parole. He pardoned some outright.

New Jersey did such a study and decided to end the death penalty. Pennsylvania has just ordered a study and I hope it has the same result.

Anne:  A number of individuals who have been sentenced to Death Row in specific cases across the United States have also been exonerated due to DNA evidence. How does such testing (and its results) help bolster your argument that the courts oftentimes “get it wrong” in terms of sentencing a person to death for crimes for which they have been found guilty?

MF:  I think the exoneration of 139 people (so far in the modern era) from our death rows, after being charged, tried by a “jury of their peers” and sentenced to death, proves the fallibility of the system and demonstrates the wrong-headedness of giving the state the right to take a life.

I would quickly add, though, that most of those exonerated have not been freed because of DNA [evidence], but because of the dogged pursuit of justice by caring lawyers, relatives, students and people of faith. DNA evidence, while it can be an enormously powerful tool, is not available in most murder cases.

Anne:  If you witnessed (or read reports of) the Republican presidential debate in September 2011, where Texas governor Rick Perry was cheered regarding his stance on capital punishment (which he supports as a “state’s right” issue), what message  do you believe the audience’s rancorous behavior sent in terms of the national reception to (and acceptance of) capital punishment?

MF:  I don’t think the frightening (and, to me, disgusting) behavior of the audience at that debate is representative of the vast majority of the poeple in this country. While some polls show a majority of Americans still support capital punishment, those numbers are falling, and, in fact, when people are offered the option of life without parole (LWOP), more indicate support for LWOP.

Anne: Your anti-capital punishment advocacy through the year has led you to write, speak and organize nationally and internationally on various aspects relating to death penalty and human right issues. Can you  discuss some of your current projects and how they might serve to initiate a broader political discourse in the area of anti-death penalty matters?

MF:  I chair Death Penalty Focus, an ablition organization based in San Francisco, California. We have been working to help people better understand the truth about the death system and how it is failing us–in fact harming us–as a society. With the rise in public awareness of the failings inherent in capital punishment, we are now at a point where a coalition has been put together to put the question of replacing the death penalty with life without parole here in our state. It will save the state millions of dollars, provide more funding for police to solve the huge number of unsolved rapes and murders, and ensure that we no longer run the risk of killing an innocent person.

A case with which I’ve been involved for many years is that of Joe Giarrantano, in Virginia. Joe was sentenced to death in 1979, and was spared at the last minute from execution in 1991 by then-governor Douglas Wilder. We made a strong showing that Giarrantano deserved a new trial, but, again, Governor Wilder went halfway. He spared Joe’s life but tuned the question of a new trial over to the state’s Attorney General, who was not inclined to take the risk of Joe’s being found innocent (which I believe him to be). For that reason, Joe remains in prison to this day, a fact that sickens me.

Anne:  You have been the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for your decades-long efforts in raising awarness of various human rights issues. Undoubtedly your work has resonated with various “anti-groups” across the globe. Is there an exclusive award or accolade that has specific affection for you becuase you can clearly see the evidence and impact of your work?

MF:  One doesn’t do this work to win awards. The progress that the abolition movement is making inspires me. The fact that New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, and Illinois have chosen to end the use of state killings makes me know we will prevail. But perhaps the “award” that means the most to me is that, despite the fact that he remains behind bars, Joe Giarrantano is alive and able to do good work helping fellow inmates in Virginia.

Anne:  I believe that advocacy of a cause begins as a grassroots effort with a capacity to grow into a much larger movement. What can the average citizen do to involve him/herself in issues related to capital punishment and other human rights  issues?

MF:  If they care, people can read a bit, study it [human rights issues and death penalty cases] if they choose, and learn the facts about how the system is doing harm to all of us. When we spend more money on prisons than on colleges, there is something terribly wrong with our society. People need to be less quick to judge “wrong-doers” and more willing to look at the circumstances of the lives of too many people in our society who have been left behind and deemed invisible. If kids grow up thinking they have no value, they think no one else has any value either. If kids grow up surrounded by violence, how do we expect hem to undersand that violence is wrong?

We have work to do to make this society live up to its promise–for everyone.


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Weekly Update

Alejandra de la Fuente — January 19, 2012 @ 11:56 AM — Comments (1)

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo called for an expansion of the DNA database in his State of the State speech this month. His call would expand DNA collection to include all felony convictions and all penal law misdemeanors, expanding the DNA database which currently only collects samples for less than half of all criminal convictions in New York state.

Not surprisingly, both the District Attorney’s office and other law enforcement offices support this plan. But according to an article in the Poughkeepsie Journal, “civil libertarians oppose the legislation because they believe it would infringe on people’s rights and they don’t think there is enough oversight and quality control in the system.”  While the focus of this proposed expansion seems to be that an expanded DNA database would allow for greater and more effective prosecution, the revelation of wrongful convictions that this would bring about was also mentioned. Read more here.

A week has passed without any movement on William Dillon’s Compensation Bill. The bill was passed by the Senate last week, and was read in the House last Tuesday but has made no progress since then. We’re hoping that the House will take up and pass this bill soon, to get Dillon the compensation owed to him.

Thomas E. Haynesworth of Richmond, VA, is facing a similar battle with obtaining the compensation that he expected after serving 27 years for a rape he did not commit. Haynesworth has received a proposal for a compensation package, one that could potentially be worth more than $800,000, but he was disappointed with this amount. In Virginia, exonorees are not entitled to compensation but must have that compensation approved by the General Assembly. They may receive up to $40,000 per year served in prison, but there is a cap of 20 years. So, Haynesworth cannot receive compensation for the full amount he time he spent as an innocent man in prison. While this situation is not ideal, Haynesworth is lucky at least to be dealing with this issue in Viginia, one of only 27 states that provides compensation to their exonorees. Read more here.

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Without Words – In 60 Seconds

Alejandra de la Fuente — June 17, 2011 @ 10:21 AM — Comments (2)

It is impossible to understand the loss that occurs during a wrongful incarceration and even more difficult to communicate to those who have never been down that road. However, two recent FSU graduates, Michelle Kinne and Michael Dorfman, undertook the challenge of creating a public service announcement for IPF that succinctly demonstrates the loss and the need for our work. We want to share with you their work.

We want to thank Michelle and Michael for their efforts, creativity, and hard work. Hopefully, you’ll see this PSA on TV stations around Florida and their work in years to come.

We hope you’ll share this with your family and friends.

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