Wrongly imprisoned for nearly a quarter of a century, Alan J. Crotzer is one of the justice system’s best-known victims.
The former St. Petersburg resident received a $1.25 million settlement from the state in 2008 and inspired legislation to make it easier for the wrongfully convicted to collect compensation. He serves on the board of the Innocence Project of Florida. He mentors boys who are at risk of getting into trouble. He advocates for restoring voting rights to released felons.
All of which makes the events of Sunday the more inexplicable and, potentially, tragic.
Tallahassee police arrested Crotzer on an attempted murder charge after they say he shot into a car he was driving alongside, wounding Antoine Davis in his arm and leg.
According to police, the men had been arguing over a CD.
Davis told police Crotzer threatened him a couple of months ago after they had an argument over a CD he sold Davis’ girlfriend. Davis said he saw Crotzer’s car Sunday when he was leaving a Best Buy store.
Crotzer pulled up to him and fired through an open passenger window while both cars were going about 40 mph, police said. Police found Crotzer based on a description of his car, and he was arrested Monday after Davis picked him out of a police lineup.
Crotzer, 51, was held without bail in Leon County. His attorney, Thomas Powell, said the accusations are “bizarre” and “inconsistent.” He plans to file a plea of not guilty.
State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, was one of Crotzer’s biggest advocates in the Legislature.
“We don’t have a crystal ball. We don’t know what anybody’s going to do in the future,” she said. “I’m not rushing to judgment on this until something is proven that he actually committed a crime.”
Mark Schlakman, chairman of the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Florida, said he last saw Crotzer in early July at a forum on the restoration of voting rights for released felons.
Crotzer served alongside seasoned lawyers on the panel and spoke with eloquence, he said.
“He strikes me as a remarkable person,” said Schlakman. “Clearly, the news of this set of circumstances was shocking.”
In 1982, a jury found Crotzer and another man guilty of robbing a Tampa family, then raping a 38-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl and leaving them bound to a tree in an empty field in eastern Hillsborough County. The woman had picked Crotzer’s face from a photo line-up.
He received a 130-year prison sentence, but insisted all along he was innocent.
In 2002, the Innocence Project in New York began investigating his case, leading eventually to new DNA testing that showed Crotzer was not the rapist. One of the other convicted men also acknowledged that Crotzer was never at the scene of the crime.
In 2006, Hillsborough Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett tossed the conviction and freed Crotzer.
That day, Crotzer and his defense team stood in front of a bank of cameras at a Tampa press conference. “It’s been a long time coming,” Crotzer told reporters. “I thank God for this day.”
The cameras, and crowd, trailed behind him as he left for a cook-out celebration at a home in St. Petersburg. He sat under a live oak, trying to eat pork chops and banana pudding while a German television reporter thrust a microphone and asked how the chops tasted.