But it ignores the bigger problem — the other side. The bill provides no sanctions for the cops or prosecutors whose misconduct or willful negligence has sent innocents to Florida’s Death Row. In Finkelstein’s Broward County, cops who elicited false murder confessions from low-IQ and mentally ill defendants, later cleared by DNA or other new evidence, have never been punished. The Broward prosecutors who conveniently overlooked police misconduct and jammed through these lousy convictions, whose only excuse could be a kind of willful ignorance, all went on to splendid, respected careers. While the likes of Frank Lee Wright rotted away on Death Row for murders someone else committed. While actual killers, like Eddie Lee Mosley, continued on their murder sprees.
Last month, a Broward County jury decided two retired police officers should pay $7 million in civil damages for framing Anthony Caravella, a teenager with an IQ of 67, on rape and murder charges back in 1983. Testing of DNA evidence finally cleared Caravella after he had spent almost 27 years in prison.
Clearly, the jurors found the police conduct appalling and unlawful. Yet neither the police officers nor the prosecutors who abetted this sham case have ever faced an inquiry from a police agency or the state attorney’s office or the Florida Bar or the Florida Supreme Court.
It was the same pattern of police misconduct that sent Frank Lee Smith and Jerry Frank Townsend to prison. Finkelstein noted that four of the 13 post-conviction exonerations using irrefutable DNA evidence have come out of Broward. “But the cops who lied or cheated and destroyed innocent lives never had to explain their action to the state attorney,” Finkelstein said.
In a perverse way, the measure passed last week by the Florida Legislature would fix all these problems. We’ll just speed up the process. Get rid of the defendants, kill ’em quick, before all this stuff about police and prosecutorial misbehavior and negligence mucks up the process. If the defendants are actually innocent, we’ll never know.
They’ll be long dead.