STARKE — -- Robert Patten, whose murder of rookie Miami police officer Nathaniel Broom in September 1981 landed him on Death Row, has died in prison of natural causes.
The 56-year-old had been at the Florida State Prison awaiting execution for the murder since 1989. Patten had been at the prison’s infirmary with an undisclosed ailment before he died Monday, according to a corrections spokeswoman.
“Although Patten will not be put to death for the murder of Officer Broom, he will now have to answer to a higher authority,” Miami Police Maj. Delrish Moss, a department spokesman, said on Tuesday. “This closes a bitter chapter in our city’s history and we can all sleep better knowing this killer will never again walk out streets.”
Broom, 24, was an Army veteran who was raised in Overtown and had wanted to be a police officer since he was a child. After his death, the department named Broom officer of the year.
The death of an African-American officer at the hands of a white armed robber came at a sensitive time in Miami, which had just experienced race riots the year before following the acquittals of officers accused of fatally beating a black motorist.
Back in September 1981, Broom pulled over Patten – who boasted a long criminal history – for driving the wrong-way down a one-way street in Overtown. Patten took off running. Broom gave chase.
At trial, a witness testified that Patten hid in the alley, waited for Broom to approach and then shot him in the heart. The gunman stole another car at gunpoint to make his escape.
A fingerprint on the stolen car linked Patten to the crime. The gun used to kill the officer was discovered beneath a heating grate at the home of Patten’s grandmother.
A Miami-Dade jury found Patten guilty and he was sentenced to death. But in 1985, the Florida Supreme court overturned the sentence.
The reason: during the penalty phase of the trial, the jury – which recommends a sentence – was deadlocked at 6-6, which results in a life prison term.
The high court said a Miami-Dade judge erred in urging the jurors to keep deliberating. Jurors eventually voted 7-5 for death.
At a May 1989 re-sentencing, Patten’s defense lawyers insisted that he should be spared the death penalty because of a troubled childhood, which included an abusive mother, a suicide attempt and time in a foster home. The day he shot Broom, he was also high on drugs.
But jurors, in an 11-1 vote, recommend the death penalty. Then-Circuit Judge Fred Moreno imposed the death penalty.
In a twist, Broom’s mother – who was so tormented by his death that she gave up both her jobs – long spoke out against putting Patten to death. She said her son would not have wanted Patten executed.
“I don't believe in killing. Society's crazy for believing in killing,” Lucille Broom told The Miami Herald in 1990. “It don't bring no one back; it only makes things worse.”