call for a moratorium on executions in Florida and a review of its
criminal justice system, which, they said, leads the nation in condemning
prisoners who are later exonerated.
Reserving particular scorn for Broward County, the speakers argued that
the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory and arbitrary manner
nationally, but that it's worse than that in Florida: innocent people are
going to death row.
Last year the Republican governor of Illinois halted executions because
13 people had been released from death row there since 1973 -- 2nd most
in the nation. Florida has had 20 exonerations.
Many speakers invoked the case of the 20th: Frank Lee Smith, the Fort
Lauderdale man who died of cancer last year after spending 14 years on
death row and was posthumously cleared by DNA in December of the rape and
murder that sent him there.
The rally was organized by Jeff Walsh, an investigator who tried to clear
Attorney Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project, which says it has cleared
at least 81 convicts -- including 10 on death row -- through DNA tests,
said the Smith case highlights flaws in the legal system: convictions
based on dubious confessions and unreliable eyewitness testimony,
including cases where there is no biological evidence that can be tested.
"The Frank Lee Smith case is like turning up a rock and you see all kinds
of things underneath it," Scheck said. "The state of Florida is no better
than the state of Illinois."
A spokeswoman for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Katie Baur, said the governor
continues to support the capital punishment system in general.
"The governor has repeatedly stated he will not sign a death warrant if
there is any question of guilt that can be proven or disproven by a DNA
test," Baur said. "Also, why would the governor declare a moratorium on
justice when there are clearly cases in which individuals have confessed
to their crimes and evidence proves their guilt? This request defies all
Florida has executed 51 prisoners since resuming capital punishment in
1979, 8 of them since Bush took office.
Scheck reiterated his call for a federal review of all cases involving
the Broward Sheriff's Office detective on the Smith case, Richard Scheff.
Bush has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate if Scheff lied on
the stand about whether he showed a picture of Eddie Lee Mosley -- a
serial murder-rapist who lived in the neighborhood -- to the main
eyewitness in the case, Chiquita Lowe.
Lowe recanted her testimony against Smith in 1989 after Walsh tracked her
down and showed her a picture of Mosley. Scheff's statements, which
contradicted testimony he gave at Smith's original trial, discredited
Lowe, and Smith stayed on death row.
"I think the federal prosecutors ought to take a very hard look at
Broward County, and not just because of Frank Lee Smith, although that's
a very good example," Scheck said.
He also invoked other cases, including Jerry Frank Townsend, a retarded
carnival worker who confessed to Scheff that he raped and murdered
13-year-old Sonja Yvette Marion -- a crime also later DNA linked to
Mosley; and Peter Dallas who was charged with 1st-degree murder and spent
nearly 2 years in jail before being cleared.
Scheff's casework has also recently been questioned in the case of Tim
Brown, who is serving a life sentence for the murder of a BSO deputy in
1990 when Brown was 14.
Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Cheryl Stopnik accused Scheck of
making his case through the media, noting that no official complaints
have been filed and that the agency is just the first in a series of
levels of checks and balances in the criminal justice system.
"We've had no complaints regarding our homicide unit," Stopnik said. "We
are cooperating with the special prosecutor that Mr. [Michael] Satz,
[Broward state attorney,] asked the governor to appoint to look into the
one case regarding Frank Lee Smith."
Ron Ishoy, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, also downplayed
the attack on Broward criminal justice system.
"There is no cause for any hysteria that the criminal justice system in
this county is not functioning properly," Ishoy said. "The facts in each
individual case don't support that hysteria that Mr. Scheck is trying to
The rally was held on the day before the opening of the 2001 session, at
which several capital punishment bills are pending:
--SJR 124 would change the state constitution's prohibition on "cruel or
unusual punishment'' to ``cruel and unusual punishment" -- which under
federal caselaw would lower the age at which someone could be executed to 16
--SB 366 by Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, and HB 147 by Rep. Randy Ball,
R-Titusville, would allow prisoners to have their DNA tested if there is
--SB 292, by Sen. Debbie Wasserman Shultz, D-Weston, would pay $3.5
million to the family of Frank Lee Smith
(source: Miami Herald