Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A Broward County sheriff's captain


A Broward County sheriff's captain who helped send an innocent man to
death row in 1986 has been accused of lying and making up evidence to
keep him there.

Capt. Richard Scheff, head of the department's internal affairs unit, led
the investigation that convicted Frank Lee Smith of murdering and raping
an 8-year-old girl. Smith, 52, died of cancer in prison last year, and 11
months later, genetic testing cleared him after noted defense attorney
Barry Scheck took up his case.

Scheck called for a perjury investigation of Scheff, and in January
Broward State Attorney Michael Satz asked the governor to appoint a
special prosecutor. Satz wanted to avoid a conflict of interest because
his office prosecuted Smith to begin with. Gov. Jeb Bush appointed Bruce
H. Colton, the state attorney for Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and
Indian River counties, to handle the inquiry.

A random Sun-Sentinel search on Wednesday of cases Scheff handled or
supervised since 1987 found at least 4 other men who had been wrongly
arrested and charged with murder. The arrests stemmed from 2 killings and
all the men were cleared after spending as much as 2 years behind bars.

Scheff, 51, would not talk about the cases or accusations.

"I don't know anything about those other cases. We'll have to get more
information on that," sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said on Wednesday.
"I know Scheff was the supervisor on at least three of those cases, but
that's about it."

Scheff has risen swiftly in the sheriff's department and on Wednesday was
appointed chief of the sheriff's Tamarac division. Tamarac City Manager
Jeff Miller rescinded the offer after learning about the investigation,
and Scheff remains in charge of internal affairs.

He joined the department in 1980 as a deputy and has served as head of
the detective unit and internal affairs. Scheff was once in charge of
District One, covering the southern part of the county, and his personnel
file is brimming with commendations.

"Scheff's a good detective and we're confident that when we get all the
evidence, Scheff will come out fine," Leljedal said.

In 1985, Scheff was named officer of the month for arresting Smith and
charging him with the murder of Shandra Whitehead, 8. At Smith's 1986
trial, Scheff testified that a witness, Chiquita Lowe, identified the
then 38-year-old Smith as the girl's killer.

Witness recants

Lowe soon recanted and identified another suspect, Eddie Lee Mosley, as
the culprit, prompting the state Supreme Court to order a new hearing on
the evidence. At the 1991 hearing in Broward, Scheff testified that Lowe
never picked Mosley from a photo lineup, but she contradicted him and
said she was never shown any photos.

Scheff couldn't produce the photo lineup, but 7 years later, at another
Smith hearing, he said it surfaced. That hearing was ordered because the
state Supreme Court ruled that the state attorney's office and the judge
met illegally during the trial without informing Smith's lawyers.

Smith's bid for a new trial was again denied and he died in prison last
year. On Dec. 22, DNA testing proved his innocence.

Scheck and his nonprofit Innocence Project entered the case after Smith's
death and persuaded the state attorney's office to allow testing of the
DNA. The Innocence Project has used genetic evidence to help free dozens
of people improperly sentenced to death around the country.

New prime suspect

Mosley, in a psychiatric hospital for another killing, is now the prime
suspect in Shandra's murder, police said.

Smith had a long history of violence, and was twice convicted of murder.
When he was 13, he stabbed a 14-year-old boy to death and spent 11 months
in a juvenile center. A few years later, he shot and killed a man during
a robbery and spent 15 years in prison before being released in 1981.

Smith's attorney at the Shandra Whitehead trial, Andrew Washor, said he
had no doubts that Scheff wasn't being truthful, especially when he said
Smith confessed.

"The thing I didn't particularly believe at the time was that Smith made
a confession, Washor said. "Scheff wasn't being that candid when I asked
him if Lowe and others had been shown a picture of Mosley. He
emphatically said, 'No.' A couple of years later, Scheff said he showed
her a picture of Mosley.

"All the evidence the state had was a witness they browbeat and a
supposed confession. That was their evidence," Washor said. Those same
allegations were made in 4 other murder charges that Scheff had a hand in.

In 1990, Scheff and Detectives Eli Thomasevich and James Carr arrested
John "Woody" Wood, an admitted alcoholic who said he suffered flashbacks
from his service in Vietnam. The detectives said Wood confessed to
killing Christopher Morris, and Scheff said he had given detectives
information only the killer would have known.

But Wood wasn't the killer. Morris' parents were eventually charged and

The murder charges were dropped and Wood was freed.

Also in 1990, Scheff was supervising two detectives who wrongly arrested
three men and charged them with killing Joseph Viscido Jr. The men, Peter
Roussonicolos and Peter Dallas of Pompano Beach, and Stephen Rosati of
Rhode Island each were in jail for more than 18 months before being freed.

Dallas even confessed to the murder and pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree
murder after cutting a deal. But he later recanted, accusing detectives
Steve Wiley and Dominick Gucciardo of repeatedly banging him against a
wall at the sheriff's office and threatening him with the death penalty.

Real killers arrested

While the 3 men sat in jail, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in
1992 arrested the real killers, James Traina and Kerry J. Carbonell. The
FDLE and attorney Cynthia Imperato of the Statewide Prosecutor's Office
had overw0helming evidence, including murder weapons and confessions,
court records show.

But Scheff continued defending the case and his detectives, while the
state attorney refused to drop charges against the innocent men. Finally,
FDLE asked the governor to name a special prosecutor, John Aguero of Polk
County. He won convictions against Traina and Carbonell and freed the
other men.

Rosati, Dallas and Roussonicolos have pending civil lawsuits filed
against the county and detectives Wiley and Gucciardo.

As a detective, Scheff has had an extraordinary run to the top, winning
commendations and praise along the way. His personnel file includes
glowing letters from family members of murder victims and many assistant
state attorneys, all saying Scheff was a zealot about making arrests.
Scheff and his detectives "comprise the finest homicide unit in the state
of Florida today," Broward Sheriff's Captain Paul Lauria wrote in June
1995. They have "an unending desire to solve each and every case."

(source: Sun-Sentinel)

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