St. Petersburg Times
January 7, 2001

State: He Didn't Do It


FORT LAUDERDALE -- The moment she entered the courtroom, Chiquita Lowe felt uneasy about what she was about to do.

The man she saw lurking outside the little girl's house that Sunday night had a droopy eye and didn't wear glasses. He also seemed huskier than the man on trial for raping and killing 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead.

Under the gentle guidance of the prosecutor, however, Lowe, 20, pointed at the man with thick glasses at the defense table. "Over there," she said. That is the man.

What happened next seemed like justice. Frank Lee Smith was portrayed to the jury as a murderer. Chiquita Lowe said so, the police said so, the prosecutor said so. When Smith, 37, stood before the judge, there was no shock in the sentence: The people of Florida would usher him to death row and execute him.

Eye for an eye. Case closed. That's the way the system works.

Or so it seemed.

Now, 15 torturous years later -- with the benefit of some late-arriving DNA evidence -- it is clear that in the case of Florida vs. Frank Lee Smith the system could not have failed more miserably.

But what is surprising and revealing in this case is how easily it all went awry, how little the fate of a human being rested on. Virtually everyone involved, from the police and the prosecutors to the defense attorneys and judges, can look back, debate the case and defend their actions. But they can't deny this point:

They got it all wrong. Florida locked up the wrong man for 14 years and left the real killer free -- to commit other grievous crimes.

Alone in X Wing, the notorious solitary confinement unit just a few steps away from the execution chamber, Smith cursed at the guards and paced in anger. He peered out a quarter-inch slit under his metal cell door and frequently wrote down thoughts of his own death.

"Dying for a crime at someone else's hands," he once said, "is the thought that has killed me already."

Smith died of cancer Jan. 30, 2000, still protesting his innocence, still hopeful he would win his case.

Ten and a half months later, when he finally did, Smith made some dubious history. It is thought to be the first time in this country that posthumous DNA testing has proved a person's innocence.

He fit the description of the 'usual suspect'

To the police, Frank Lee Smith had the look of a guilty man. He had twice been convicted of killing by the age of 19 and, in the view of many cops, never did the time he deserved for his explosive acts of violence.

He fit the description of the "usual suspect" the police would check out when a murder happened nearby.

The place where Smith lived and Shandra Whitehead died is a neighborhood of pastel-colored houses mixed haphazardly with crowded apartments and crumbling shacks.

Residents in the northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood, known as Washington Park, had long complained about a small group of brazen criminals whom the police couldn't seem to put away.

On April 14, 1985, the Broward Sheriff's Office came under intense community pressure to solve a wretched crime.

When Dorothy McGriff pulled into her driveway just before midnight that Sunday, her headlights beamed on a shadowy figure standing outside a broken bedroom window.

McGriff, a 31-year-old nurse's aide who worked the 3-to-11 shift, yelled at the man, grabbed a weed-cutter and began chasing him. As he jumped a chain-link fence, McGriff ran into the house and screamed for her children, whom she had left alone.

Reggie, 9, jumped from bed. Shandra, 8, didn't answer. She was in the back bedroom, her 47-pound body covered with blood. She had been raped, beaten into a coma and strangled with her pajamas. She died nine days later.

The case was assigned to Detective Richard Scheff and his partner, Philip Amabile.

Both officers were ambitious, with files full of commendations. Scheff, the lead investigator, had been commended for his commitment to the homicide unit "at the expense of his and his family's personal life."

The police originally thought the assailant might be someone the girl knew because the front door showed no sign of forced entry.

Scheff briefly considered two of McGriff's cousins, Edwin McGriff and Eddie Lee Mosley, both of whom lived in the neighborhood.

But Scheff quickly discounted both after McGriff was adamant that no one in her family would do such a thing.

McGriff said she got only a glimpse of the fleeing man, whom she described as a muscular black man with a beard, a short Afro and an orange T-shirt.

Scheff soon found a potentially better witness, 18-year-old Gerald Davis, who worked in a shoe store and lived nearby. Davis said he thought the killer had tried to sell him drugs and proposition him for sex about an hour before the murder. But Davis, like McGriff, gave only a vague description. His was of a husky black man with a "tacky looking" beard who was possibly wearing a plaid shirt.

"I kept telling them from the beginning, 'I'm not sure,' " he said.

Chiquita Lowe was more helpful. A friend of Shandra's family, she told police she had seen a "delirious" man come from the girl's front yard.

She described the stranger as 6 feet tall and about 190 pounds, with a muscular frame, big arms and big chest, oily face, scraggly hair and a droopy eye. She said she thought he had on a sterling ring and a white shirt.

But she, too, gave conflicting details. After police found a blue windbreaker near the crime scene, for example, Lowe said the man must have been wearing the blue windbreaker over his white shirt.

Lowe and Davis helped police sketch artists put together a drawing of the suspect.

As Scheff and Amabile circulated copies of the drawing, a rumor spread that the killer had just been seen pushing around a stolen TV in a shopping cart.

Egged on by neighbors, Lowe called the detectives four days after the murder. She said the crazed-looking man she saw that night had returned to the neighborhood and tried to sell a TV to her grandmother.

Someone playing dominoes provided a street name for the suspect: Frank L. And police fanned out to search for Frank Lee Smith.

Many residents of Washington Park knew Smith. He was an eccentric man with coke-bottle-thick glasses and a history of violent crimes.

When Smith was a baby, his father killed a policeman and was killed by police bullets. His mother, an alcoholic with a criminal record, was deemed unfit to raise kids (and later raped and murdered). Smith spent three years in a foster home and eventually moved in with his grandmother, who beat him. He also lived with an uncle in an apartment social workers called "crowded and filthy."

When he was 13, Smith stabbed a 14-year-old boy to death after a high school sporting event. He spent 11 months at a reform school.

Five years later, he and several accomplices shot and killed a man while robbing him. Smith confessed and was sentenced to life in prison. At the time, life meant only 15 years, so he was paroled in 1981.

When deputies picked him up, Smith didn't have a shopping cart and wasn't wearing a sterling ring. He told detectives Scheff and Amabile he didn't commit the murder. He denied knowing the girl and insisted he was home at the time of the crime.

Scheff didn't videotape or tape record the interview, and Amabile said he didn't take notes.

But they eventually made Smith a killer out of his own mouth. They told prosecutors that he made "several very damning admissions."

For example, Scheff testified that when he lied to Smith by telling him that Shandra's brother had seen the killer, Smith blurted out: "No way that kid could have seen me, it was too dark. . . . The lights were out.' "

Scheff had no physical evidence -- no fingerprints, no fibers, no blood, no traces of hair to match to a culprit.

But he was convinced he had his man. Smith was charged with murder, rape and burglary.

Smith later called Scheff "a vengeful detective out for a rep."

"(Scheff) stated I made a statement because he couldn't make his witnesses uphold his lies," Smith wrote in a letter. "He tried to shove words down their throat."

To shore up his paper-thin case, Scheff got Gerald Davis, one of the uncertain witnesses, to identify Smith from a photo and then a lineup. But Davis said later that the police pressured him into making a definite identification.

The detectives had better luck with the girl's mother, who sobbed as she picked Smith out of a photo montage even though she had only a fleeting glimpse of her daughter's murderer.

And when they showed Chiquita Lowe a photo array with six pictures, she agreed that No. 2 "looked like the man."

The Sheriff's Office applauded Scheff and Amabile for their "professional and diligent investigation" and honored them as "Deputies of the Month."

Conflicting details lead to a 'minimal' case

Smith's arrest posed two serious problems for the Broward State Attorney's Office: Besides the other discrepancies, Frank Lee Smith did not have a droopy eye. And he was legally blind and couldn't function without very thick glasses. Lowe and Davis testified that the man they saw was not wearing glasses.

Assistant State Attorney Robert B. Carney knew he had a "minimal" case. But he also figured it wasn't going to get any better, so he had Smith indicted.

The Broward State Attorney's Office knew something about wrongful convictions.

In 1976, it got the death penalty for Sonia "Sunny" Jacobs and Jessie Tafero, concealing evidence suggesting that its star witness -- not the defendants -- was the shooter in the murders of two police officers. Jacobs eventually was freed, but Tafero had been executed by the time her appeal prevailed.

In 1985, they locked up John Purvis, a mental patient who had been coerced into a murder confession, leaving him in prison for eight years before admitting a mistake.

In 1991, they sent a black defendant, Robert Hayes, to death row although hair evidence suggested the killer was white. He later won a new trial and was acquitted.

Carney became a judge before Smith's trial, leaving the case to William Dimitrouleas.

The task of keeping Smith out of the electric chair fell to defense attorney Andrew Washor. He received less than $5,000 for more than 100 hours of work for his indigent client.

Washor, who says he always believed his client was innocent, whittled away at inconsistencies in the identifications and challenged what he called improper police tactics.

Washor also complained about prejudicial media coverage and the judge. The defense wanted Circuit Judge Robert W. Tyson to disqualify himself because he allegedly made unflattering off-the-bench comments about Smith.

But Tyson, known as a tough, no-nonsense jurist, said he couldn't remember the comments. He swept aside most of the defense's objections, and at the two-week trial in January 1986, he gave the prosecution wide latitude to make its case.

Dimitrouleas adroitly led his 10 witnesses through their testimony, including Shandra's grieving mother and a star witness -- Lowe -- who hadn't seen the crime.

Attractive, soft-spoken and seemingly sincere, Lowe explained away Smith's slight build and that he didn't have a droopy eye. Then she pointed to the only black man in the courtroom and said he was the man outside Shandra's house.

"No doubt in my mind," she said.

Washor grilled the state's witnesses and tried to show that the police had neglected to pursue other credible suspects.

Washor didn't call witnesses. He didn't hire experts to test hair or blood. He didn't call an optometrist to say Smith suffered from 20-400 vision and couldn't jump a fence at night without his glasses.

Washor kept Smith off the stand because he didn't want the jury to learn about Smith's two homicide convictions.

Dimitrouleas was powerful in his closing argument. He touted the detectives, appealed to jurors' emotions and depicted Smith as a strange liar, suggesting that because Smith had invoked his right to remain silent, he must be guilty.

"Our system is the best in the world," he said. "I submit to you that the defendant Frank Lee Smith has gotten a fair American trial . . . and I know that you will return a fair and American verdict."

On Jan. 31, 1986, after eight hours of deliberating, the jury convicted Smith of murder, rape and burglary.

When they returned for the sentencing, Smith took the stand.

"My past seems to follow me everywhere I go, and now it has got me sitting here for something I haven't done," he said.

"I am innocent. I didn't do it. . . . It really hurt me to be accused of something like this, when my mama was raped and . . . my mama was killed like that. . . . How do you think I feel about a baby like that?"

He began to cry. "Have mercy on me . . . because I haven't done anything."

By a 12-0 vote, the jury recommended death. Judge Tyson, calling the crime "outrageously wicked and brutal and pitiless," sentenced Smith to die in the electric chair.

Death warrant signed only 31/2 years later

Most inmates live on Florida's death row for at least a decade before the governor signs their death warrant. Not Smith. From the moment he arrived at Florida State Prison -- refusing to obey the guards until they helped him with his case -- the system seemed determined to dispatch him as quickly as possible.

In October 1987, the Florida Supreme Court unanimously rejected every point in his appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take the case.

After Attorney General Bob Butterworth called it "legally sufficient," Gov. Bob Martinez signed Smith's death warrant. That was on Oct. 18, 1989, 31/2 years after his conviction.

Martinez had promised during his campaign that, if he was elected, "Florida's electric bill will go up," and he was signing a lot of death orders. The office that represents indigent death row inmates was so overwhelmed with prisoners under death warrant that it hadn't even started on Smith's case.

The state-paid lawyers dashed off a 164-page motion alleging 25 irregularities at Smith's trial and accusing the state of hiding evidence that someone else committed the crime. Judge Tyson, calling the motion a "work of art," rejected them all.

He also refused to sign an order declaring Smith insolvent, essentially depriving him of legal representation. (The Florida Supreme Court later reversed that ruling.)

The defense lawyers' most noteworthy claim concerned Eddie Lee Mosley, a notorious neighborhood criminal who lived near the victim. Jeff Walsh, an investigator for the defense, had discovered that the prosecution had not, as the detectives testified, eliminated Mosley but had simply abandoned its investigation of him.

Mosley, a husky lawn service worker and onetime mental patient, should have been a serious suspect. Broward police thought Mosley might have committed more than 100 sex crimes and eight murders involving women ages 7 to 70 over 15 years.

But Mosley always had great luck foiling the charges. In 1974, a judge sent Mosley to a mental hospital after he was ruled incompetent to stand trial on a 1973 rape charge. In 1979, he was released from a state hospital, and within months the string of rapes and killings started again. Mosley was charged with rape again in 1980 and 1984, but again he beat the charges. The first time a guilty verdict was overturned on appeal; the second time he was acquitted.

And then angry detectives saw it happen again. After they charged him with two counts of murder in 1987, a judge sent him to a mental institution instead of a trial.

Mosley's M.O. was to rape women and strangle them with an article of clothing. Most of the victims lived within a mile of where Mosley lived with his mother. Sometimes, he pushed a shopping cart through Washington Park. (Neighbors speculated that the suspect in Shandra's case pushed a shopping cart.) And Mosley bore a striking resemblance to the man in the composite sketch.

Walsh thought Mosley fit the description of Shandra's killer far better than Frank Lee Smith.

With Walsh's information, the defense filed an appeal. Then three weeks before Smith's scheduled execution, the investigator hunted down Chiquita Lowe.

When she opened the door and Walsh introduced himself, her eyes welled with tears. Ever since that day in the courtroom, she told him, her conscience had hurt.

She thought about the little girl and her mother, and she had nightmares about Frank Lee Smith. She said she felt terrible because she had sent an innocent man to death row.

"It just seriously hurt me," she testified later. "It hurts talking about it."

She explained why she had testified against Smith:

Friends and neighbors kept telling her, "I know how the mother feels, how the mama . . . was hurt. . . . They were just afraid to have that person on the street again so . . . something else can happen to somebody else's little girl."

And the detectives: "They told me they captured the person who hurt this little girl. . . . He's dangerous and they kept saying, 'This is the man, you just have to say 'This is the man.' "

The prosecutor: He "told me that the man on trial had committed several crimes like the one that happened. . . ."

When Walsh showed Lowe a photo of Eddie Lee Mosley, she said she was certain that he -- not Smith -- was the man she saw outside the victim's house.

"I swear on my mother's grave," she said in an affidavit.

With the clock ticking, Smith's lawyers again filed a motion on newly discovered evidence, affixing Chiquita Lowe's affidavit.

Again, Judge Tyson denied it.

In late fall of 1989, Smith went through the pre-execution rituals. He ordered a last meal of steak and eggs, but he refused to make funeral plans.

Eight days before he was to die, the Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution.

Pointing to the importance of Chiquita Lowe's testimony at the trial, the justices reversed Tyson and ordered him to hold a hearing on her claim.

Hearing brings to light new, and interesting, details

Smith, who didn't have many friends or supporters, didn't hold out much hope that the state would simply confess error and let him out. But he wasn't prepared for what came next.

Prosecutor William Dimitrouleas became a judge, and the Smith case was assigned to Assistant State Attorney Paul Zacks.

Zacks proved to be another death penalty hardliner. Instead of reinvestigating the case or listening to what Lowe now had to say, Zacks went after Smith with renewed zeal.

At the hearing in March 1991, Zacks objected when Smith's new lawyer, Martin McClain, tried to put on corroborative evidence that Mosley, the man Lowe now said committed the crime, was indeed the murderer.

Zacks called Scheff to the stand. Scheff contradicted his earlier accounts of the case, testifying for the first time that back in 1985 he showed Lowe and two other witnesses a photo montage with Mosley in it. He said she did not pick him out.

McClain thought Scheff was lying. If he had shown such a photo montage, why wasn't it documented in a police report or Scheff's detailed notes? Why wasn't there a mention of it during the trial?

Scheff revealed another new piece of information: Mosley was the cousin of the victim's mother, Dorothy McGriff. He said he had asked her about Mosley during the original investigation, and she insisted he was not the man she saw fleeing her house.

Could the mother have been protecting Mosley? That could explain how he managed to get into the house.

The detective scoffed at the defense theory that Mosley was the killer. He said Mosley's M.O. was to lure his victims into an empty field or abandoned building. Mosley didn't kill kids, Scheff said, calling him a "most convenient escape to try and pin a murder on."

When Lowe took the stand, she denied Scheff showed her a picture of Mosley. If he had, she would have said he was the man. She emphatically testified that Smith was not the man she saw.

Tyson, the judge, seemed openly contemptuous of Smith. And just before Tyson ruled against Smith's motion for a new trial, McClain learned that the judge and the prosecutor had improper one-on-one conversations about the case. Apparently, they had discussed the contents of an order denying Smith's motion for a new trial.

The Florida Supreme Court has ruled that nothing is more "destructive of the impartiality of the judiciary" than a one-sided communication between a judge and a single litigant. The justices ordered a hearing into McClain's charges.

Frank Smith's case was about to take a long side trip through the courts.

"Just as one problem is solved, another one pops up, and I'm getting tired of this," he wrote after returning to death row. God, he said, was giving him a "test" in "the shadows of death to see if I fear it."

Branded a liar, a troublemaker, 'the worst of the worst'

The guards at Florida State Prison increasingly regarded Smith as a crazy liar and a troublemaker. They frequently locked him on X Wing, the solitary confinement unit for inmates they called "the worst of the worst."

X Wing was where guards are charged with gassing and beating death row inmate Frank Valdes to death in July 1999 and where other unruly prisoners say they were harassed and beaten.

Smith said the guards denied him things that made life bearable, such as yard time, contact with his aunt, even a small mirror so he could see out of what he called his punishment "tomb."

As the motions, countermotions and emergency motions stretched over seven years, he went from rage to worry to despair, feeling abandoned, even by his lawyers.

"My life is nothing here," he wrote, adding that he was looking for "flames to give me new life. But I don't know if I have what it takes to fight any more."

Finally, in January 1998, the Florida Supreme Court gave Smith a flicker of hope. The justices found that Judge Tyson had at least three improper conversations with prosecutor Zacks. During one discussion, Tyson acknowledged, Zacks "changed my mind" over the wording of an important court document.

Saying their conversations violated basic fairness, the Supreme Court sent the case to Broward Circuit Judge Mark A. Speiser for a new hearing.

For 13 years -- five years longer than Shandra Whitehead lived -- the state of Florida had watched its case against Smith grow weaker and weaker.

Besides the victim's mother, who didn't get a good look at the killer and was a relative of Eddie Lee Mosley, there was no longer evidence linking Smith to Shandra's murder. There were mounting allegations that police tactics were so suggestive that they created false eyewitness testimony. And Chiquita Lowe did not waver from her new testimony that Mosley -- the serial rapist with a droopy eye -- was the man she saw.

The Broward State Attorney's Office wasn't about to own up to a tainted conviction, however. So on Sept. 14, 1998, two days before Judge Speiser's hearing into Lowe's new testimony, Smith's new lawyer, Bret Strand, adopted a new strategy. He filed a motion for crime-scene evidence so the defense's expert could conduct DNA testing.

The killer's DNA had been retrieved from the victim, and if experts couldn't match it to a sample from Smith, he was not the murderer. What's more, if the DNA matched Mosley, he was the murderer and Lowe was right.

DNA testing wasn't available at the time of Smith's trial in 1986. Moreover, DNA analysis had advanced rapidly since then. Testing procedures adopted in 1998 made it possible to get results from minute and very old samples that previously could not be tested.

DNA carried a big risk, however, which was one reason Smith's previous lawyers didn't consider it for so many years: If the test proved Smith did it or even if it came out inconclusive, it could hasten his execution.

Strand sought help from former O.J. Simpson lawyer Barry Scheck, who had used DNA to clear nine death row inmates, some in prison for almost two decades.

After reviewing the case, Scheck became convinced it was one of the weakest capital punishment cases he had seen. But he was concerned that the DNA sample was too small for a conclusive test.

At about the same time, by coincidence, Fort Lauderdale detective John Curcio also got interested in new DNA technology. He had pulled the files of some old, unsolved homicides to see which cases might be clarified by DNA.

One case: the brutal 1979 rape and murder of 13-year-old Sonja Yvette Marion. Her partially clothed body was found at a high school in northwest Fort Lauderdale.

A mentally retarded carnival worker named Jerry Frank Townsend had confessed to Sonja's murder, as well as a string of 1970s sex slayings in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. He got a life sentence after being convicted of two of the murders. Then he pleaded guilty to two other murders, and prosecutors dropped the charges in Sonja's case.

But Curcio and retired Detective Doug Evans had long doubted that Townsend killed Sonja. They saw many inconsistencies between Townsend's confession and the evidence, notably employment attendance punch cards showing that Townsend had been working when Sonja was killed.

Maybe it was Townsend, Curcio thought. Or maybe it was Frank Lee Smith. Or Eddie Lee Mosley.

As Curcio tracked the biological evidence, Smith's lawyers ran into opposition to their DNA testing request in Shandra's case.

At the hearing in September 1998, Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann objected to the defense's motion. The state would allow the test, she said, but McCann insisted it be on the prosecution's terms.

When Strand agreed to those terms, the prosecutors then threw up another roadblock: Under Florida law putting time limits on new evidence, they said, it was too late for Smith to request the DNA test.

They took more steps to protect their shaky conviction. For the first time, they presented a photo montage with Mosley in it, which Scheff now claimed he showed Chiquita Lowe and other witnesses back in 1985.

Strand calls it the "phantom lineup" because it had never surfaced -- not during the trial, not during the death warrant arguments, not during the 1991 hearing into Lowe's new testimony.

Under oath, Scheff had trouble explaining his failure to mention the montage in his handwritten notes, his report, his deposition and his trial testimony.

Scheff said he made a mistake when he denied he had shown a Mosley montage to the witnesses.

Strand suspected a more sinister motive.

Either way, Judge Speiser overlooked the detective's contradictory testimony. On Oct. 21, 1998, he ruled against Smith on the DNA, and four months later, he denied the motion for a new trial. Chiquita Lowe's identification of Mosley, the judge said, was "utterly lacking in credibility."

Eight days before his death, he hears, 'I will clear your name'

On New Year's Day 2000, Smith was transferred to North Florida Reception Center in Lake Butler. He had lost 27 pounds and experienced stomach pain and nausea thought at first to be caused by a bacteria. But doctors then diagnosed pancreatic cancer that spread to the bone.

On Jan. 20, a state prison nurse reported that Smith, heavily sedated on morphine, mumbled a supposed confession -- "I'm guilty, I'm guilty."

They were the last words recorded on Smith's official medical record.

When investigator Jeff Walsh visited two days later, he said Smith was tied to a gurney and "writhing in pain." But he still wanted to know the status of his DNA request.

Walsh said he would keep pressing. "I'll clear your name," he told Smith.

Eight days later, Frank Lee Smith was dead at the age of 52.

His legal team raised money for a burial and filed a court motion to preserve the DNA evidence for posthumous testing. But even after his death, the state resisted.

Defense attorney Scheck told prosecutor McCann that the testing might not only reveal the truth about Smith, but could resolve doubts about dozens of rapes and murders tied to Eddie Lee Mosley.

"Isn't there a public safety obligation?" Scheck said he asked McCann.

An agreement was reached in July, but it wasn't until November that Broward authorities finally sent the samples to the FBI lab in Washington.

By then, Curcio had learned the DNA results in Sonja Marion's case: The test cleared Jerry Townsend. It cleared Frank Lee Smith. Semen found on the girl's shorts matched a sample from Eddie Lee Mosley.

On Dec. 11, when the FBI crime lab reported that Smith did not kill Shandra Whitehead, McCann was shaken. She immediately asked the FBI to compare specimens in the Shandra Whitehead case to Mosley.

She was shaken again.

"They told me, 'It's a hit for sure,' " McCann said.

'What a fool I was,' says witness, promising to make amends'

Chiquita Lowe Olige, a 35-year-old mother of two, went to Smith's gravesite on Thursday morning. She said she talked to him for 45 minutes and promised to do whatever she can to make amends.

"What a fool I was," she wept after her visit. "If it wasn't for me, the man wouldn't be where he is. I want to put a tombstone on his grave. I want to apologize to his family and everybody."

Most of the other people involved in the case now admit a mistake. But only Lowe, who says she can still see the crazed face of Eddie Lee Mosley, offers an apology.

Paul Zacks, now the No. 2 prosecutor in the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office, downplays the scolding he got from the Florida Supreme Court for his improper conversations with the judge. He says the Florida Bar cleared him of misconduct.

William Dimitrouleas, the prosecutor who put Smith on death row, says he never intentionally presented false evidence and has no second thoughts about the case.

Police, he says, told him Lowe "had a drug problem and she was cajoled" by Smith's defense lawyers to change her testimony.

When he learned Smith was innocent, "it knocked me over like a feather," says Dimitrouleas.

He is now a federal judge.

Judge Robert Tyson, now retired, declines comment.

So does Philip Amabile, now a district commander in the Broward Sheriff's Office.

His partner, Richard Scheff, says he didn't pressure witnesses, lie or manufacture the Mosley photo photo montage. But he says Smith's vindication has shaken his faith in the death penalty.

"It's like an epiphany," says Scheff, who is in charge of the internal affairs unit that polices police for misconduct.

The Broward Sheriff's Office depicts the case as an aberration and bristles at the suggestion that two of its most esteemed officers railroaded an innocent man.

Detective John Curcio, the Fort Lauderdale cop who solved Sonja Marion's case, says it's his job to prove innocence as much as guilt. He is re-interviewing Mosley's victims and vows not to let him slip through another legal loophole. He is also looking into other homicides that might be falsely pinned on Jerry Frank Townsend.

"I couldn't live with myself if a man was locked up for something he didn't do," Curcio says.

For the victims' families, the revelations have reopened old wounds.

When an investigator with the state attorney's office told Shandra's mother that Frank Lee Smith was innocent, she began weeping and broke down in confusion. "I thought it was all over," she told him.

"I wish they would have left it the way it was," says 25-year-old Reginald Whitehead, who was in the house when his sister was murdered.

Prosecutor McCann denies thwarting the DNA test and blames Smith's defense lawyers for not pursuing it sooner or more aggressively.

"A lot of people who touched this case share in the blame," she says. "It's a nightmare. But it doesn't mean people acted with criminal intent."

The defense team counters that the state attorney's office is trying to shift blame to cover up misconduct.

"Frank Lee Smith was an impoverished, powerless, mentally ill, African-American man who was snatched off the street and wrongly convicted and sentenced to death by a handful of less-than-honest white people with a lot of power," says Jeff Walsh, now a private investigator.

Defense attorney Scheck wants Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate possible perjury and obstruction of justice and to examine other death penalty cases made by the Broward Sheriff's Office.

And Eddie Lee Mosley, the man who DNA evidence now ties to two murders?

Broward prosecutors say they aren't sure he will face trial for either murder. Mosley, now 53, lives in the Tacachale state center for mentally retarded defendants in Gainesville.

The center won't comment on his movements off the grounds, or allow Mosley to be interviewed. But authorities in Broward say he is apparently doing everything he can to please the staff, so he can earn privileges and maybe get back his freedom.

-- Times researchers Caryn Baird and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

Copyright 2001 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.

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