Sunday, September 06, 2009

Fred Grimm: Case is among string of bogus convictions

The following op-ed column was published by the Miami Herald on September 5, 2009.

Case is among string of bogus convictions

The kid they tried to execute was just 15. An IQ of 67.

The Broward prosecutor demanded the death penalty. But the jury, queasy about killing a mentally deficient teenager with no more evidence than a questionable confession, voted to spare Anthony Caravella's life.

Circuit Judge Arthur J. Franza seemed disappointed. ``I'll tell you this, Anthony: If the jury had recommended death, I would have had you electrocuted.''

Broward was that close to executing an innocent teenager.

Twenty-six years after Caravella was sent off for life, Edward Blake, a leading forensic scientist and a pioneer in DNA analysis, obtained a genetic profile from sperm left by the man who raped and murdered Ada Jankowski behind Miramar Elementary School in 1982. Blake concluded: ``Anthony Caravella is eliminated as the source of the spermatozoa.''

So Caravella's case becomes yet another among the Broward state attorney's string of ignominious convictions of mentally challenged defendants, later found to be innocent.


Once again, the deciding ``evidence'' was a sham confession elicited from a feeble-minded suspect after hours of interrogation.

The confession, of course, was the only actual evidence against Caravella. In fact, the cops elicited five contradictory confessions from the teenager, but the last, finally, coincided with the crime-scene evidence.

The new DNA findings suggest the interrogators provided the incriminating information. It must have been easy stuff, manipulating a frightened, mentally deficient suspect into self-incriminating statements. Just like John Purvis, a schizophrenic with the mind of a 12-year-old, who after a rambling, barely coherent confession, did nine years for a murder finally linked to someone else. Jerry Frank Townsend, IQ of 50, served 22 years after confessing to murders committed by Fort Lauderdale serial killer Eddie Lee Mosley. Frank Lee Smith, so mentally disturbed he shouted incoherent inanities at his jury, died of cancer after a dozen years on Death Row before DNA evidence cleared him.


Cops got their bogus statements. Prosecutors got their bogus convictions. And convicting mentally defective innocents proved a fine career move. Prosecutor Robert Carney, who nailed both Purvis and Carvella, now sits as a Broward circuit judge. William Dimitrouleas, who prosecuted Frank Lee Smith, has a lifetime appointment as a federal judge. Meanwhile, actual killers went free. Eddie Lee Mosley continued his hideous rape and murder spree. Miramar police never bothered to discover who stabbed Ada Jankowski 28 times.

In 2001, the Broward Sheriff's Office crime lab was persuaded to reexamine evidence from the Caravella case but failed, mysteriously, to isolate any DNA. Blake said Friday he received a ``harassing'' e-mail this week from the Broward state attorney's office indicating that, contrary to public statements about undoing a terrible injustice, the office would try to undermine his lab's credibility. If so, it would be a stunning tactic, given his national reputation. (With a list of high profile DNA cases that runs 51 pages, including the lab work that cleared Allen Crotzer and Luis Diaz, the wrongly accused Bird Road Rapist.)

``It appears they've gone into full scale cover-up mode,'' Blake said Friday. In Broward, we've been there before.

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