requiem for frank lee smith
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eight things to know about this case

How an innocent man ended up on death row -- and was allowed to die there.

Where was the evidence?

The disputed "confession"

Chiquita Lowe's recantation

Clues investigators neglected

The disputed photo line-ups

The state's refusal to test DNA

The many lost judicial appeals

Florida's death sentencing errors lead the U.S.

1. Where was the Evidence?

Frank Lee Smith was convicted and sentenced to death for Shandra Whitehead's murder based on the testimony of one person, Chiquita Lowe. Nineteen years old at the time, Lowe stated that about half an hour before the murder, she saw someone in the neighborhood. Later, after being shown a photo line-up, she identified Frank Lee Smith as that person.

There were no eyewitnesses to the Whitehead murder, no forensic evidence, no blood. There was only Chiquita Lowe's testimony identifying Frank Lee Smith as the man she saw in the neighborhood around the time of the murder.

2. The Disputed "Confession"

The key homicide investigators in the Smith case testified at the trial that in their interrogation of Smith they lied and told him that there was a witness who could identify him as the perpetrator. It was an interrogation tactic often used by police and, in this case, they said it worked, and Smith unintentionally incriminated himself.

There were no tapes or transcripts of the interrogation, and during sentencing Frank Lee Smith denied he ever made the statement that the police attributed to him. However, his statement was presented to the jury as an involuntary confession.

3. Chiquita Lowe's Recantation

Four years after Frank Lee Smith's conviction, Chiquita Lowe recanted her testimony. After being shown a picture of Eddie Lee Mosley by investigator Jeff Walsh, Lowe said Frank Lee Smith was not the person she saw that night, it was Mosley. Lowe said that she had been pressured by the original prosecutor to testify that it was Frank Lee Smith. The prosecutor denies this.

4. The Clues Investigators Neglected

The police failed to look at other suspects, including, in particular, a man in the neighborhood who had been a suspect for years in numerous rape/murders: Eddie Lee Mosley. The composite sketch of the perpetrator -- drawn from Chiquita Lowe's description and that of another person who had seen a man in the area the night of the murder -- matched Eddie Lee Mosley far more than Frank Lee Smith. Mosley had been connected to crimes in the bordering Ft. Lauderdale/Broward County jurisdictions for years; Ft. Lauderdale police long suspected his involvement in the murders. Yet the Broward Sheriff's Office never investigated Mosley as a possible suspect -- not even after Chiquita Lowe recanted her testimony and said it was Mosley she saw. (Watch a video excerpt from "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith" on the failure of the police to investigate Mosley.)

5. The Disputed Photo Line-ups

After Frank Lee Smith's conviction, the lead investigator in the case, Det. Richard Scheff of the Broward Sheriff's Office, twice testified that he had shown Chiquita Lowe a third photo line-up, back at the time of the murder, which included a picture of Eddie Lee Mosley. (Mosley was later implicated by DNA tests as Shandra Whitehead's murderer.)

Scheff contended that Chiquita Lowe was shown a photo of Mosley prior to the trial, and yet in court she still testified that Frank Lee Smith was the man she saw the night of the murder. The implication was that Lowe's post-trial identification of Mosley had to be mistaken.

But Det. Scheff's testimony about the third line-up was something new. He had consistently said in his depositions and trial testimony that he showed the witnesses only two line-ups, one with Frank Lee Smith in it and one without him.

Chiquita Lowe and her defense attorney say they were never shown the third photo line-up.

6. Frank Lee Smith's Many Lost Judicial Appeals

For more than a decade, Florida's courts held numerous hearings on the Frank Lee Smith case, reaching the state Supreme Court on several occasions. Here's a summary of the legal battles and judicial appeals.

7. The State's Refusal to Test DNA

The defense filed many motions requesting DNA testing for Frank Lee Smith. The first such request came in 1998, after advanced DNA testing was permitted in the courts. Some DNA material still existed in the case of Shandra Whitehead. At first the state agreed to the tests, thinking that with the upcoming evidentiary hearing on Chiquita Lowe's recantation, they needed something to bolster their case against Smith as much as possible.

However, prosecutors subsequently found Lowe's testimony at the hearing unimpressive and they decided to deny the DNA testing. Observers like law professor Jonathan Simon condemn the state's decision, saying that once prosecutors knew that they had not lost the death sentence in the hearing, they simply didn't want to take the chance of losing it because of the DNA.

For the next year, motions were filed by the defense. There were objections from the state and more defense filings were made, but there was no ruling from the judge. It would take DNA tests implicating Eddie Lee Mosley in rape and murders throughout the area to force the state prosecutors to finally stop fighting DNA testing for Frank Lee Smith. But by the time they did so, he had already died of cancer on death row.

8. Florida's Flawed Death Sentences Lead the Country

The careless investigation, wrongful conviction and death sentencing of Frank Lee Smith is not surprising when viewed in the context of Florida's shameful ranking in death penalty case errors. The second part of a recent massive study on the death penalty in America, called "A Broken System," concludes that five of the 15 counties in the U.S. that impose the death penalty most frequently are in Florida, ranking it among a handful of states that are at the highest risk for handing down wrongful convictions. More people have been removed from Florida's death row following findings that they were not guilty than in any other state. James Liebman, co-author of the study, calls it "Florida Roulette," and in this section of the report the authors cite Frank Lee Smith's case as an illustration of the flaws in that state's justice system (Note: the Smith case is at the very end of this section).

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