The first review was the automatic appeal to Florida's Supreme Court following
Frank Lee Smith's conviction in 1985 for the rape and murder of 8-year-old
Shandra Whitehead. The court affirmed his conviction and death sentence.
Four years later, in 1989, Chiquita Lowe, a crucial witness for the
prosecution, changed her testimony and said that it was Eddie Lee Mosley, not Frank
Lee Smith, whom she saw the night of the murder. The state Supreme Court
subsequently ordered the trial judge to hold an evidentiary hearing. This
occurred in 1991. The judge denied the motion for a new trial, finding Chiquita
Lowe's recantation not credible.
At this point, the issue of ex parte communication was raised. The
defense found that the state attorney had participated in the drafting of
the judge's decision without the defense's knowledge. The defense objected and
the ensuing fight over this issue would take seven long years. Finally, the
state Supreme Court vacated the order and said that the evidentiary hearing
must be conducted again.
In August of 1998, with advanced DNA testing available, the defense filed a
motion to test Smith's DNA.
One month later, a new evidentiary hearing began, dealing again with Chiquita
Lowe's credibility as well as the issue of the third line-up. Was Chiquita Lowe
shown a picture of Eddie Lee Mosley in that line-up, as claimed by Det. Richard
Scheff? Following the hearing, the judge denied the motion for a new trial, and
also denied the testing of Frank Lee Smith's DNA.
Frank Lee Smith's counsel filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider these
rulings. When Frank Lee Smith died of cancer in prison on death row in January 2000, the judge had not yet ruled.
In November 2000 -- 10 months after his death -- Smith was exonerated after the
state of Florida, pressured by the defense, reluctantly allowed his DNA to be
tested against what was left in Shandra Whitehead's rape kit.
The tests excluded Frank Lee Smith. Eddie Lee Mosley's DNA matched.
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