requiem for frank lee smith
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Join the Discussion: What are your thoughts on the story of Frank Lee Smith and what it says about America's criminal justice system?

Dear FRONTLINE,

I don't know what to say. Frontline is the one program that instills in me the greatest anger and digust with the state of our country. These bastard prosecutors and lying cops should be thrown in jail. Why is it that the press neglects to dog these guys later? Why was the jury in Smith's trial so gullible? America has become a violent, heartless, cold place in which to live.

Rich Scillia
Wichita, KS

Dear FRONTLINE,

This is one of the most compelling and disturbing programs I've seen in awhile.

After viewing this show, I wondered how I was going to tell my 14-year old that he can't go on his 8th grade graduation trip to Orlando. I won't support a state financially that violates human beings as the state of Florida violated Mr. Smith. Florida won't even admit it when it's wrong. The letter written to Frontline reminded me of a game I used to play as a child, "I got last." Children always wanted to get the last lick in no matter what.

Great Lakes , IL

Dear FRONTLINE,

My continued thanks and support for your mission to find the truth! "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith" was not only insightful but timely in light of the aftermath of 9-1-1 and the judicial mayhem that awaits us in pursuit of justice.

There are few things or circumstances that try us as severely as being charged with doing something we did not do. For those things or acts that we do, we must stand the scrutiny of our judgments.

The prosecutors, especially Mr Silvershein, should be tried for malfeasance/ misfeasance in office. Take away their retirement and salaries donate the funds to a fitting memorial to Mr.Frank Lee Smith and others so shabbily treated.

If I were to suggest that Mr Silvershein and the cop that lied, do pro bono work for other prisioners serving time and under appeal, would be the capstone on the statue of ignorance.

And we assume that the police know what they're doing, and have done it properly and so forth.

If they couldn't do the job correctly, the first time, can we expect a different outcome?

Do you think the criminal justice system might benefit from the lessons from the Frank Lee Smith story?

As we were able to observe the voting machine issue in Florida and other jurisdictions, one could hardly come away without wondering why the issue finally raised its head. We observed the judicial system on the local, State, Supreme Court level and then back to the State where it belonged in the first place, under our Constitution. Were there juries involved in those decisions hanging chads, I don't think so! The involved attorneys were not interested in process - only outcome!

Orval McCallum
Portland, OR

Dear FRONTLINE,

I grew up in the area where the murders were being committed. As a young girl, we were terrorized by a man that would persue us while exposing himself. We told our parents who contacted our school, as this is where it happenedthere was never anything done about this. It is a shame that because these crimes were committed in the Black neighborhoods, there was never anything being done. To top it all off there was a serial killer on the loose. How many lives could have been saved if we were taken seriously and the incident investigated.

To be honest the man looked like Mr Moseley. I find it extremely hard to believe that Mr Smith would not have been released even after DNA cleared him due to a violation of probation. You have people walking around S Florida that have continously served a couple of months for the same type of offenses and then are released. The Judicial System needs to admit that a mistake was made in the continued incarceration of Mr. Smith instead of being so arrogant about its need to be right.

I cannot blame them for the initial arrest and even conviction but when the evidence started coming forward to clear the man, what is the harm in righting a wrong??

S S
Jacksonville , Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

What an indictment against a system...I fear Mr. Smith's fate is far more common in our prisons than we'd like to think.

This tragic, needless degradation of humanity was a no-win situation, but if it fosters an awareness of the systematic inequities inherent in American jurisprudence, it may not be a losing cause.

Of course, one inequity can be immediately addressed: How come the passion for, and dedication to, justice so poignantly articulated by investigator Jeff Walsh and attorney Bret Strand of the state pubic defenders office isnt shared by prosecutors and many Broward County law-enforcement officials involved in this travesty?

John Haughey
Monroe, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

Usually, I cheer for the defense, because the state has greater resources to prosecute. Also, I am a civil libertarian, and these days such concerns are, perhaps reasonably, secondary to the threat of terrorism.

This time, though I maintain my leanings, I wish to say a word from what may be the prosecution's point of view. Frank Lee Smith was, I understand, a convicted felony-murderer before the age of 18. He had another prior that was a felony. If he had not been a juvenile, he would have been serving a life prison term and the trial you documented would not have occurred.

The tragedies here are: 1 a child was raped and murdered; 2 the real murderer seems to have escaped apprehension and committed many other murders while free; 3 the adversarial-justice system was at its worst in performance; 4 racial factors seem to have entered into the enforcement and prosecutorial behavior.

Why did the state behave as it did? Ans.: The prosecutors believe that if the defense may use "technicalities" to free a guily defendant, then they may use procedural "technicalities" to punish a man for a crime he did not commit to make up for his escape from punishment for other crimes. That is what I think underlay the behavior of the Broward sheriff and the state's attorney.

So long as we have an adversarial system, I believe we shall have this sort of behavior from time to time. Indeed, we see such behavior in police and courtroom dramas on TV. They reflect accurately, I think, the sordid world that is their setting.

The introduction of DNA testing is a hopeful step away from the adversarial approach to a scientific approach. Too bad such methods are not available in a broader way. Perhaps in the future they will be. What is needed is more science and less adversarial behavior in the courtroom.

St Petersburg, Florida

Dear FRONTLINE,

As we approach our 8th month in the "War on Terrorism" it should be noted that one of the roots of terrorism is the sense of helplessness experienced by innocent people when confronted by the kind of imperial arrogance regularly displayed by the State of Florida when dealing with minorities in the criminal "justice" system.

Rod Miller
Omaha, NE

Dear FRONTLINE,

There is little I can add to the eloquent comments of your viewers about the national tragedy of the current "criminal justice" system or the arrogance of prosecutors !!!! It is an absolute outrage !!!!

What continues to haunt me days after your broadcast is the appalling way that Frank Lee Smith was treated or more accurately, not treated as he lay dying !! Do we live in some third world country ?? The Florida Corrections crowd ought to be severely reprimanded and punished publicly for the way that this individual was left to die without pain medications, water or any personal comfort !! What an utter disgrace !! And to add insult to injury, they had the chutzpah to send a letter to Frontline afterwards saying they would not have let him out of prison anyway even if DNA proved he was not guilty of the crime for which he was on death row !!!!

As one of your viewers put it, we are responsible for this system and until we force a change, "we get what we deserve" !!

Tom Kilcoyne
Albany, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

I think the big question is why doesn't our President or his brother, the Governor of Fla, order that ALL convicted persons, either on death row or with a life sentence, be given the chance to prove their innocence or guilt with DNA testing now that it has become available.

If the law enforcement agencies, states attorneys and prosecutors are so sure they have the right person, it seems to me that the cost of the testing, if the person

was proven innocent, would substantially outweigh the cost of keeping them in jail and fighting their appeals until either execution or another cause of death.

As a 38 year resident of Fla I'm 40I was terribly embarrassed over the letter sent by the Broward Sherrif over Smith's "parole violation". What a idiotic stand.

Susan Gould
Lakeland, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

Ofra Bikels Requiem for Frank Lee Smith brought to mind an old episode of 'Perry Mason'. The prosecutor, Hamilton Berger, loses yet another case as Mason yet again clears his client by identifying the real murderer. Mason offers condolences to his adversary and Berger simply replies, Perry, I win every time justice is done. But that was 1950's escapist television and we live in the 21st century with much less glamorous criminals and much more brutal crime. It would seem our modern day, real-world prosecutors can not afford to be so philosophical about justice. But they must. It is their job and it is their sworn duty. Obstructing justice to preserve an erroneous conviction is counter to every tenet of our justice system.

I use the term erroneous rather than wrongful, because I do believe at least in the beginning the prosecution had a good faith belief in the probable guilt of Frank Lee Smith. But as the case began to fall apart, the prosecutions focus clearly turned from seeking and ensuring justice to preserving a conviction. In the end, this served no one. Mistake compounded by hubris left Frank Lee Smith to die in prison, left Eddie Lee Mosley free to murder and rape, and in the end harm the reputations if not careers of the officials involved.

I do not oppose the death penalty per se. e.g. I think Ted Bundy deserved to die But once our lawmakers and criminal justice professionals use it as instrument of political gain in a system prone to and fraught with errors, it becomes impossible to administer as an instrument of justice. Short of an outright ban on the death penalty, I think the governor should step in and commute any death sentence to life where there is no physical evidence to support the conviction. At the very least, the death penalty should not be an option in cases where there is no physical evidence to support the conviction.

Jeff Henderson
Orlando, FL

Dear FRONTLINE,

My regret and empathy for the life of Frank Lee Smith has been duly felt and expressed by so many of the others who have written on this board.

However, I find there is an even more subtle point to be observed in this story: the entire situation seems to disenfranchise a population of people based upon race and social class.

There were an untold amount of times when those two criteria were the sole decisive factors played out in a flawed and inhuman judicial and social system. Sadly, one cannot help but realize how different the outcome and outlook might have been if the citizens involved from victim to perpetraitor had not been black. The horror of a little girl's rape and death would have been twofold. The conviction and need to find the true perpetraitor of such a crime would also have been magnified. The importance of the pending life on death row would similarly have weighed in at a greater scale in the political and public eye.

But perhaps most terrifying to me, the most obvious abuse of power, and the most expressive bias, stems from a small phrase uttered at the end of the program: Eddie Lee Mosley is now considered to be one of the nation's most prolific serial killers. This is a man of whom few have heard. His crimes were ignored for decades, his victims faceless and storyless through it all. It is as if justice and humanity could not be bothered with the poor and black. And I suspect that our outrage as a country would have emerged and been heard much sooner if the crimes had been committed in an upper-class neighborhood. 17 murders and 60 rapes...and still the public horror of such violence seems to be tempered with an unconscious presumption that these lost lives were somehow less than equal, that these crimes were somehow to be expected.

This story of violence, victim, and guilt falls into some strange void of reason and time outside of "average" American reality. It truly breaks my heart that any human life could mean so little to another. Frank Lee Smith seems to be "just" another of Mosley's victims. However, each us is guilty of his death...that cannot be erased by our grief. Let us hope that he may be the last.

Tucson, Arizona

Dear FRONTLINE,

Now I understand why all evidence in captital murder cases is destroyed once the convicted criminal is executed. Who can say how many innocent lives have been taken in the name of "justice".This case saddened and infuriated me.

Please tell me who I can contact to help in the fight against the death penalty.

Robin Brooks
chicago heights, il

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

In the Readings and Links section of this web site on the Frank Lee Smith story, we offer links to two groups involved in capital punishment issues.

Dear FRONTLINE,

It is clear that the American justice system operates a double standard in regard to people of color.

Until white America views the Frank Lee Smith's of the country as deserving of equal respect and treatment and demands that elected officials of the justice system conform to expectations of fairness and dillegence there will be a constant stream of Frank Lee Smiths, Timothy Thomases, Rodney Kings, Amadou Diallos, and Albert Liumas whose lives are destroyed by a system that devalues non-white life.

Smith was not the only victim here. As grave an injustice was done to Shandra Whitehead, Chiquita Lowe and the other Black women that the justice system allowed Eddie Lee Mosley to destroy.

Lawrence Young
University Park, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

After working in a law library in a California state men's prison for six years, I know that "criminal justice" is an oxymoron. I read case after case of poor, uneducated minority inmates and learned of the appaling conduct of their case.

We live in a police state where prosecutors have absolute power and the poor defendant is guilty until proven innocent. The jury system is a joke. District Attorney's have discretion to charge and judges have little input. Our system of justice is a sham.

Kathleen Boyd
Morro Bay, CA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank You for a program that I hope opens the eyes of many in this country. In reading the previous posts, it is refreshing to see people outraged at the conduct of the police and prosecutors in this case. However, this case is far from being unusual.

I'm a criminal defense attorney and I see cops lie with impugnity all the time. I see prosecutors who are only concerned with obtaining a conviction rather than the truth. And, sadly, I see jurors who are unwilling to give a defendant the presumption of innocence.

It must be remembered that Frank Lee Smith, as well as all the other people who have been exonerated were convicted by juries. How could that have happened if the jurors truly weighed the evidence and convicted only when the the evidence showed guilt beyond a reasonable doubt? In truth, it is easier for jurors to convict because the State tells them that it's the right thing to do and because they don't want to face the community who will condemn them for letting a "murderer" go free.

Finally, we're all to blame for cases such as this. How many judges have ever been elected in your community who promised to vigilantly protect the rights of the accused? How many D.A.s have been elected on the platform of being fair to the accused? On the other hand, how many have been elected promising to be tough on crime? No one ever lost an election by being too tough on crime. We get what we ask for.

Rich Buley
Missoula, MT

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline

I don't remember who said something we are not free till all of us are free, but if there ever was evidence of that, Frank Lee Smith's case is it. It is appaling and terrifying to me that I live in such a judicial system, goverment, country, what have you, where such things happen. And I say this even though as a white woman I'm not, obviously, under any of the same frightening scrutiny that an African-American man is by the same institutions--it is simply that we are all human as banal as that sounds, it is the essential point and if that can't be seen or heard or acknowledged in one place, or with one group of people, everyone's lives are diminished. Why is that so hard to get? Everyone's lives are diminshed by this.

The suffering that Frank Lee Smith endured is almost unbearable to think about.

Thank you for sharing this report.

atlanta, ga

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