requiem for frank lee smith
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photo of frank lee smith's grave
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,

As an assistant prosecutor in the State of New Jersey, I must say I am outraged and appalled by this case. One of the things that really concerned me was this concept of an "involuntary confession." Why wouldn't the police officer try to tape the confession or have the defendant sign a written one? In New Jersey we have a charge to the jury which basically says an oral statement by a defendant is to be highly scrutinized. I wonder does Florida have something similiar. The State Attorney's Office and the investigating police department should feel horrible for their roles in this tragedy. I was hoping a representative from the State Attorney's Office would have spoken on camera once the DNA evidence was disclosed. I would welcome DNA testing in ANY case where a defendant requested it; without question in a death penalty case. Why was Ms. Lowe so credible when she testified for the state but obviously incredible when she changed her mind? I hope that detective is no longer in law enforcement. He makes Marc Furman who though perhaps a bigot I still do not believe set up O.J. look like an angel.

Gerard Breland
West Orange, New Jersey

Dear FRONTLINE,

Watching the program you were compelled to sympathize with some poor black man victimized by Jim Crowe America. The justice system has its problems some of which are that many more perpetrators escape justice after being exonerated for one specious argument or another. This guy was already out on parole for murder. He got his fair shot, and got another chance. He was carrying a weapon? What kind of people behave in this way? He was cared for in prison on tax money more than he would have if he was on the street. His family cannot even provide for a grave marker how could his cancer treatment faired better on the inside. Also to suggest that all the people around him in prison "hated" him is fallacious. Friendships exist in prison and prison staff don't waste a lot of time hating or they would be consumed by it.

Andre George
Tuanton, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you Frontline for this excellent reportage titled "Requiem For Frank Lee Smith", and for all your other great works.

The possibility of convicting an innocent is the best reaseon against capital punishment. So many cases over the years, in so many countries, have shown the all justice system are flawed. Too many misleading variables are involved. And truth is more often than not the first victim. Egos the main assaillants.

In the case of Frank Lee Smith, the police and the prosecution clearly demonstrate the fatal disease built in the system: bureaucracytitis. Once a decision has been taken, do everything to support it no matter how ridiculus that decision was in the first place, or proves to be.

I beleive that the police and the prosecution decided to attack one unlikely suspect rather than the most likely one is quite simple. They could not obtain a capital judgment against the one declared criminally mentally impaired. Therefore they went after Smith. Furthermore, in their minds, as the sheriff's letter at the end of your reportage demonstrate clearly, Smith was without redeeming qualities: child of a prostitute, a bastard, an orphan, someone that got in trouble as a teenager and as a young man. An esay target , like Jean Valjean was for Jalvert in Les Misrables of Victor Hugo.

How could the state imprison for life Townsen with an IQ of 50 while they kept releasing the monster over and over?

A major overhaul is needed of the whole system. Not an easy task.

Thank you again Frontline.

Montreal, QC

Dear FRONTLINE,

Every once in awhile I read an article or watch a show that makes me feel embarrased to be part of a society that treats others in such an inhuman and uncivil manner. The Frank Lee Smith story filled me with sadness; anger; shame and frustration. Justice is supposed to be blind in order for each person to get an unbiased hearing. It is not supposed to be blind to enable those who prosecute to save face. My heart goes out to Chiquita Lowe - a youngster who was put into a position that most people could not have handled very clearly. All these years her pain has been raw. Her attempt to try to help Frank is something that few would do and fewer would have courage to pursue. If it is possible, I would like to contribute something to her to help her reach her goal of buying a headstone for Frank. Please advise if such a contribution is possible.

Mary Livezey
Redding, CT

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Chiquita Lowe's address is:
3380 N.W. 30th St., Apt. #5
Lauderdale Lakes, FL 33309
She is still saving to buy Frank Lee Smith a headstone.

Dear FRONTLINE,

I would like to make a contribution towards obtaining a headstone for Mr. Smith's unmarked grave. Where should I send such a contribution?

In addition, I am baffled at the arrogance of prosecutors, I thought were also human beings,who fight tooth and nail against uncovering evidence which might free a wrongfully convicted person. When they exhibit this behavior in death penalty cases it is unconsciousable but it is also dispicable that they will fight to the death no pun intended to eliminate the possibility of freeing any wrongfully convicted person. What happened to justice? There is something severly psychotic about prosecutorial agencies that allow/continence this type of behavior. While I am not a conspiracy theorist or believe that there is racism in everything, I do believe if white people were exonerated in mass from death row or from wrongful convictions, these agencies would change their tune. They disgust me. Even more so, what happened to humanity?

michelle montgomery
chicago, illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am so infuriated by the prosecution and that police detective. I can see the State believing that they had the right man BUT if they were so positive about Frank why didn't they agree to testing his DNA? A proceedural problem? Who do they think they are anyway? When you are dealing with the death penalty, the State must be absolutely, postively sure they have the right man.

The death penalty has been absolutely discredited as a method of dealing with crime. If the state kills just one wrong man that is to high a price to pay for vengence.

My heart goes out to Chiquita. She made an honest mistake and she is living with the guilt. Shame on those prosecutors and that dectective. They seemed to feel no guilt whatsoever about their incompetence which cost another human being his freedom and ultimately his life.

New York, NY

Dear FRONTLINE,

This happens much too often and speaks volumes about our attitude towards people "charged" with crimes and the criminal justice system which charges, maintains and in some cases executes them. Just recently HBO featured a similar story of indifference and duplicity on the part of law enforcement and the district attorney's office in a murder investigation involving a 15 year old black male in Jacksonville. However in his case a jury exonerated him in a trial, only to have that not guilty verdict confirmed by the apprehension of the real killer. This is a stain on our culture and society that we symbolically chant for the execution of the criminals, while trampling on or denying them their rights. I guess only when we are the accused will we see the folly of our indifference and hostility during our time of freedom.

abuhamza abdul-karim
atlanta, ga

Dear FRONTLINE,

This story is a real challenge to my belief in capital punishment. The arrogance displayed by the prosecution was troubling. One can only assume that there are more cases just like this one.

Bob Philpot
Lowell, MA

Dear FRONTLINE,

The very least shred of justice for Frank Lee Smith would be to make the self-righteous prosecutors and lying detectives pay for his tombstone, instead of the witness who was courageous enough to tell the truth.

This is why the death penalty is abolished in all civilized nations, ours excepted.

JT Dorsey
Nashville, Tennessee

Dear FRONTLINE,

I don't understand why there is such commotion about this matter... The criminal justice system needed to send someone away, they found someone, and they popped him in jail... It's a story as old as Balzac or Zola.... Frank Lee Smith being poor and black facilitated the matter easier to put him away. Those who claim they are shocked are just being silly; this is America, and this is the way America works.

Thomas Brucia
Houston, TX


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