requiem for frank lee smith-->
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photo of smith in courtIntroduction: April 11, 2002

In December 2000, after spending 14 years on Florida's death row, Frank Lee Smith was finally cleared of the rape and murder of 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead.

Like nearly 100 prisoners before him, Smith's exoneration came as a result of sophisticated DNA testing unavailable when he was first convicted. But for Frank Lee Smith, the good news came too late: Ten months before he was proven innocent, Smith died of cancer in prison, just steps away from Florida's electric chair.

How did Frank Lee Smith end up on death row for a crime he didn't commit? And why was he allowed to die there despite possible evidence of his innocence? In "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith," award-winning producer Ofra Bikel explores these and other questions as she tracks the investigation, trial, and post-conviction appeals in the Smith case.

There were no eyewitnesses to Shandra Whitehead's murder, just her mother's glimpse of a man's shoulders as he fled the family's Fort Lauderdale home on the night of the murder in April 1985. What's more, there was no physical evidence to tie Frank Lee Smith to the crime.

What prosecutors did have were reports from two people -- Chiquita Lowe and Gerald Davis, both 19 -- each of whom said they spotted a scraggly-haired, delirious black man with a droopy eye in the neighborhood at the time of the crime. Not long after the two teens helped police develop a composite sketch of the man they saw, Lowe's family excitedly told her that the man in the sketch was standing outside their home, trying to sell them a television set. They urged her to call the police.

The man outside Lowe's house was Frank Lee Smith, 38, who had been released from prison just a few years before, in 1981, after being convicted of murder. When he was in his early teens, Smith also had been convicted of manslaughter. All told, he had been incarcerated for 15 years of his life. Based upon Lowe's identification, Smith was arrested and charged with Whitehead's murder.

Lowe was to be the star witness at Smith's trial, but she began to have doubts. "When I went into the courtroom and seen [Smith], he was too skinny, too tall, and he did not have the droopy eye," she tells FRONTLINE.

Despite her misgivings, Lowe confirmed her identification of Smith at the trial. "I was pressured by my family, people that's in my neighborhood, and the police officer," she says. "They kept telling me that I'm the only one that seen that man that night."

Based mainly upon Lowe's testimony, Smith was convicted and sentenced to death.

Through interviews with detectives, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and two law professors who closely followed the Smith case, Bikel traces the elements in the investigation, trial and post-conviction appeals process that raise disturbing questions about the actions of police and prosecutors.

For example, shortly after Florida scheduled Smith's execution in 1989, defense team investigator Jeff Walsh came across the name of Eddie Lee Mosley, a suspect in a number of rapes and murders of young black women that occurred in Shandra Whitehead's neighborhood.

Mosley was well-known to local law enforcement. In fact, two local police officers had begun to detect a pattern between local murders and Mosley's release from prison or mental hospitals. At the time of Shandra Whitehead's murder, Walsh learned, Mosley was back on the streets. Mosley was also acquainted with the victim: Shandra's mother was his cousin. But even more striking was his mug shot: Mosley bore an uncanny resemblance to the police sketch of the suspect, droopy eye and all.

When Walsh showed Mosley's photo to Chiquita Lowe, she says she immediately recognized the man she saw the night of the murder. She was also stricken with remorse for implicating Frank Lee Smith.

Armed with Lowe's sworn affidavit attesting to her incorrect identification, Smith's defense attorneys were optimistic as they went into an evidentiary hearing before the Florida Supreme Court. But the optimism was short-lived. The Florida authorities attempted to discredit Lowe's new testimony by claiming to have shown her Mosley's photo at the time of the murder.

Despite having previously testified that Lowe had been shown two line-ups, lead Det. Richard Scheff -- who was nominated for Deputy of the Month for solving the Whitehead case -- now testified that there had been a third line-up that included Mosley. Lowe did not identify Mosley at that time, Scheff testified.

Based on Det. Scheff's testimony regarding the third line-up -- and Lowe's somewhat halting testimony -- the court denied Smith's motion for a new trial. Smith would wait seven years for another hearing.

FRONTLINE follows Smith's story through several motions requesting DNA testing, all of which were ultimately denied by the state. The authorities would eventually test Smith's DNA posthumously after Eddie Lee Mosley was linked through DNA tests to two other murders for which an innocent man had been convicted.

The results of the belated DNA tests -- which confirmed that Shandra Whitehead had been raped and murdered by Eddie Lee Mosley -- were of little comfort to Chiquita Lowe.

"I didn't get a chance to even ask him is he upset with me, and that's something that's just tearing me apart," she tells FRONTLINE. "If it wasn't for me, he wouldn't have to go through all that torture and torment. ... I feel that it's my fault."

Defense investigator Walsh, who uncovered much of Frank Lee Smith's life story in the course of his investigation, tells FRONTLINE that the last time he visited Smith in prison, Smith was essentially naked and strapped to a hospital gurney. He was dehydrated, Walsh says, and looked as though he were starving. He was dying of cancer.

"It just goes back to the truth of the matter," Walsh says. "[The authorities] just didn't care about him as a human being at all."

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