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?


I sent the following note to a couple of papers, Jeb Bush, the Attourny General, and to the Florida Curcuit Court:

I just finished watching the PBS special "Requiem for Frank Lee Smith". It was an excellent program. I have to tell you that I am appalled and discussed at what appears to be a good-old-boys system of justice, alive and well in Florida as late as 1998.

Just in case you wonder, my demographics are white, male, age 58, and Republican. Florida's justice system is a disgrace! It disgraces me, my race, and the constitution of our country.

I occasionally travel to Florida for both business and pleasure, however, I won't be doing that in the future. I am boycotting Florida until the following individuals have been severely disciplined in this matter:

Lead Detective Richard Shief - for introducing false evidence in this and similar cases,

Circuit Court Judge Robert W. Tyson - for apparent bigotry,

Asst. State Attorney Joel Silverman - for willful interference of justice.

Secondly, I pledge $1,000 to oppose any Florida candidate running for national office.

That's it! My dollars have spoken.

It's no wonder black American's don't trust our judicial systems.

Joel Fowler
Santa Clara, CA


The main point that really sticks too me is the part about not checking with the other police resources. Before moving ahead to the conviction. This is almost a repeat of 9/11.

News reports stated that the the numerous law enforcement organizations had the information that coud have stopped the tradgedy but, decided not to share it. We better get it together before we lose it all. Mr Smiths situation is just the tip of the iceberg.

Kailua, HI


As an opponent to the death penalty ;the only good I can see in it is how it has brought such scrutiny to our justice system.If Frank Lee Smith had been given life or a long sentence would we have even known his name or story.

I would have liked to see a follow up interview with the prosecutor who fought so hard not to have the DNA analyzed, as well as the courts who did not want to find the truth.

Matt Anderson
Lafayette, IN


I viewed this documentary with utter shock.

It took a good cop, under no directive, authority or compulsion to test the DNA, to finally put the issue of this man's guilt to rest.

The prosecutor's failed miserably in their role in protecting the interests of justice - they actively engaged in reprehensible conduct, the thwarting of all vigorous and rightous attempts to obtain overwhelmingly exculpatory evidence - in order to win at any cost. When this prosecutor and I were sworn-in as attorneys in Florida, we apparently had quite different perceptions of our obligations to uphold the Constitution.

This was a case about information. Information that became evidence. That information was in the custody and control of the government. Society should fear government that hoards and withholds information, be it through the failure to provide discovery in criminal actions or violations of Freedom of Information Acts Public Records Acts. As a Deputy District Attorney in California, nothing pleases me more than to receive demands for information - because this assures me that my peers in the community are watching me and my brethren in government - ever ensuring that we do not trade our self-interests for justice.

Thank you for your vigilence.

George Gingo
Fresno, California


I was also appaled at the injustice of the Frank Lee Smith case. I live in Oregon and there is a-lot of talk about repealing the death penalty here.

I wonder however if repealing the death penalty would make life any better for those on death row. I wonder if there was no death penalty if there would have still been such a heroic investigation by Mr. Smith's defence allies.

In other words would people still care about Mr. Lee and the fact that there was no evidence against him if they knew he was not going to die?

Bill Atherton
Eugene, Oregon


A sad commentary on our justice system. Again shows that had he had money to fight this injustice, this story would have had a different ending.

Mike Schmid
Encinitas, California


The problem with this case may have started with shoddy police work, but it ends with the political system.

The career path for any District Attorney in this country will ultimately lead to political office, either by appointment or by election. That being the case, no DA is ever going to let a man like Frank Lee Smith walk, what ever they feel about the evidence or lack there of.

They will vigorously prosecute to keep men like Frank Lee Smith behind bars, for failing to do so will result in their resume reading Allowed Convicted Murderer to go Free! For although he may ultimately have been found innocent, or at least his conviction thrown out, he was, in fact, in one trial, found guilty, and any opponent in the future could use it like a club against him or anyone who may in the future appoint him.

It is a shame that our justice system is so political, but it is in fact our fault, for we are the ones who vote for the politics of fear and the so-called law and order politicians who espouse it, or worse, fail to vote at all!

People who feel the system is wrong, as I do, should not throw their hands ups and walk away. They should become involved, even if just to listen to the candidates and then vote. Justice, like democracy, is what we make it.

Frank L
Studio City, California


Your report on the tragedy of the sad life and death of Frank Lee Smith was very honest. I wish I could say that his interaction with the Broward Sheriff's Office is atypical - however, recent cases have only reinforced the depths to which BSO will stoop in covering up botched and bogus investigations from BSO Homicide.

Have you heard about the recent fiasco concerning the murder investigation of one of BSO's own, Deputy Patrick Behan? The same basic cast of characters pinned the murder on two mildly retarded, young, poor black males who confessed after being beaten by BSO investigators. Too bad for BSO that someone else confessed to the crime years later.

Unfortunately, this pattern has been repeated too many times in the recent past. It's all about clearance rates - as your TV report pointed out Det. Scheff made deputy of the month award for his arrest of Frank Lee Smith. These awards invariably produce raises in pay and rank to a point where one can insulate himself and his cohorts from further investigations.

Were your aware that before the so called "exhonoration" of Scheff by the special prosecutor in the Smith case, that Scheff was assigned to Professional ComplianceInternal Affairs where he had all the time in the world to sanitize files? Obviously BSO cannot or will not police itself,

I believe that the Justice Department should run BSO while they conduct an internal investigation into public corruption using RICO laws for a criminal enterprise! Practically all of the most ranking personnel at BSO have been in Criminal Investigations together where they learned how to make rank through despicably shoddy investigations. The state's attorneys office is in collusion with them, too and should be reviewed as well.

I hope that local and national news outlets continue to hold the light to what I feels is a department out of control. Thank you for your excellent work!

Broward County, FL


I am apalled by the Frank Lee Smith story, but certainly not surprised. The man's life was headed for the sewer from the moment of his birth. It is plain that he and others like him don't count because they are poor, distasteful, black and easily cast aside and forgotten. After all, there are more important things to worry about for those who control the purse strings: such as whether or not to build that new football or baseball stadium; or how many new gas guzzlers we can get out on the roads; or how many millions we can spend on election campaigns, and on and on ad nauseum. While underneath, we are bleeding from the belly, because we do not have the will to take care of the social problems which bequeath us the Frank Lee Smiths and the Mosley's.

I would also like to contribute something to help obtain a headstone for Mr. Smith. Although I can tell you, I would much rather have had the opportunity to use it for something, years ago, that would have made a difference in a sad and wasted life.

Jayne Bowman
Englewood, CO.

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

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


Thousands of innocent men like Frank Lee Smith get convicted every year. Most of these travesties of justice happen in non-homicide cases, especially drug cases. We like to think of our criminal "justice" system as the best in the world, but in truth we have a system that rewards corruption and mediocrity. We pick our judges based on political litmus tests, not merit. Few police departments require college degrees of their applicants or screen out psychologically inappropriate candidates. Many, if not the majority, of police officers differ from gangsters only by their uniforms. District attorneys win elections by appealing to the lowest common denominator of the electorate. The story of Frank Lee Smith should not shock anyone who has had any contact with our courts. I have practiced criminal defense law for many years now and each year my opinion of the systems sinks. For many of our citizens, America has become a police state without decency or justice.

Tom Carberry
Denver, Colorado


I was horrified to see your story on the Requiem of Frank Smith. Not at the fact that they failed to investigate any other possible suspects, nor at the fact that they made a decision early on in the investigation to hang Frank Smith regardless of guilt or innocence. I was shocked of the fact that after being presented with overwhelming evidence to his innocence, they actually fought harder to keep him in prison. They had no interest in actual justice. Then with the DNA evidence, they told Frontline that they would have kept him in prison anyway because they found a knife on him at his arrest, that constituted a parole violation.

The entire state of Florida, and its judicial system should forever be marked, and shamed by the United States of America!

Stephen Schendel
Minneapolis, MN


I was sure I had seen the worst of the criminal justice system when the Terence Garner story aired. Now I am even more shocked and disgusted by the Frank Lee Smith story. I graduate from law school in May and I planned to work as a prosecutor, but right now, I am not so sure. I could not believe the unwavering stance of the prosecutors and the obvious ineptitude of the detective. The criminal justice system is so flawed that I am afraid that it is beyond repair. In it's present state, the system is conducive to uncaring prosecutors and wrongdoing by the police. Again, thanks for opening my eyes especially and perhaps the eyes of many others who can effectuate change.

linda malveaux
macon, ga


Thank you FRONTLINE for spending the resources to put together this program.

The police and prosecution team that put Frank Lee Smith away and the continuous insistence on the defense of their original convictions shows an incredibly cruel streak in their personalities, a true lack of respect for all that is human. It never ceases to amaze me the kind of arrogance that can exist. They should be removed from their offices as it is obvious they do more damage than good. In the meantime, Florida's citizens are paying their salaries.

I wonder how these people can wake up in the morning and face themselves in the mirror.

Judy Chen
Newark, DE


As I watched the show tonight, I realize there were 2 lives destroyed by the arrogance of the state, and the representatives of that state.

As an oncologist, I am familiar with the pain people experience with cancer and I have dedicated my life to attempting to alleviate that pain. I wish it would be so easy to deal with Ms. Lowe's obvious anguish and pain. It broke my heart to realize that, not only did those elected officials send an innocent man to a painful, premature death, but they allow Ms. Lowe to believe she is responsible for it.

She is not.

She did the best she could in an extremely difficult situation. I have nothing but admiration and love for her.

What to do? This must end, the institutionalized racism, the jailing and execution of mentally retarded citizens, the insensitivity and pomposity of men and women who are elected to represent all of us, not just the wealthy and white.

I would like to help enable Ms. Lowe to achieve her goals, including obtaining a headstone for Frank Lee Smith's grave. I would like her to know that, even if Frank Lee never had the opportunity, there are people like me who recognize the gross injustice done to her and others and will not sit by idly and turn a blind eye.

Patricia Conrad
Columbus, OH

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

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


Your sympathic portrait of Frank Lee Smith was ridiculous. According to your report he was responsible for the deaths of two people. I don't care how he came to be in prison, I'm just glad he was there. The injustice is that he was out walking the streets at the time of that little girls murder. Not that he was falsely accused of it.

Also, the whiny accusations of racism by his defenders were laughable. One could just as easily argue that releasing him to prey on more black victims would be racist. "Oh, no one cares - its just a poor black man." Give me a break.

Overall, I thought your production was a gooey piece of emotional trash.

Joel Sams
Louisville, KY


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