Posted on June 26th, 2013 No comments
The arrest of Jerry Frank Townsend on Sept. 5, 1979 ended the hunt for a brutal serial killer and rapist who had terrorized a predominantly African-American neighborhood in northwest Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
But it began an enduring miscarriage of justice.
Townsend spent 22 years of his life in prison until he was exonerated by DNA tests that did not exist when he was arrested. Eddie Lee Mosley remained free to continue to rape and kill until his 1987 arrest and confinement in a state hospital for the criminally insane.
The deaths of 10 women and children who were murdered after Townsend’s wrongful arrest have been linked to Mosley by DNA testing or other evidence.
Now, relatives of three of those victims are calling on longtime Broward State Attorney Mike Satz – who is up for re-election – to finally investigate the actions of police detectives whose testimony convicted Townsend.
“It matters a hell of a lot,” said Clarice Tukes, 72, whose 20-year-old daughter, Arnette, was raped and strangled five months after Townsend’s arrest. “My daughter would still be alive if they hadn’t arrested the wrong man.”
“I want this reopened,” said Jacquelyn D. Miller, the daughter of Geraldine Barfield, whose body was found in a field adjacent to the Immanuel Church of God in Christ near Sunland Park on Dec. 19, 1983. She was 35.
“I’ve carried this with me 28 years. I want Michael Satz to tell me why he allowed this to happen, why a killer was allowed to remain on the streets,” she said.
Compared to Jack the Ripper
Satz was in his first term as Broward’s top prosecutor when Townsend was arrested.
The case captured the public’s imagination: A black serial killer compared by police to Jack the Ripper. Townsend, they said, had admitted to wanting to “rid the world of prostitutes.”
The victims, however, were not prostitutes.
Townsend, a grown man with the mental capacity of a child, was led by detectives to confess to a string of rapes and murders he did not do. He was convicted of six murders and a rape in 1980 and sent to prison for life.
In 2009, eight years after DNA proved his innocence, the Broward Sheriff’s Office agreed to pay $2 million over five years to settle a civil rights lawsuit alleging that its detectives fabricated evidence, concealed exculpatory evidence, tampered with witnesses and coerced false confessions out of Townsend.
Miami, where city detectives were accused of similar wrongdoing against Townsend, paid $2.2 million to end another suit before trial in 2008. Taxpayers spent at least $1 million more to pay lawyers to defend the police.
Broward Bulldog reported in 2009 that transcripts of Townsend’s Broward trial and hearings contain disturbing evidence of crimes like perjury and the falsification of police reports by BSO detectives and other officers. Several relatives recently saw the story.
For example, BSO detectives testified that Townsend led them to the scene of four Broward murders, and provided them with details only the killer would have known.
But Townsend wasn’t the killer. So the detectives’ damning testimony takes on new meaning.
There is no statute of limitations on perjury in an official proceeding that relates to the prosecution of a capital felony. Whether the law could be enforced regarding original police testimony against Townsend is unclear because today’s statute is somewhat different than what was on the books in the 1980s.
Nevertheless, neither Satz, Broward’s state attorney since 1976, nor the Broward Sheriff’s Office has investigated the actions of the BSO detectives whose testimony sent Townsend to prison, Mark Schlein and Anthony Fantigrassi.
The settled lawsuit contended those detectives framed Townsend to advance their careers. Schlein has declined to discuss the case. Fantigrassi has said he never lied to convict Townsend.
Fantigrassi retired as head of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Unit in 2005. Schlein retired in 1993 as a lieutenant colonel, later worked for the state and is today an attorney in private practice in Tallahassee.
The lawsuit said Mosley is believed to be responsible for 41 rapes and 17 murders between 1973 and 1987, when he was declared incompetent to stand trial for the 1983 Christmas Eve rape-murder of Emma Cook, 54.
Victims and their families Katrenna Bentley, a hedge fund accountant, was 11 years old the day her grandmother died. She still vividly recalls seeing her battered body on a slab at the Mizell Funeral Home.
“I remember her laying on the table and seeing skin under her nails and hair in her mouth. They said she fought back, bit him in the head,” Bentley said. DNA from that trace evidence was matched two decades later to Mosley.
Katrenna and her mother, Mary Bentley, Emma Cook’s daughter, both said they want the state to investigate the actions of the police who handled the Townsend case.
“Every Christmas I relive this and get a sick feeling in the bottom of my stomach,” said Mary Bentley, 61. “If they had investigated it properly from the beginning they could have caught Mosley earlier and he wouldn’t have ended up killing my mom or the other people. They should pay.”
“I would love to see that happen,” said Calvin Sapp, 68, a semi-retired construction worker and older brother of victim Geraldine Barfield. “It seems like very seldom that people of color get the type of justice that they give everybody else.”
The victims’ relatives are not alone in wanting an investigation.
Broward’s elected public defender, Howard Finkelstein, said, “The fact that these officers were allowed to lie and cheat to frame an innocent man, and then were allowed to go on with their lives as though they did nothing wrong and nothing happened is not only illegal, it’s a sin.”
Finkelstein said Townsend’s case is “the best example” of a local criminal justice system where authorities have for decades often ignored the crimes of police officers that plant evidence or commit perjury to make cases against suspects.
“That they turned a blind eye to such a heinous crime is the exact reason that most minorities in Broward feel they don’t get a fair shake – and they’re right,” said Finkelstein said.
Satz, who rarely talks to reporters, referred a request for comment to a subordinate who said prosecutors reviewed the Townsend case before the DNA tests were done and found insufficient evidence of perjury.
“In regards to the officers involved in that case, we know what it takes to charge someone with perjury,” said Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann. “People on the outside don’t know about the elements of the crime. They just think that if it smells bad and looks bad it’s a crime. In a perfect world, that would work. But we have to follow the law and can’t just harass people.”
Broward prosecutors, however, have made little effort to actually make such a case. Asked if her office ever confronted Fantigrassi or Schlein about their graphic testimony at Townsend’s trial, McCann said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
A study released in May by the National Registry of Exonerations showed that Broward accounted for nine of Florida’s 32 exonerations since 1989 – more than twice as many as any other county in the state. Most of those exonerated defendants were black.
Townsend, who lived in Hallandale Beach at the time of his arrest, is one of two Broward men cleared of murders now attributed to Mosley. Frank Lee Smith spent 14 years on Death Row for raping and killing 8-year-old Shandra Whitehead in her bed in 1985. He died of cancer on Jan.30, 2000, less than a year before DNA tests identified Mosley as the girl’s killer.
Three weeks before Townsend’s 1979 arrest, Fort Lauderdale police Det. Doug Evans identified Mosley – known around his northwest area neighborhood as “The Rape Man” – as the prime suspect in the rape-murders in his jurisdiction. Evans based his case on witness testimony and physical evidence, but the BSO detectives blew him off.
Evans later helped catch Mosley and free Townsend. Before his death in January 2011, Evans told the Broward Bulldog that he was disappointed authorities had never investigated police misconduct that had caused Townsend’s wrongful arrest and conviction.
Evans’ friend and colleague, ex-Fort Lauderdale Det. Roy Brown, said, “Doug always pushed for an investigation, always wanted one, but it’s been a hard rock. They let it sleep, they let it lay and they moved on and there’s no justice and nobody is held accountable for it. You’ve got to want to pursue them.
“The public should have a right to know this stuff: A serial killer running around killing people and nobody cared,” said Brown.
Clarice Tukes, whose daughter Arnette was murdered not long after Townsend’s arrest, was Doug Evans’ cousin.
“They knew who it was that did it. They knew Townsend didn’t do it, Mosley did. Doug told the whole family he did it. He said he didn’t know why they won’t take his word. That hurts,” said Tukes.
Her grandson, Dominick Richardson, was 3 years old when his mother died. He’s grown now, with three children of his own. His daughter Arnette is named in his mother’s honor, Tukes said.
Posted on May 2nd, 2013 No comments
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — It will be illegal to possess without permission other people’s personal information like social security numbers and credit cards if Gov. Rick Scott signs a bill that passed the Legislature.
The House unanimously passed the bill (HB 691) on Thursday. The Senate unanimously passed it two weeks ago.
The measure would make it a first-degree misdemeanor to possess other people’s Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, medical records, passports, bank account numbers, credit cards and Medicaid or food assistance account numbers unless they have authorization. Violators could face a year in jail.
It would be a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison to possess personal information from more than five people.
Posted on October 10th, 2012 No comments
State officials are drawing up plans for a redesigned plate intended to make it easier to catch scofflaws who go through toll booths as well as people who run red lights. The new plate would be rolled out to motorists in 2014 and 2015.
Julie Jones, executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said it is difficult right now for cameras to read the old license plates that feature raised lettering. Jones said so far this year that there have been 2.8 million unreadable tags.
The effort to switch to a new flat plate so far appears to have the backing of Gov. Rick Scott.
“It’s not fair if you pay for a toll and somebody else doesn’t,” Scott said Tuesday.
Florida has roughly 18 million registered vehicles and most of them feature the basic Florida tag that says either Sunshine State or In God We Trust at the bottom. Some of the tags also feature the county that the motorist resides in.
On the drawing board right now there are four different plates with a much simpler design containing black letters. Each of the four designs includes either an orange or orange slice on it, but at the top of the plate instead of in the middle of the tag. The county designation would no longer be included on the plate.
The state plans to put the four designs on the Internet and let members of the public vote on which one they prefer.
Jones said the $31 million it will cost to manufacture the new plates will not be passed on to motorists. She said that the state will recover the cost of the new plates from people who have not updated their tags as required under law.
Tags currently cost $28, but motorists pay the cost of the plate over a 10-year period.
Jones pointed out that Florida’s specialty tags — which include popular plates for the University of Florida and Florida State University — will not be replaced with the new flat tags until the existing plates are sold.
The final decision on the new license plates still has a few more hurdles. Scott, members of the Florida Cabinet — which oversees the motor vehicles agency — and the Florida Legislature will have to give final approval to the switch to the new plates.
Posted on October 10th, 2012 No comments
TALLAHASSEE, FL – The Department of Business and Professional Regulation recently issued a consumer advisory after learning an entity posing as the Department is allegedly targeting license holders in a potential identity theft scam. An unsolicited email which appears to be from the Department warns of pending disciplinary action against licenses. The email directs the recipient to call a Department investigator at a toll-free number and provide personal identification information.
The Department has confirmed that the email communication is in no way connected with the Department or its regulatory authority.
If a license holder receives an email from an entity claiming to be the Department and warning of disciplinary action, he or she should not respond to the email or call the listed number. Instead, the licensee should contact the Department directly at 850-487-1395. Licensees may also log into their online accounts to view any public disciplinary actions.
The Department warned licensees against providing personal identification information to unknown individuals or companies who have made unsolicited contact with them. The theft of personal identification information is a crime and should be reported immediately to local law enforcement.
The Department will investigate the matter fully and will work with law enforcement to determine whether any criminal action has occurred.
Posted on June 10th, 2009 No comments
Florida company honored by Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.
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CSR Inc. Receives Honor