[Hpn] Retarded Man Is Freed From Prison After DNA Casts Doubt

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Fri, 15 Jun 2001 19:36:26 -0400


 June 15, 2001

 By: BRENDAN FARRINGTON, Associated Press Writer


MIAMI_April 2001, DNA evidence cleared Townsend of the crimes.


             A retarded man who spent 22 years behind bars for six murders
 was ordered freed Friday after DNA evidence indicated the eager-to-please
 defendant confessed to crimes he didn't commit.

             "It is abundantly clear that he is the victim of an enormous
 tragedy," Judge Scott Silverman said.

             Jerry Frank Townsend, 49, was convicted of two murders and
 pleaded guilty to four others and a rape, confessing to all of the crimes.
 He was serving seven life sentences.

             But DNA evidence later cleared him in two of those murders.
 That, in turn, cast doubt on his confessions in the other cases, and
 prosecutors asked that those convictions or guilty pleas be thrown out,
too.

             Townsend's IQ is between 50 and 60 and he has the mental
 capacity of an 8-year-old, authorities said.

             Police and Townsend's lawyers have said he admitted to crimes
he
 did not commit to please detectives.

             "He liked the cops, he wanted to be with the cops. They were
his
 buddies and frankly that's a great tool if you get suspects to like you _
 that's a good thing," Miami Assistant Police Chief James Chambliss said.
"He
 was trying to be helpful to them. That's where the problem came up."

             Miami-Dade County prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle said it
 would be too hard to retry him on some of the murder and rape charges
 because prosecutors have no physical evidence and cannot find witnesses.

             In releasing Townsend, the judge cited the "deficiency in the
 state's evidence, a lack of trust in its evidence including the obtained
 confession, and in some cases what may very well be Mr. Townsend's outright
 innocence."

             Townsend was arrested and charged with raping a pregnant woman
 in daylight on a downtown Miami street. The victim and witnesses pointed
him
 out to police a few blocks away. During the investigation, Townsend
 confessed to several other slayings and was taken to murder scenes in
 Broward County.

             During taped confessions, police helped Townsend remember
 details and corrected him when his story was inconsistent.

             The assistant police chief stood behind the two detectives who
 worked the case, saying they did not intentionally take advantage of
 Townsend's mental disability to get him to confess to crimes he didn't
 commit.

             "Both of them have good reputations and are well thought of as
 good investigators," Chambliss said. "I think they thought they had the
 right guy."

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