The Infamous Holland Correction

Okay, I say a couple nice things about departed Sun-Sentinel reporter John Holland and the knives start flying. The Holland haters bring up an eight-year-old correction which one commenter calls "the longest and most embarrassing front-page retraction in the Sun-Sentinel's history."

I remember that correction and I remember all the whispering about it and I remember all the hand-wringing and consternation. But mostly I remember thinking: The Sun-Sentinel is a gutless wonder. Here is the correction, which was published March 10, 2001:

CORRECTION: A story on Page 1A last Saturday, about a request from defense attorney Barry Scheck and lawyers from the state agency for Death Row appeals, to investigate the Broward State Attorney's prosecutions of all murder cases in the last 20 years, contained a number of errors and omissions:

The story failed to mention that State Attorney Michael Satz asked Gov. Jeb Bush to assign a special prosecutor from another judicial circuit to investigate possible perjury by Broward Sheriff's Office Capt. Richard Scheff in the Frank Lee Smith murder case.

Lawyers for Smith did not ask for DNA testing until 1998, not 10 years earlier as was reported in the story.

In the case of Peter Russonicolos, Stephen Rosati and Peter Dallas, the Broward State Attorney's Office called in a special prosecutor to resolve differences between investigations by the Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The special prosecutor ended up dismissing murder charges against the three men. A special prosecutor, not Satz, filed perjury charges against Dallas, who recanted an earlier confession.

Generally, the State Attorney's Office files perjury charges in cases where people lie in official court proceedings, not when witnesses contradict law enforcement accounts as the story reported.

Murder warrants were issued against Antwoin Ricks and Lamonda Giles. Giles was arrested on the charge, but Ricks, already jailed on a robbery charge, was not. Prosecutors dismissed the charges about a week later at the request of detectives. Giles was released from jail after six days. Last Saturday's story said both men were charged with murder and spent less than a month in jail. Giles did not confess, contrary to the story.

John Woody Wood spent four days in jail after being charged with a murder he did not commit. Last Saturday's story implied he spent weeks in jail.

Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against George Stett Blancett before the case went to trial. Last Saturday's story said that the case collapsed at trial and implied that Blancett was jailed for four years when in fact he spent about 10 weeks in jail.

Robert Hayes spent seven years in jail and on Death Row before a jury acquitted him of a rape and murder in a second trial. An appellate court ruled that a lab had used an unacceptable DNA technique. Last Saturday's story stated that the DNA evidence was tainted.
 
We regret the errors and omissions.

 Let's break it down.  

The story failed to mention that State Attorney Michael Satz asked Gov. Jeb Bush to assign a special prosecutor from another judicial circuit to investigate possible perjury by Broward Sheriff's Office Capt. Richard Scheff in the Frank Lee Smith murder case.

So what? When a prosecutor, like Satz, is presented with evidence of perjury they have to demand an investigation. The first paragraph is useless and never should have been included in a correction. And for Satz to get on his high horse about the Frank Lee Smith case, well, that's just pukeworthy. The office convicted an innocent man -- an innocent poverty-stricken black man -- for raping and killing a little girl. Smith wound up dying on Death Row. Even as witnesses recanted, Satz and his prosecutors refused to reopen the case and refused to conduct DNA tests until after his death, which brings us to the second part:

Lawyers for Smith did not ask for DNA testing until 1998, not 10 years earlier as was reported in the story.

Those tests proved his innocence. Honestly, I don't care if they denied him his chance for innocence one year before his death or ten years before his death. But correcting the number is fine. Next:

In the case of Peter Russonicolos, Stephen Rosati and Peter Dallas, the Broward State Attorney's Office called in a special prosecutor to resolve differences between investigations by the Sheriff's Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. The special prosecutor ended up dismissing murder charges against the three men. A special prosecutor, not Satz, filed perjury charges against Dallas, who recanted an earlier confession.

Yes ... and? This is blah-blah nothingness about another rotten BSO case that was coddled by Satz and his boys. Again, Satz had little choice but to go outside his office for justice, which is a shame. This isn't a correction and wasn't worth mentioning. Next:

Generally, the State Attorney's Office files perjury charges in cases where people lie in official court proceedings, not when witnesses contradict law enforcement accounts as the story reported.

This is completely superflous. Holland's original story appears in its entirety after the jump. I'd love for someone to tell me why this was involved in a correction other than to clear up some snag in Ron Ishoy's brain. Next:

Murder warrants were issued against Antwoin Ricks and Lamonda Giles. Giles was arrested on the charge, but Ricks, already jailed on a robbery charge, was not. Prosecutors dismissed the charges about a week later at the request of detectives. Giles was released from jail after six days. Last Saturday's story said both men were charged with murder and spent less than a month in jail. Giles did not confess, contrary to the story.

Here the correction is almost twice as long as the blurb in the story on which its based. Here's the part from the story: "Antwoin Duwayne Ricks and Lamonda Dinezio Giles, both 20, who were wrongly charged with murder in 1997. Detective Bole said Giles confessed, but all the physical evidence cleared the men, and they were released after less than a month in jail." This is tit-for-tat. Okay, Ricks wasn't wrongfully charged for murder, he was just wrongfully warranted. Did Bole say Giles confess or didn't he? Doesn't even address that. Sloppy? Yes. But nothing egregious. Next:

John Woody Wood spent four days in jail after being charged with a murder he did not commit. Last Saturday's story implied he spent weeks in jail.

Worth correcting, but hardly a substantial error. The guy was wrongfully charged with murder and put in a jail cell. Next:

Prosecutors dropped a murder charge against George Stett Blancett before the case went to trial. Last Saturday's story said that the case collapsed at trial and implied that Blancett was jailed for four years when in fact he spent about 10 weeks in jail.

Again, worth correcting, but hardly earth-shattering. A guy spent two and half months in jail and four years under suspicion for a murder he didn't commit. Our bad, SAO. Next:

Robert Hayes spent seven years in jail and on Death Row before a jury acquitted him of a rape and murder in a second trial. An appellate court ruled that a lab had used an unacceptable DNA technique. Last Saturday's story stated that the DNA evidence was tainted.

This one, again, is very ticky-tack. Tainted DNA evidence vs. DNA evidence wrongfully tested. I don't think it deserves a correction at all.

Now, was the story a great piece of fastidious reporting? No. It suffered from sloppiness and inexactness. And when any reporter makes a mistake that mistake should be corrected. But is it some kind of indictable journalistic offense? Hell no. The story was generally correct: BSO and Satz's office had a run of horrible murder cases that wrecked a lot of people's lives. The Sentinel editors were hit with a few correction-worthy facts and then panicked and laid down prostrate before the mighty Mike Satz and the since-disgraced Ken Jenne, officials the same newspaper failed to properly watchdog in the first place. 

Every reporter in the Sentinel building has made worse errors in their career, so please, spare us your indignation. You jump all over a colleague for taking on an ambitious story and making honest mistakes, but keep silent while your newspaper slips into abject cowardice. And what are you doing? What great piece of journalism have you committed in the last year? Or the last ten years? Think about it.

Full story by Holland and Ardy Friedberg after the jump.

INQUIRY OF SATZ, DETECTIVES SOUGHT;
CONVICTIONS OVERTURNED IN MURDER PROSECUTIONS

BYLINE: JOHN HOLLAND and ARDY FRIEDBERG ; Staff Writers

SECTION: LOCAL, Pg. 1A

LENGTH: 1256 words

As more reports surface about people being jailed in Broward County for murders they didn't commit, a prominent defense lawyer and the state agency that represents Death Row inmates are calling for an investigation of the Broward Sheriff's Office and the state attorney.

A continuing review by the Sun-Sentinel of murder prosecutions in Broward since 1985 has found at least nine people charged with murder who were freed because of tainted evidence and confessions obtained by the homicide detectives unit.

The state already is investigating a former head of that squad, Capt. Richard Scheff, on accusations that he perjured himself during a trial that put an innocent man on Death Row. Sheriff Ken Jenne has temporarily relieved Scheff of his duties as head of the sheriff's internal investigations unit and moved him to an administrative job.

Defense attorney Barry Scheck said Friday that the focus shouldn't be only on the deputies but also on State Attorney Michael Satz for prosecuting so many questionable cases. Sheck called for an independent review by a special prosecutor of every murder prosecuted in Broward for the past two decades.



He said an outside investigation is needed because Satz and his prosecutors apparently "looked the other way," during what he calls misconduct by detectives and have a conflict of interest.

At least two murder cases that Satz personally handled have come under fire by lawyers for the state's office of Capital Collateral Representative, which represents death penalty appeals.

In one, Satz did not reveal the results of a polygraph test that could have helped defendant Sonia Linder Jacobs prove her innocence, a federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled while overturning her conviction.

Jacobs, her boyfriend, Jesse Tafero, and friend Walter Rhodes were convicted in the murders of Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Phillip A. Black and Canadian constable Donald Robert Irwin. Tafero was executed and Rhodes, the triggerman, cut a deal to testify against Jacobs. She was freed after serving 16 years in prison.

Satz declined to comment on any of the cases, but his spokesman blasted Scheck. "It is grossly unfair for Mr. Scheck to generate self-serving publicity on the back of the dedicated, ethical prosecutors who work in this office," said Satz's spokesman, Ron Ishoy. "If he has specific examples of perjury or specific improprieties in mind, he should come forward with those like any other citizen."

Scheck did come forward, and last month Gov. Jeb Bush appointed a special prosecutor to look at the case of Frank Lee Smith, who spent 14 years on Death Row after being convicted of murdering and raping a girl, 8, in 1985. In December, 11 months after he died of cancer in prison, tests results cleared him of raping and killing Shandra Whitehead.

Efforts to free Smith were stalled for 10 years because Satz's office blocked Smith's attempts to have his DNA tested by a laboratory. "What an extraordinary situation in Broward," Scheck said, commenting on more cases that surfaced this week. "Clearly, the state attorney hasn't done his job and he should just get out of the way and not interfere with what we are doing. I don't think he can be trusted to lead this investigation. It's nothing against him personally, but all of Broward needs to be looked at ... and Satz has a conflict of interest."

Scheck is the co-founder of the New York Innocence Project, a nonprofit group that has used genetic evidence to free dozens of people sentenced to death around the country.

Last month, Gov. Bush appointed Bruce H. Colton, the state attorney for Martin, St. Lucie, Okeechobee and Indian River counties, to investigate perjury allegations against Capt. Scheff stemming from the Smith case. Scheck and lawyers for CCR said a broader investigation is needed into what they call an astonishing number of wrongful murder convictions.

"There is a history of questionable prosecutions going back 20 years with Satz and his office, and we see a troubling pattern," said CCR attorney Todd Schear. "Certainly Michael Satz and his prosecutors weren't completely in the dark about what was going on at the sheriff's department."

Since the investigation into Scheff's testimony against Smith became public this week, a Sun-Sentinel review of cases handled by Scheff and several of his deputies found nine more men who were charged with murder, but later found to be wrongly arrested.

The cases have many similarities, including confessions that were called into question; accusations that photo lineups had been altered; witnesses who contradicted statements by deputies and a lack of physical evidence to support the deputies' statements or the convictions.

Often, when witnesses recant or contradict the deputies, they are charged with perjury. Peter Dallas spent almost two years in jail after pleading guilty to a second-degree murder he didn't commit. When the real killers were found, Dallas said he confessed because deputies beat and threatened him.

Satz charged Dallas with perjury but never investigated how detectives got a confession -- and his office got a conviction -- from an innocent man. Some arrests stemmed from the "cold case" squad, which worked to solve older, difficult cases that have little physical evidence. Many of them, often handled by Detectives Steve Wiley and Michael Bole, resulted in an arrest of the wrong person.
 
Others arrested by sheriff's detectives and later freed include:

David Diehlman, who was arrested in 1988 in the seven-year-old murder of Edward John Ciaravino. At trial, two witnesses denied statements they supposedly had made to Broward sheriff's detectives, and Diehlman was released after spending a year in jail.

George "Stet" Blancett, who was arrested in 1995 for the 1980 murder of George Briggs. Detective Wiley said he had an eyewitness and a confession from Blancett. But the witness told a different story at trial, and Blancett's alleged confession was thrown out of court. Blancett was freed in 1999.

Robert Hayes, who spent almost four years on Death Row before his conviction was overturned because of tainted DNA evidence. The victim was found clutching hair from a white man. Hayes is black. He was acquitted after a second trial.

Antwoin Duwayne Ricks and Lamonda Dinezio Giles, both 20, who were wrongly charged with murder in 1997. Detective Bole said Giles confessed, but all the physical evidence cleared the men, and they were released after less than a month in jail.

John "Woody" Wood, who detectives said provided information that only the killer would know. Detectives said he confessed and charged him in 1990, but the real killers surfaced weeks later and he was freed from jail.

Peter Roussonicolos and Stephen Rosati, Dallas' co-defendants, who were arrested by Wiley in 1990 and jailed for almost two years. Prosecutors refused to drop murder charges even after a statewide prosecutor arrested the real killers, who had the murder weapon and other evidence. Eventually a special prosecutor was appointed and he freed the men.

Jenne was in Washington, D.C., at a sheriffs' meeting Friday and couldn't be reached for comment. Jenne, who took office in 1998, said Thursday he hadn't begun any internal investigations on the allegations and said he will cooperate with the special prosecutor.


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