DNA clears man who died on death row


Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nearly 11 months after death row inmate Frank Lee Smith died of cancer, DNA has cleared him in the 1985 rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl.

The FBI has not written its final report, but Assistant State Attorney Carolyn McCann said she called the bureau to ask about the results earlier this week and “they told me, ‘He has been excluded, he didn’t do it.’ “

McCann, who was not the prosecutor at the trial but represented the state during the appeals, said she was “very upset.”

“Nobody wants to feel like the wrong person was in jail,” she said today. “It’s a bad feeling.”

The family of Shandra Whitehead, who was raped, beaten and choked in her bedroom in Fort Lauderdale in 1985, has been told, McCann said. And the investigation has been reopened.

“We have suspects that the defense has been presenting all along,” she said.

Geoffrey Smith, a lawyer for Smith, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Smith died on death row at age 52. He had spent 14 years on death row.

At the trial, three witnesses testified against him, including the little girl’s mother, who said she saw Smith at the living room window, and a woman who said she saw him in front of the victim’s house just before the murder. But that woman later said the man she saw was someone else.

Smith claimed insanity, but the defense failed and the jury recommended the death penalty.

Before his death, lawyers on both sides of the case were fighting over DNA. McCann said Smith’s lawyers wanted to have his DNA tested but wanted to keep the results to themselves. She said she refused to agree to that.

“My whole point of doing DNA testing was that I thought he was guilty,” McCann said.

Months after Smith’s death, an agreement was worked out, and a vial of Smith’s blood was compared with semen taken from the little girl.

Smith had two other killings on his record. He spent 11 months in a juvenile facility after fatally stabbing a 14-year-old boy at age 13. Five years later, he and another teen-ager shot a man to death during a robbery. Smith pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, but at the time that meant a maximum of 15 years. He was paroled in 1981.

At least nine former death row inmates across the country have been exonerated because of DNA testing, according to the Innocence Project, a New York-based group that has provided legal assistance to prisoners.

Earlier this year, Illinois Gov. George Ryan imposed a moratorium on the death penalty because 13 death row inmates have had their convictions overturned since 1977.

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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