Incident Date: December 20, 1987
Jurisdiction: Thirteenth Judicial Circuit
Year of Conviction: 1988
Exoneration Date: January 30, 2019
Sentence Served: 30 Years
Real perpetrator found? Yes
Contributing Causes: False Confession
Compensation? Not Yet
With IPF’s help, Dean McKee walked out of prison on January 9th, 2018 after serving 30 years for a murder he did not commit.
In the late 80’s, Dean looked up to his older brother and followed him into neo-Nazism. Dean, only 16 years old at the time, had a burning swastika tattoo on his chest. Scott was two years older than Dean. Whatever Scott did, Dean followed suit.
In 1987, both McKee brothers were arrested for the murder of a black man at the Tampa Museum of Art. A security guard at the museum discovered homeless Vietnam veteran, Isiah Walker, dying on the outside steps after being beaten and stabbed. It wasn’t until several months later that the police had a lead on the McKee brothers. Their mother tipped the police off that her sons may be involved after Dean made a drunken phone call to her husband.
The story was that the brothers and friends had been out drinking late one night in Ybor City. Scott was drunk driving on the way home when his friends made him pull over. They ended up pulling off near the museum, which is how they drunkenly stumbled into Isiah Walker. The brothers ended up in a drunken fight with Walker, ultimately causing his death. Scott framed Dean for the murder to reduce his sentence. He claimed that although both brothers were involved in beating Walker, Dean was the one who ended up stabbing and killing him. Dean was sentenced to life for murder while Scott only ended up serving one year, after being sentenced to just five.
Scott’s testimony was not substantiated in trial; the two other friends that were with the McKee brothers that night recanted their testimony, claiming that they had been coerced into backing up Scott’s story. Despite this, Dean was still convicted of the murder, solely based on Scott’s testimony.
Dean became a changed man while spending 30 years in prison. He let go of his fears about others and disavowed white supremacy. Dean did not finish high school because he was incarcerated at 16. During his time in prison he earned his GED and took part in many educational programs to prepare him for his hopeful release.
Dean maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison. He claimed that they had the wrong McKee brother all along. In 2007, Dean petitioned for the court to DNA test the biological evidence underneath the victim’s fingernails and the Innocence Project of Florida entered the case in January 2011 and successfully obtained DNA testing of this key evidence. The results of DNA testing proved that Dean did not struggle with or stab the victim. IPF represented Dean at a two-day evidentiary hearing, in which it presented the exculpatory DNA evidence and new witness testimonies demonstrating that Scott framed his brother for the murder. Two of the new witnesses that came forward both had previously dated Scott.
The Innocence Project of Florida was able to successfully overturn Dean’s murder conviction on October 20th, 2017. The State tried to preserve the wrongful conviction through an appeal, but IPF was able to secure his release and he was reunited with his family on January 9th, 2018. In December 2018, the State Attorney finally dismissed the appeal and later, in January 2019, the State finally dismissed the charges against him. Dean was officially exonerated on January 30, 2019.
Dean now lives with his wife Danie in Largo, Florida, where he works as a municipal contractor and hopes to open his own tattoo shop.