In This Issue

Inside Innocence

Fall 2018 • An Innocence Project of Florida Newsletter

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Dean McKee is Free!

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, was significantly influenced by his eighteen-year-old brother Scott. Whatever Scott did, Dean followed suit. 

In 1987, both McKee brothers were returning to Pinellas County with friends from a night of drinking at a club. They stopped at the Tampa Museum. An altercation with a homeless man ensued that resulted in his death from a stab wound. Several months later the brothers were arrested. Dean tried to stop his brother from killing the homeless man. Scott framed Dean for the murder because he wanted to avoid the death penalty and believed that Dean would be treated leniently as a juvenile. Scott claimed that both brothers were involved with beating the victim, and that Dean actually stabbed and killed him. Dean was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Scott only ended up serving one year. 

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 on the victim. The Innocence Project of Florida entered the case and achieved DNA results demonstrating that Dean was not the perpetrator of the stabbing. The DNA did not match Dean’s. Additionally, new witness testimonies all pointed to Scott framing his brother for the murder. 

The Innocence Project of Florida successfully overturned Dean’s murder conviction on October 19th, 2017. Although the State is still trying to preserve the wrongful conviction, IPF was able to secure his release and he was reunited with his family on January 9th, 2018. 

Dean now lives with his fiance in Largo, Florida. IPF continues to fight for his full vindication. 

 

Litigation Update from the Executive Director

In 2018, IPF welcomed home three clients—Dean McKee, Jules Letemps (as local counsel for our friends at Centurion Ministries), and Dwight Dubose—who spent a combined 76 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. They are highlighted prominently in this newsletter and have understandably been the focus of much of IPF’s communications so far this year. But successes like these are the fruit of years of labor identifying and litigating cases of actual innocence. 

Each year IPF receives more than 1,000 new requests for assistance and our legal team winnows that down to accept just 10-12 new cases each year for representation. Those cases often take years to litigate to completion. While IPF has dozens of cases in some stage of litigation, our legal team has most recently been focused on litigating multi-day post-conviction evidentiary hearings to prove that a number of our clients were wrongfully convicted and deserve to have their convictions overturned. 

 

One such case is that of Stephanie Spurgeon. She was convicted in 2011 in relation to the death of a 12-month-old child in her care. Although the child did not have a single visible injury, doctors and authorities insisted that Stephanie abused the child by throwing her against a mattress. We just completed a five-day hearing where we were able to show that it was not physically possible for the child to have sustained a brain injury from being thrown against a mattress and that it was likely that the child actually was suffering from a serious diabetic situation that was the cause of her death. Your generous support allowed us to hire some of the most prominent experts—medical doctors and a biomechanical engineer—to provide Stephanie with the representation she deserved. We partnered with our friends at the Exoneration Project and Wisconsin Innocence Project on this case. We await a ruling from the court in this case on whether they will overturn Stephanie’s conviction. 

 

In March 2018, we litigated the evidentiary hearing for client Jimmy Ates. At the hearing, we were able to present a police wire recording of a confidential informant and known murderer, where they discussed that murderer committing the murder for which Jimmy had been convicted. The State had this recording before Jimmy’s trial and didn’t turn it over. We presented the confidential informant who told the court that the murderer actually confessed to her that he committed the crime. 

We will continue to fight for them and all of our other clients, and hope to give you news of their exoneration and release in the next issue of Inside Innocence. 

Until then, we thank you for all of your investment in our clients and our work. You are our committed partners in justice and we could not achieve any of the success without you. 

Onward, 

Seth Miller 

Executive Director 

 

Dwight Dubose is Free!

IPF successfully vacated Dwight Dubose’s 2001 Tampa murder conviction on April 24th, 2017 based on exculpatory DNA evidence. Dwight was convicted of murder in Hillsborough County and sentenced to life without parole in 2001. He served 17 years in prison.

 

The State attempted to preserve Dwight’s wrongful conviction by appealing, but their appeal was summarily rejected by the court. The State refused to drop the case and sought to retry Dwight. IPF, with the help of local counsel George Tragos, was able to resolve the case paving the way for Dwight’s immediate release.

 

On April 24th, 2018, Dwight’s son, grandchildren, and IPF staff greeted him as he walked out a free man. He is now living with family in Tampa, Florida. 

 

Interns Play A Critical Role

Each semester, IPF welcomes students from around the world to participate in our Intern/Extern Program. The program is an opportunity for students to earn class credits while gaining real-world experience working in a law office.

 

IPF interns play a critical role in our daily operations. They provide vital assistance with legal case review and communications. If you know anyone interested in becoming a legal intern, contact us here

Fall 2018

Left to right: Cam Abderhalden (FSU), Kennaisiya Miller (FSU), Julisa Renaud (FSU College of Law), Melvyn Mahon (Roger Williams College of Law), Emina Sehovic (FSU College of Law), Bennett Davenport (FSU Alumni), and

John Ward (Irish Barrister). 

Summer 2018

Front row (left to right): Sarah Burgess (FSU), Yolen Bollo-Kamara (UF College of Law), Tierra Lopez (FSU); back row: Patrick Fapore (Pittsburgh School of Law), Alex Ciupalo (FSU College of Law), and Erik Pozek (FSU College of Law). Not pictured: Katya Yakovleva (Tulane University Law School). 

A Toast To Innocence

IPF Chair-Elect Brian Tannebaum and his wife Lisa Tannebaum again hosted the second A Toast to Innocence at their Palmetto Bay home on April 14, 2018. 

Around 120 friends and supporters attended this wine-themed event where they were able to taste and purchase dozens of wines generously donated by distributors. Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe contributed all of the proceeds from the wine sales to IPF. Attendees also took part in a wonderful wine and art auction. Exoneree Derrick Williams addressed the crowd on what was his seventh wedding anniversary. 

The event was a huge success, raising more than $30,000 to support IPF’s efforts to free the wrongfully convicted. Thank you to all the sponsors, and to Brian and Lisa for your wonderful work and years of support for IPF! 

 

Jules Letemps' Story

Jules Letemps' Story

In November of 1989, Jules Letemps was convicted of a sexual assault that occurred in Orlando, Florida. He was sentenced to four consecutive life sentences. 

In May of 1989, a woman was waiting at a bus stop when she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted. The woman escaped and ran down the street naked looking for help. A homeowner gave her his robe and called the police. Although a rape kit was not performed, the robe was collected into evidence. 

After revisiting the area where the assault took place, she identified Jules Letemps as her attacker. Letemps was a Haitian immigrant and spoke little English. He claimed he was on his way to work and knew nothing about said assault. Letemps was arrested and convicted at trial. 

The forensic analyst testified that the semen stain found on the robe was too diluted to determine the blood type of the perpetrator who left semen. Despite his alibi and no forensic evidence connecting him to the crime, Jules was convicted based solely on the victim’s eyewitness identification. 

During his time in prison, Letemps filed many unsuccessful post-conviction petitions. In 2007, he reached out to the Innocence Project of Florida, but because all physical evidence had been destroyed, no action could be taken. In 2010, Centurion Ministries began to look at his case. 

They found that the forensic analyst had applied an incorrect standard and the semen stain could not belong to Letemps. Centurion called on Seth Miller, Executive Director of the Innocence Project of Florida, as additional counsel. After unsuccessful litigation in Florida courts, the team filed for habeas corpus relief in the federal court. 

The court granted a retrial, but on October 14th, 2016 (two days before the retrial) the prosecution dismissed Letemps’ charges. Instead of being released to freedom, Jules was taken into immigration detention. In January 2017, Jules won his immigration case and was finally reunited with his large family in Miami after almost 29 years of wrongful incarceration. 

Jules Letemps (middle) with Kate Germond (left) and Paul Casteleiro (right) from Centurion Ministries. 

 

7th Annual Steppin' Out Gala: Friend and Fund-raiser

The Innocence Project of Florida held the 7th Annual Steppin’ Out Gala on May 17th at Mission San Luis in Tallahassee. 

The evening began with a reception with the exonerees, sponsors, special guests, and honorees, followed by a silent auction and dinner. Many exonerees, including Orlando Boquete, Anthony Caravella, James Bain, Clay Chabot, and Herman Lindsay, were in attendance. Of our newly freed clients, Dwight Dubose was in attendance. Dean McKee gave a very inspiring message via video. 

The evening also included the presentation of the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award to Gilbert King, Pulitzer Prize winning author and keynote speaker for the evening. 

Gilbert King spoke about his newest book Beneath a Ruthless Sun: A True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found. King’s book features the wrongful conviction of a mentally disabled boy in central Florida in the 50’s, highlighting the racism and bigotry deeply embedded in the state during the time. He closed the evening with a book signing. 

More than 220 people celebrated with us and the proceeds from the event will be used in our litigation efforts on behalf of those who are wrongly convicted in Florida. 

Many thanks to all our sponsors and guests. We greatly appreciate your generous support of our organization. It was an honor to have our exonerees and supporters all in one place, and a privilege to hear from our keynote speaker, Gilbert King. 

Exoneree James Bain catching up with Director of Social Services Anthony Scott at the VIP reception. 

Congratulations to Gilbert King, the Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award recipient. 

Left: A few of IPF’s exonerees with staff members. 

 

Richard Lubin with James Bain. 

Stand Up For Innocence

This year, IPF held three benefit stand-up comedy nights. These events took place in Naples, Palm Beach, and Ft. Lauderdale on February 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 2018. The comedians featured were Ian Bagg, Tony V, and Karen Rontowski. 

Ian Bagg is a Canadian native with a vast amount of comedy experience, from features on Comedy Central and Showtime to placing Top 5 on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing.” He recently began a tour around the country with the other Top Five “Last Comic Standing” finalists. 

Tony V began his comedy career after attending shows at Boston’s Comedy Connection as a stress reliever from his day job. He ended up appearing in highly acclaimed comedy shows, from Conan O’Brien to Seinfeld. 

Karen Rontowski presents a very quick-witted and optimistic comedy displayed all around the world in different TV shows and events. Her comedy is most recently featured in a new line of greeting cards, “Frank and Funny.” 

Thanks to all of our sponsors and supporters for making these events possible and raising support for the cause of innocence. Be on the look out for the stand-up events near you next year! 

(Left to Right) Tama Kudman, IPF’s Executive Director Seth Miller, Exoneree James Bain, and Nellie King. 

 

New Members of the IPF Staff

IPF welcomes two new members to the staff. 

Intake Assistant Della Campbell graduated from Florida State University in May of 2017 with a BA in Editing, Writing & Media. Prior to her graduation, she worked as the intake intern at IPF. 

Development Assistant Kelleigh Helm graduated from Florida State College of Law in 2014. She was a legal intern during law school with IPF and returned six years later to work in development. Previously, Kelleigh was Research Faculty at the University of Colorado at Boulder Law School and a researcher at FSU College of Law. She received her BS in Environmental Science from the University of South Florida. 

Above: Della Campbell, B.A., Intake Assistant

Left: Kelleigh Helm, J.D., Development Assistant

 

New Trial For Jimmy Ates

The IPF is thrilled to announce that the circuit court in Okaloosa County Florida vacated the conviction of our client Jimmy Ates and granted him a new trial on August 14, 2018. Jimmy was originally convicted in 1998 of murdering his wife although there was evidence that Jimmy was at work during the time of the murder and of others who potentially committed the murder and robbery. 

IPF won a reversal of Jimmy’s conviction in December 2008 because critical evidence was withheld and some forensic conclusions put forward by the State were scientifically invalid. He was released pending a retrial. 

The State retried Jimmy in 2011 and he was convicted again. In 2009, law enforcement had a confidential informant record a conversation with an alternative perpetrator of the murder in Jimmy’s case. In that recorded conversation they discussed the alternative perpetrator committing the murder. The State also withheld the fact that the confidential informant informed law enforcement that the alternative suspect confessed. This alternative perpetrator has committed multiple murders in Florida and Alabama. This information was not disclosed until more than three years after Jimmy was convicted a second time. The recording discussed a robbery gone bad and murder of Mrs. Ates with no mention of Jimmy having been involved. This information was withheld from Jimmy’s trial counsel, who could have presented the confidential informant to testify that a multi-time murderer actually confessed to committing this murder. 

The judge in Okaloosa County found that non-disclosure of the recording cut off the defense’s ability to locate, interview and present the confidential informant, who had material exculpatory evidence. This will be Jimmy’s third trial due to the prosecution consistently withholding evidence that favors our client. The State intends to appeal. In the meantime, we will seek an appeal bond and defend the judge’s order on appeal. 

Jimmy Ates has spent a total of 17.5 years in prison over the 27 years since his wife’s murder. He waits in Okaloosa County Jail for the new trial set for later this year. 

 

Fraud Alert: We have heard that there are people who fraudulently represent themselves as working for the Innocence Project of Florida, promising legal representation in exchange for money. These people do not work for the Innocence Project of Florida. If you believe you have been contacted by such a person, please contact us. The Innocence Project of Florida provides all legal representation for free. While we rely on charitable donations to support our work, we never solicit money for our services from our clients.

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