STATEMENT FROM PAST BOARD CHAIR BRIAN TANNEBAUM AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR SETH MILLER ON THE PASSING OF TALBOT “SANDY” D’ALEMBERTE
It is with profound sadness that the Board of Directors and Staff of the Innocence Project of Florida mourn the loss of our colleague and friend Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte.
While Sandy’s imprint on the legal and educational communities both here and abroad was immeasurable, for the Innocence Project of Florida, his impact was more acute. We would not have existed and grown into a thriving justice-minded organization without Sandy’s effort and support at every stage of our organizational life. Sandy helped found the Innocence Project of Florida in 2003 because he and others had a vision of a statewide effort to right wrongful convictions and reform the justice system to prevent these miscarriages of justice in the future.
During Sandy’s time as the founding Chairperson of our Board of Directors, innocent prisoners were confronted with a crisis due to an impending expiration of a statutory deadline for requesting DNA testing to prove innocence. As was typical of Sandy, he was not satisfied with merely trying to help those prisoners meet the deadline. He instead formed a group of talented lawyers to file suit in the Supreme Court of Florida on behalf of those prisoners to remove the deadline altogether. These efforts led to the Court providing a reprieve to these prisoners and the eventual amending of the DNA testing statute to remove the deadline and recognize that an individual’s innocence is not something to be subject to an arbitrary deadline.
Sandy also was a champion for individual cases. After their exonerations, Sandy took on the pro bono representation of both Wilton Dedge and William Dillon - two men who were separately wrongfully convicted in Brevard County, Florida in the 1980s but later exonerated through DNA testing, in their efforts before the Florida Legislature - to receive compensation. Although politicians were not initially responsive to the need to compensate these men for the decades stolen from them, Sandy did not take no for an answer. He came back year-after-year until the Legislature finally took the right and just step of providing Dedge and Dillon recompense for their years of wrongful incarceration.
Sandy’s imprint on the efforts to prevent wrongful convictions also spread to the policy-making arena. He had the idea that Florida needed an Innocence Commission to study the causes of wrongful convictions and create common-sense, consensus policy reforms to address those causes. But Sandy did not want to waste time trying to negotiate among the branches of government to accomplish this task. Instead, he assembled a long list of esteemed lawyers and former judges in Florida to petition the Supreme Court of Florida for the creation of such a commission. The Court publicly invited the Legislature to provide funding for such an endeavor and the Florida Innocence Commission operated under the auspices of the Chief Justice from 2011-2013. Sandy’s commitment to advocating for the innocent wasn’t limited to his service to the Innocence Project of Florida, the passage of Florida’s Eyewitness Identification Reform Act, enactment of an eyewitness evidence standard jury instruction, and the strengthening of the pre-trial discovery rule related to jailhouse informants were all a direct result of Sandy’s effort to create the Commission.
These are only some of the big moments. But the little things were just as important to Sandy. Whether it was sending our staff lawyer personal notes of congratulations or encouragement upon learning of an exoneration or a tough loss, making an introduction of our legal staff to an elected prosecutor, or working hard to make sure the Innocence Project of Florida maintained the resources to do its vital work, Sandy was a consistent beacon of support for this Project. His commitment to our work and prominence in the organization gave the Innocence Project of Florida legitimacy and has provided a strong foundation upon which to stand while we fight for justice for our clients.
It is for these reasons that in 2012, we commissioned our highest award: The Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte Commitment to Justice Award, given to an entity or individual who embodies Sandy’s extraordinary dedication to righting injustice wherever it exists. We will give the award again in September 2019, for the first time in his memory.
Our sense of loss pales in comparison to that felt by Sandy’s wife Patsy Palmer, his children, grandchildren, siblings, and other family members. Sandy’s long-time assistant, Lynn Peacock is also in our thoughts. We send our most heartfelt condolences to all who were impacted by Sandy’s life and we know his memory will drive us as we do the diligent, difficult work to create a more just society.
June 1, 1933 - May 20, 2019
Seth Miller, IPF Executive Director, with Sandy D'Alemberte, February 2019.