Judge Throws Out 1990 Conviction
By CATHERINE WILSON
Associated Press Writer
March 19, 2003, 12:40 PM EST
MIAMI -- A federal judge Wednesday threw out a murder conviction against a retarded man in the 1990 killing of a sheriff's deputy, ordering the state to either retry the inmate or set him free him within 90 days.
U.S. District Judge Donald Graham found fault with the way Broward County sheriff's detectives got Timothy Brown to waive his right to remain silent as they doggedly pursued suspects in the slaying of one of their own.
The ruling eliminated a confession the judge called "the only meaningful evidence" against Brown, who was 15 at the time of the killing, and had a mental age of 7 or 8.
Brown is serving a life sentence.
"I'm very ecstatic. I am happy. I am over-overjoyed," said Othalean Brown, who claimed her son was railroaded along with another youth, who also was retarded. "He should never have been in prison from day one. My son should have been home all this time with me enjoying life with the rest of us."
There was no immediate comment from Brown's attorneys, the state attorney general's office, Broward prosecutors or the sheriff's office. Prosecutors could appeal the ruling.
Graham had been considering the dispute since December after hearing weeks of evidence about the original investigation, and a second inquiry that began after a new suspect surfaced two years ago.
No physical evidence ever linked Brown or co-defendant Keith King to the late-night shooting of Patrick Behan in his patrol car outside a convenience store. King served nine years on a guilty plea to manslaughter. Both teens offered conflicting confessions.
In his 91-page order, Graham said Brown's trial judge should not have not allowed the confession, and violated Brown's constitutional rights by letting jurors hear it.
"His conviction and current custody are unconstitutional," the judge concluded.
The judge earlier took what he called "the rare and extraordinary" step of agreeing with Brown's "actual innocence" claim based on taped confessions to undercover agents by a new suspect in the case.
The Broward County sheriff's office decided last year it did not have enough evidence to charge the new suspect, who had told undercover agents he meant to kill an officer who got him fired as a jail deputy -- but wound up killing Behan by mistake.
The details matched physical evidence and eyewitness statements -- something neither Brown's nor King's confession did.
Questions about the old and new investigations prompted Gov. Jeb Bush to order a review by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
The agency concluded last month the two lead detectives did not force confessions out of Brown and King, but that there were "serious doubts" about the detectives' credibility.