Looking Back: Lessons from the Caravella Exoneration – Part 2

Jeffrey Deskovic Speaking in Davis in 2019 at the Annual Vanguard Event

By Jeffrey Deskovic

“Looking back” will feature reprints of articles that Jeff previously wrote while a columnist at The Westchester Guardian, which encompass topics that are applicable here in CA as well as across the country and not simply applicable to NY.

In the last issue of The Guardian, I discussed the wrongful conviction and exoneration of Anthony Caravella, who served twenty-six years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Caravella’s conviction was based on a coerced confession extracted from him when he was fifteen years old. None of the details in his “confession” matched known facts and physical evidence in the case.

In this installment, I discuss the widely implications of misconduct by the police and prosecutor which resulted in other wrongful convictions.

Broward County Deputy, Tony Fantigrassi, is the first villain in this story. He played a major role in the wrongful conviction of Jerry Frank Townsend. Townsend, like Caravella, was retarded and gave a false confession. On the witness stand, Fantigrassi claimed Townsend provided details “only the killer would know,” and that such details allegedly led police to the murder scenes. After twenty-one and 1⁄2 years in prison, Townsend was exonerated of that murder, along with five others and a rape. In each case, he gave a coerced, false confession.

In the Tim Brown case, a federal judge ruled that Fantigrassi’s testimony and the factual theories he advanced to keep Brown in prison were “implausible.” The judge took the extraordinary step of declaring Brown to be “actually innocent.”

Former prosecutor, Robert Carney, now a Broward County Circuit Judge, is the second villain in this tale of woe. He wrongfully convicted Caravella and three other men. John Purvis served nine years for murder and leaving the victim’s toddler to die. Shortly after the verdict, the police and Carney received a tip the victim’s husband hired someone else to kill his wife. Carney had a duty to bring the information to the attention of the court and Purvis’s defense counsel. Instead, he hid it. As a result, Purvis served nine years before he was cleared. The husband and his hit man were subsequently convicted.

Carney also wrongfully convicted Christopher Clugston who served twelve years for murder based on testimony from a snitch who recanted five years later. The snitch admitted he and the real perpetrator framed Clugston.

Carney also wrongfully convicted Frankie Lee Smith who served fourteen years in prison before dying of cancer on death row. Smith’s conviction was secured by misidentification. He was cleared posthumously when DNA testing proved his innocence.

This pattern mandates all Fantigrassi and Carney cases must be reviewed by an independent panel of lawyers without ties to the Broward County prosecutor’s office. When a rogue policeman engages in this type of devastating misconduct, it is rarely confined to a single case. It is frightening to wonder how many other police officers like Fantigrassi exist across this country.

Likewise, it cannot be mere coincidence that then-prosecutor Carney wrongfully convicted four different, innocent men. All cases he prosecuted should be audited, and his methodology reviewed to determine the reasons for this extraordinary record of miscarried justice. Was Carney merely lazy and failed to properly scrutinize cases brought to him? Did he bury exculpatory evidence? Are other innocent men he prosecuted still in prison?

In addition, the Florida defense bar should audit Carney’s rulings since he assumed the bench to see if they reveal a prosecution bias, and vet his behavior in court to determine if he is solicitous of prosecutors and hostile to defense lawyers in order to tilt the scales of justice in favor of conviction.

The public must voice outrage at wrongful convictions. We should have a zero-tolerance policy for such monstrous miscarriages of justice.

“Jeffrey Deskovic, Esq, MA, is an internationally recognized wrongful conviction expert and founder of The Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, which has freed 9 wrongfully convicted people and helped pass 3 laws aimed at preventing wrongful conviction. Jeff is an advisory board member of It Could Happen To You, which has chapters in CA, NY, and PA. He serves on the Global Advisory Council for Restorative Justice International, and is a sometimes co-host and co-producer of the show, “360 Degrees of Success.” Jeff was exonerated after 16 years in prison-from age 17-32- before DNA exonerated him and identified the actual perpetrator. A short documentary about his life is entitled “Conviction“, and episode 1 of his story in Virtual Reality is called, “Once Upon A Time In Peekskill“. Jeff has a Masters Degree from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, with his thesis written on wrongful conviction causes and reforms needed to address them, and a law degree from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University.  Jeff is now a practicing attorney.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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