A Sorry Excuse

Ken Jenne's department helped convict the wrong man. Why won't he and Jeb Bush admit it?

Washor concurs. "It's ridiculous for anybody to even try to say that he would have been in prison without the murder," contends the attorney. "Saying that is almost as asinine as the state denying him DNA tests for all those years."

Government officials, however, are making the claim over and over again. The source of the myth, however, is hard to trace. Roger Maas, executive director of the Florida Commission on Capital Cases, testified before a state senate committee in January that Smith "probably" would have been confined to prison anyway, because of the weapons charge. Maas told the senators he had heard the theory from a former parole commissioner. He now concedes it was speculation. "If there was no murder attached to it, then he may have defended the weapons charge and won," Maas says.

Carolyn Snurkowski, an assistant deputy attorney general who reviewed the Smith case, wrote a letter in January to Broward prosecutors saying the Department of Corrections and the governor's office had "confirmed" that Smith "likely would have been incarcerated" at the time of his death without the murder conviction. Snurkowski, who heads the attorney general's criminal appellate division, is now retreating from that stance, saying it was based on secondhand information. "It wasn't anything I went out and investigated myself," she says.

Although Frank Lee Smith was innocent of murder, he died in prison awaiting execution. Now officials are 'ducking blame.
Bertha Mae Irving
Although Frank Lee Smith was innocent of murder, he died in prison awaiting execution. Now officials are 'ducking blame.

Bush spokeswoman Liz Hirst said the weapons charge "absolutely did qualify Smith to return to prison, and that could have been up to life" but refused to elaborate.

All these officials, complains Bertha Mae Irving, are simply "trying to cover their own asses.... These people don't have a heart.... They are a bunch of lowlife, lying, thieving SOBs."

Walsh says he too is angry. The private investigator was Smith's last visitor. "The man was naked, wasted away to skin and bones, in a tremendous amount of pain," Walsh recalls. "His hands were strapped to the side of the hospital gurney. There was no evidence of medical equipment or medication in the room, which was locked with two guards standing watch outside."

Smith died a week later, ending years of unspeakable misery.

"It's one of the most devastating things I've ever seen. It bothers me today," Walsh says. "I watched this man deteriorate through the years. They took away his brain and his sense of sanity in addition to his freedom. Sometimes I try to think what it must have been like, and it's unimaginable.

"They aren't going to send a man to prison for the rest of his life for fishing. But even if they would have, Jenne needs to apologize, because this man spent 14 years thinking they were going to strap him in an electric chair. Frank lived in hell."

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