Missing Leg

The cops tagged amputee Duane Brown as one of "America's Most Wanted," but now he's fighting back

Before they left Brown's home in Jensen Beach, Brown says, he asked Maynor to drive his car because he had burned his left leg on the exhaust pipe of a friend's dirt bike. There are witnesses who can vouch for the nasty, open sore on his leg before the accident, Brown says, and his mother readily backs him up. "He wasn't driving no car," she says. "I know he wasn't because he couldn't. Not with that burn on his leg that day, he couldn't."

Brown claims that when he heard the details of what put Maynor behind bars, it made sense of the image he had in the hospital. "He was driving my car. He kept saying, 'I'm not going back. '"

Brown himself doesn't have a clean past. A judge sentenced him to 60 days in jail in 1999 for felony possession of coke. Before that, he served a month for carrying a concealed firearm, and he spent more than a year at the Hendry Work Camp prison in 1996 for burglary and possession of burglary tools, according to state records. But Brown insists he's been living a quiet, law-abiding life for the past five years.

Rosendahl speculates that Brown's past is the reason the cops wanted him so badly. Questions about the alleged drug bust, the DNA evidence, and the other problems with the police investigation should be enough to convince a jury of Brown's innocence, she contends. Says Rosendahl: "You've got enough questions out there to really make anyone doubt this one. No one can say for sure that Duane Brown was driving, and all the hard evidence points to the fact that he wasn't."

Still, investigators and prosecutors stand by their claim that Brown was driving. Assistant State Attorney Ellen Roberts, an expert in traffic homicide cases, says the most damning evidence against Brown is the remains of Maynor's right foot. Investigators found it with the shoe still attached under the passenger seat. "The only problem [with Brown's defense] is that the other fella left his leg in the back seat," Roberts says.

However, prosecutors routinely use an opposing argument in similar cases. Crash investigators say body parts often fly around haphazardly in a high-speed collision. And the explosion that followed the impact also could have scrambled the evidence. Seeming to prove that point, investigators found Maynor's left leg in an odd spot. As a tow truck driver pulled the Toyota away, Maynor's leg fell from between the car and the concrete pole. How it got there is a mystery.


An equally important mystery to Brown, however, is what happened to his leg. No one is sure.

Roberts, the prosecutor, says she heard it was amputated at the hospital. "This much we know," she says recently in a courtroom hallway after a hearing on Brown's criminal case. "It was just sort of hanging off, and they took it off the rest of the way." But Roberts admits that she isn't sure of this. She hasn't seen Brown's medical records, and cops at the scene were inconclusive about what happened to the leg.

Churchill thinks Brown's limb may have been thrown out. "I can give you some speculation on it," the sergeant says. "The thing could still be in the car. It may have been discarded as medical waste. If it's unusable, they're not going to keep it around." The crumpled Toyota will sit in the sheriff's office impound lot until Brown's case is resolved. It doesn't look much like a car anymore, instead just a collection of unidentifiable engine parts and charred paint. "Realistically speaking," Churchill clarifies, "the leg is not in the car."

The fact that his leg hasn't been found troubles Brown, though he says he doesn't dwell on it. At his attorney's office recently, Brown wants to talk about what's next for him. He says he wants to go back to work sometime next year for the pressure-washing company. He wants to start fixing cars again. He hasn't gotten used to his prosthetic leg yet. It's still too painful for him to walk on it without crutches. "I'm getting better with it," he says positively.

Cathalina had their baby on July 13. It's a boy they named Dakari. He's got a head cold now, Brown says, as Cathalina wipes the squirming toddler's nose. "He's a good baby, though," Brown says. "He sleeps through almost every night."

With the baby and his future to think about, it's hard for Brown to think back to the day of the accident and those fragmented images that swirled through his mind in the hospital. When his case goes to trial, he'll have to convince a jury that those hazy memories are a true reflection of what happened.

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