Elroy Phillips Dug Up Evidence From Prison, but He Still Might Not Get a Chance to Prove His Innocence

Phillips admits the cops once had reason to suspect him. While growing up in the Little River neighborhood of Miami, he got caught up with the drug trade. During a prison interview July 14, he wouldn't go into specifics, but he said he "worked with Colombians" and wasn't a minor player.

"Nah, I never worked the corners," he says. "But I don't want to go into that. All that's behind me."

Phillips says he gave up selling drugs after high school when he went to Brevard Community College. His hopes for a college degree ended, however, when he shot a man in his home at 2 a.m. on December 22, 1992. Phillips claimed the man broke into his home, so he shot the burglar with the thief's own gun after a struggle. But the jury rejected his self-defense claim, and a judge sentenced Phillips to 17 years in prison. Phillips later convinced an appeals court that his lawyer had failed to adequately represent him, and he served just two years in prison.

Cops busted Phillips after the feds paid his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ann "Little Red" White, $10,000 to testify against him.
Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office
Cops busted Phillips after the feds paid his ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ann "Little Red" White, $10,000 to testify against him.
White claimed Phillips ran a drug ring from apartment number two in this West Palm Beach apartment building.
Eric Barton
White claimed Phillips ran a drug ring from apartment number two in this West Palm Beach apartment building.

After his release, Phillips started a landscaping company in West Palm Beach that landed a lucrative contract to maintain the grounds at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. He says the cops kept after him, though, because he made good money mowing the lawns and police couldn't buy that a black man in the ghetto could do so well.

Cops claim Phillips was running a drug operation in 2001 out of a two-story, pale-yellow apartment building at 625 Eighth St. in downtown West Palm. A low-level dealer named James "Pumpkin" Yearby would work the fence out front, collecting money before fetching drugs hidden in an old dresser left out in the yard.

Undercover narcotics Agent Michael Ghent claims he went to buy crack from Yearby at 9:30 on the night of April 6, 2001, in the hopes of gathering evidence against the drug ring. Ghent allegedly approached the apartment building and found Phillips working the fence alone. Ghent said that an unidentified confidential informant, or CI, helped the deal go down, and that he bought three crack rocks from Phillips for $50.

From the beginning, the bust was suspect. High-tech surveillance equipment the cops and DEA agents had been using to trail Phillips reportedly malfunctioned that night. Other cops who were supposedly there didn't see the deal go down, leaving Ghent and his CI as the only witnesses. Ghent apparently forgot to fill out a report from the bust.

The DEA had been involved in the investigation, so Phillips' case was sent to federal court. At his trial in 2002, Ghent dug up an unsigned, undated police report that hadn't surfaced before. Phillips' attorney fought to have the surprise evidence kept from the jury, but Lenard allowed it. Prosecutors offered testimony from low-level dealers who claimed Phillips was the kingpin of a drug ring. In exchange for their testimony, they were offered short prison sentences and, in some cases, cash. One of them, Phillips' ex-girlfriend, Stephanie Ann “Little Red” White, received about $10,000 for her testimony. The jury found Phillips guilty of selling the drugs to Ghent, and Lenard sentenced him to 30 years in prison.

"Unfortunately for me," Phillips says, "juries believe cops over guys like me."

The sentence was severe, especially considering Phillips had been found guilty of selling less than a gram of crack, the weight of a paper clip. It isn't hard to find more serious criminals who receive lesser sentences. Take, for instance, Edgar Vallejo-Guarin, who pleaded guilty to organizing shipments of thousands of kilos of cocaine from Colombia to the United States; in June of this year, a federal judge sentenced Vallejo-Guarin to 22 years in prison.

Phillips promised himself he wouldn't give up fighting. He appealed, and the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in April 2006 threw out his sentence, finding that Lenard had given him a lengthy prison term “based on facts neither found by the jury nor admitted by the defendant.” It was a minor victory – Lenard didn't reduce his prison term by much; in July 2006, she gave him 24 years.

As a result, Phillips needed to find new ways to prove his innocence, so he worked on learning the law. He earned a paralegal certificate in October 2007, got a job in the prison law library, and took over his own case from his court-appointed lawyers.

His goal was to collect documents and statements that, once all together, would prove he didn't sell Ghent the drugs. "I'm an avid chess player, and in chess, you gotta look at the end game, not what's in front of you. That's what I did here."

In 2003, he used money his mom had sent him and opened an account with the West Palm Beach Police Department so he could request public records. He started low, asking for all department regulations covering everything from payroll to undercover drug buys.

Department policy required officers conducting drug deals to use cash clocked out of the evidence room. Likewise, any drugs purchased or seized were required to be checked into the evidence room. If the clerk was gone, officers could check in evidence using an after-hours locker. So Phillips did something his attorney had never done: He requested the evidence logs to see what had transpired the night of his arrest.

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11 comments
ElRonbo
ElRonbo

Even *if* he's guilty, spending over half a million dollars to lock someone up for selling $50 worth of drugs is beyond stupid. We should be cutting these sentences instead of cutting education and services for seniors and the disabled. 

Courtney H
Courtney H

Wild read! I hope this guy's case gets a second look. 

Tammy Sanford
Tammy Sanford

Well I wish you all the best and will pray for you and yours. I beleive in your innocent and 2nd chances. I am a Mom of an Inmate in federal prison that was set up by the DEA and Lied to They never even tryed to get the big guy's running the show even with their name given not by my son but his girl freind. I have a friend in the feds he says that the DEA is not interested in catching the big guys they just want knoches on their belts the more the marrier. Our Justice System is broken and Washington broke it. May God Bliss you with your freedom

DeathFrog3
DeathFrog3

Good reporting. I am not so sure that I believe that Phillips is innocent but the facts as related in this article prove that the police lied in their reports. The mere fact of the timeline refutes a major component of this case.

The Pulp Blog
The Pulp Blog

Having spent years now looking at the evidence in this case, I'd agree, DeathFrog3. Who knows, Elroy Phillips may or may not have been a drug dealer, but the evidence presented on this case was shaky at best.

 
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