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

The fear for Phillips now is that Lenard could rule without first conducting a hearing on his new evidence. That could happen any day — Lenard has full discretion in the case, and it's unlikely her ruling can be appealed.

Lenard has served on the federal bench since President Clinton appointed her in 1995. She's a former prosecutor, but she hasn't always been known as a judge to toe the government's line. In 2000, Lenard dropped the charges against University of South Florida Professor Mazen Al-Najjar after ruling that the government's secret evidence against him wasn't enough to hold him on charges of financially supporting terrorist organizations. Her decision angered antiterrorism groups but earned her praise from legal circles for freeing a man being held on little evidence.

Legal experts who reviewed the Phillips case for New Times all concluded that Phillips at least deserves a new hearing on his evidence. Ric Margolius, a senior circuit judge in Palm Beach County, read about Phillips' plight in New Times. He agreed to comment on the case by email and points out that Phillips was convicted on a charge that, in state court, would've equaled six months in jail or less. The three crack rocks Phillips allegedly sold weighed .77 grams — less than a dollar bill. "I have been involved personally in many hundreds of these cases (and possibly thousands). I have never seen or heard about a sentence of this duration until I read your article," Margolius wrote.

Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of South Florida. In prison, they call him "Law."
Eric Barton
Elroy Phillips was known as "Eighty-Six" on the streets of South Florida. In prison, they call him "Law."
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government's lone witness.
Michael McElroy
Private investigator Ralph Marston helped Phillips dig up documents and scored a key interview with the government's lone witness.

If Phillips' evidence is right, "then an unconscionable miscarriage of justice has occurred," Margolius wrote. "My view is simply that as a judge, I would exhaust every possible remedy, with an eye on legal creativity, to absolutely ensure that no innocent person ever be incarcerated."

Terry Backhus, a Tampa attorney who specializes in criminal appeals cases, said the Phillips case is a "pretty egregious" example of a man behind bars for a crime he likely didn't commit. After reviewing the evidence, Backhus said she hopes to represent Phillips in the case and will ask the court to appoint her. From there, Backhus says Phillips needs to hire an investigator to continue digging for information.

Backhus says it's rare to find evidence that appears this definitive. "You hardly ever have affidavits from people saying the arresting officer was not there," she said. "The police will go to any lengths to cover up what they've done, and it appears they're doing that here."

Marston, the PI (and former cop) hired by Phillips, says he took on the case because he saw it as an example of a failure of the justice system. He says it's not uncommon — it's rare for cops or prosecutors to admit to a mistake, even when there's new DNA evidence or witness statements that contradict them. "Prosecutors do not like to cut their losses and admit a mistake," Marston says. "But with Elroy, they know Ghent was a dirty cop. Why not blame this all on him and be done with it?"

For his part, Phillips says he simply needs to focus on the fight. He has an always-calm personality and has remained certain that his case will meet a good end. "Sometimes when you get upset, you make bad decisions. And I can't get angry right now. I need to be focused."


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Eric Barton is editor of New Times Broward-Palm Beach. Email him here, or click here to follow him on Facebook.
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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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