Then when the judge asked how Smart's story conflicted with the evidence, the cop distorted Smart's statement. "Smart claims the shooter shot through the window, killing both victims," Sanchez said, despite the fact Smart had repeatedly claimed he did not witness the murders. "There is no evidence the shooting occurred outside. It occurred inside."

She's repeatedly asked producers to stop airing the episode, but they've declined.

Hearing this, Cueto nodded, the gavel struck, and the boy, now formally charged with two counts of murder, was led away.


At the time of Taiwan Smart's arrest, there were several people detectives may have wanted to interview. One witness, named only "Christine" in the investigation's internal logs, said the killer had sought vengeance for a past Little Haiti murder — a tale corroborated by Smart. Another witness, 40-year-old Wayne Mitchell, had heard that his friend's cousins were behind the killings.

Taiwan Smart repeatedly said he didn't commit or witness the murders. The cops didn't listen.
Marta Xochilt Perez
Taiwan Smart repeatedly said he didn't commit or witness the murders. The cops didn't listen.
A killer executed Raynathan Ray, 14, and Jonathan Volcy, 18, with single bullets to the backs of their heads.
Courtesy of Joe Klock
A killer executed Raynathan Ray, 14, and Jonathan Volcy, 18, with single bullets to the backs of their heads.

Perhaps these tips seemed too tangential or the witnesses too unreliable, or maybe detectives felt the heat of The First 48's deadline, but cops didn't investigate the leads.

Though the consequences of this lapse would be severe, other mistakes filmed by The First 48 — which has shot in Miami, Detroit, Dallas, Memphis, and Houston — have been substantially more tragic.

In Detroit on May 16, 2010, after First 48 videographers expressed a desire to achieve a "good show" and capture "great video footage," police stormed a duplex in an impoverished neighborhood, according to a federal lawsuit. It was past midnight. All the streetlights had suddenly gone black. The cops were hunting for a murder suspect. As cameras rolled and dogs bayed madly, city police fired a flash-bang grenade through a front window.

"Police!" one officer cried. The grenade exploded next to a living-room couch where a 7-year-old girl, Aiyana Jones, slept. From the patio, a cop lowered a submachine gun and fired into the house, striking the girl in the head. Upon entry, however, the cops realized they'd raided the wrong house. Their suspect lived next door. The officer who fired the gun, Joseph Weekley, was indicted for manslaughter and awaits trial. First 48 producer Allison Howard pleaded guilty last year to obstruction of justice after she lied about "copying, showing, or giving video footage she shot of the raid to third parties," Detroit prosecutors said. The episode was never aired.

While the drama saturated the city, 1,300 miles south in Houston, an innocent man named Cameron Coker languished inside a Harris County jail awaiting trial. In mid-July 2009, 16-year-old Eric Elizarraraz had been shot at an apartment complex just off Highway 6. The boy had confronted a group of men who'd insulted his girlfriend. At least three witnesses offered county deputies a similar description of the killer — tall, light-skinned, skinny — and later picked 18-year-old Coker out of a lineup. As cameras rolled, Coker, who professed innocence, was arrested and charged with murder.

When the episode "Straight Menace" aired on March 11, 2010, viewers howled for Coker's execution. "Put him down," one commenter wrote in an online forum. "They got the death penalty in Houston?"

But the case was substantially more fraught with error than viewers realized. Though the show didn't broadcast it, none of the witnesses whom detectives used were positive Coker was the shooter.

In February 2012 — after Coker had spent nearly three years in jail — Steven M. Smith, a professor of psychology at Texas A&M and an expert in human memory, tracked down the witnesses as part of Coker's defense. The first, Andrew Nguyen, confessed he hadn't seen the shooting and had "taken a good guess," picking Coker out of the lineup "based on what my other friends had told me," according to court documents.

Another witness, Roberto Valdez, who confessed he'd been drunk and high on weed and Xanax the day of the murder, said he told detectives he wasn't sure who pulled the trigger and would "guess." At the bottom of the photo array, he wrote, "I'm p.," which he later told Smith had meant, "I'm probably wrong." A third witness also admitted he hadn't been sure.

In mid-2012, after spending 1,095 days in prison, Coker was released. Prosecutors' closeout memo had cited "witness identification problems."

"I couldn't believe they did that to me," Coker now tells New Times. "It was like a torture that no one should have to go through in this life." Coker's attorney, Vivian King, says she's repeatedly asked The First 48's producers to stop rebroadcasting the episode now that Coker has been exonerated, but they've declined. First 48 producers refused to comment for this article.

"Just imagine the image they made out of me," Coker says, adding he fears retribution for a crime he didn't do. "Even when I walk places I've never been, people know me from The First 48 without really knowing what happened."

Each of the 113 cases filmed in Miami also still air periodically — even those featuring men who later walked free of murder charges: Donta Boyd, Malcolm Williams, Kevin Goode, DeMarcus Alexander, Cory Harris, Vladimir Hernandez, Frank Sands, Quintin Barnett, Tyree Kemp, John Molina, Neville Moore, Myron Morales, Rene de la Paz, Antwan Kennedy, and Smart.

"I talked to a lawyer about suing, but there wasn't nothing we could do," says Frank Sands, who spent three years in prison on murder charges and hasn't found steady work since. "Because [The First 48] shows 'All suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty' at the beginning of the program, they're covered."

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9 comments
frankeshoemaker
frankeshoemaker

I have fond memories of this neighborhood before the street trash took over. My grandmother lived on the block of 79th & Biscayne Blvd. back in the 70's.


Bottom line, it's the TV show's fault for street trash committing murder and for an under staffed homicide department pressured to close cases. Geniuses! All you NIMBY's cracked the case. Your prize? A challenge. I challenge you to move into this neighborhood, become a communist...uh hum...I mean..."community orgranizer" and work to "change" this neighborhood. 

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.......................not that a DRUG ADDICTED "witness" won't rat out whomever is convenient and give FALSE testimony against someone just to get their own a$$ out of trouble - the police simply have pressure to bring someone in to be charged for the crime = period

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.............................from my general observation of police investigations historically the problem is the theory that even IF the wrong guy gets the sentence that guy was going to EVENTUALLY do something to put him in jail anyway..........so whatever the evidence shows for any particular crime as long as someone gets convicted and put away the streets are safer and the community can rest comfortably knowing the criminals are being locked away...........so fifty years later we can now look back and see this got us deeper into it = period

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

...........................the show doesn't "imprison" anyone, either innocent or guilty,  it just video tapes and then airs the events = period

the judicial system IMPRISONs, defendants as represented by their counsel, who lose their trials and hearings in front of a jury and or judge and the court process determines who get IMPRISONed = period

to blame the show for bad police investigations or errors in the justice system or just poverty and drugs and dishonest people involved in a very bad situation isn't because of a show - it happens all the time with or without TV cameras

smdrpepper
smdrpepper topcommenter

@frankd4Your missing the point of the article.  Its the fact that they RUSHED the investigations and forced the evidence to conform to what the idea they had in the show in order to put the wrong guy in prison, or shoot up the wrong house in the sake of "good tv".

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

......................coincidental and circumstantial JUST like the evidence and processing of the crime IN WHICH CASE the verdict should have been appealed by the defendants attorney and errors made continue to be made with or without TV cameras (the BEST example is when a BLACK harvard professor was arrested in boston for "breaking into" his own house despite the boston police having the professor positively identified and his story corroborated and verified by HARVARD)

it was the judge who decided on the sentence AND it was the commander who picked the wrong house - with or without TV rushing them

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

@smdrpepper @frankd4 


...................i agree he wasn't going to be represented by an OJ-caliber "dream team" but he did get his "day" in court (and eventually was acquitted and released) = but my observation is that his problems weren't because of a TV show = period = they are because he is BLACK and haitian and poor and in a very bad community of drugs and criminals and bad people

smdrpepper
smdrpepper topcommenter

@frankd4And I doubt this kid could even dream of affording an good attorney to fight this.  At best he had a public defender which likely did not remember his name.

 
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