The attorney for Elroy Phillips is determined to have his client set free for what has amounted to an egregious and distorted miscarriage of the law.
Phillips, the 47-year-old West Palm Beach resident, has already spent the better part of a decade in prison for what he says is a false conviction for selling crack cocaine to an undercover cop who turned out to be dirty.
Last week, a Miami-Dade judge upheld Phillips' 24-year prison sentence, despite both his attorney and the prosecution agreeing to have his 2002 conviction vacated.
Phillps' attorney, Marc Seitles, is planning to appeal U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard's ruling, telling New Times that the judge simply didn't consider everything in the massive 57-page motion filed jointly by Seitles and the prosecution (see the motion below).
"She didn't consider everything in the order," Seitles tells New Times. "He was only convicted of one substantive count of selling crack cocaine to a dirty cop."
On April 6, 2001, Phillips supposedly sold $50 worth of crack cocaine to West Palm Beach undercover officer Michael Ghent.
Ghent's testimony was the key to sealing Phillips' fate at trial. He was found guilty and convicted. But as he sat in his prison cell, he got to work on proving his innocence, reading law books, requesting files, and hiring a private investigator. The evidence quickly began to mount against Ghent being a dirty cop and his testimony being a pile of lies.
Ghent, it turns out, hadn't even been there on the night Phillips supposedly sold him crack. The officer was attending a hostage negotiation class on the night of April 6, 2001.
Moreover, through the work of private investigator Ralph Marston, the woman who Ghent says witnessed the drug deal eventually admitted she wasn't at the scene either.
Phillips also uncovered even more shady maneuvering by Ghent, such as the fact that Ghent never bothered to turn in the supposed drugs he bought from Phillips to the West Palm Beach Police evidence log or that the money officer Ghent supposedly used -- which is cash provided by the station for undercover cops to pose as buyers -- wasn't taken out of the station by Ghent until six days after the arrest. There wasn't even an arrest report filed on the actual night of the arrest. An unsigned, undated one eventually appeared during the trial.
And then, shortly after the trial, Ghent was arrested on bribery charges after he was busted taking payoffs from Relax With Us, a West Palm Beach massage parlor that also happened to be a brothel. Ghent agreed to a plea deal to have his charges dropped. He surrendered his badge, quit the force, and moved to Arizona.
Meanwhile, Phillips' freedom is unjustly ebbing away in prison. He maintains he never sold drugs to anybody.
His hard work paid off, however. Federal prosecutors agreed with his findings and decided to set the wheels in motion to have Phillips set free.
Yes despite all the evidence and the prosecution agreeing that he was wrongly convicted, Judge Lenard refused to toss the main conspiracy conviction while vacating only one of the drug offenses. In her ruling, Lenard said that even though Officer Ghent's testimony may have been tainted, it wasn't enough to vacate the entire drug conspiracy case.
While this was a devastating blow to Phillips, Seitles remains steadfast in looking to get his client to eventually walk.
"Even the prosecution has said, 'Had we known this was a bad cop, we never would have arrested Phillips in the first place,'" Seitles says.
Send your story tips to the author, Chris Joseph.
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