Strike Four for Robert Carney | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Strike Four for Robert Carney

So DNA tests seem to have exonerated another man wrongfully convicted by the State Attorney's Office for murder in Broward County. That makes at least seven of them.

Anthony Caravella, 41, has been locked up for the 1983 murder of Ada Cox Jankowski since he was 15. There never was any good evidence in the case against him, just a jumbled series of confessions he gave in response to police pressure.  

The prosecutor in the case was Robert Carney, the same man who also had at least a hand in prosecuting three other men wrongfully imprisoned on murder convictions: Frank Lee Smith, John Purvis, and Christopher Clugston.

These men suffered beyond words. Carney, pictured at right, is now the Broward Circuit judge in charge of the civil division. It's important to note that these cases were not all Carney's fault. Bad convictions take a lot of teamwork, from detectives to judges to compliant juries. It's not an individualistic thing. But the undeniable fact is that he's had far more than his fair share of involvement in bogus murder convictions.  

JAABlog quotes Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein on Carney:

"If I was Judge Carney," Finkelstein said, "I would spend every day of my retirement for the rest of my life in church praying for forgiveness for the innocent lives I destroyed as a prosecutor."

Let's look at the cases, beginning with Smith, who had very limited mental ability and was nearly blind. Smith was convicted of raping and murdering a young girl. He pleaded his innocence to no avail and died on death row. Purvis spent ten years in prison before the two men really responsible were caught. In that case, Carney had cleared the two actual killers and never disclosed their existence to Purvis or his attorney. In Clugson's case, Carney actually gave immunity to the man later suspected to have been the actual killer.   

Do not think that prosecuting an innocent person is easy. It takes a lot of work and a very large set of blinders. I reviewed the entire Smith case, and the more I read it, the more infuriated I became at the actions of BSO detectives, who basically fixed the case, and Carney, who admitted he had a "minimal" case. The prosecutor had to suspect that Smith was at least very likely innocent.

Carney was also involved in the outrageous case of John Purvis, who was convicted of raping and killing his 

38-year-old neighbor, Susan Hamwi, and her 18-month-old daughter.

After his conviction, new evidence came out indicating that the woman's husband may have been behind it. Carney, then a prosecutor, kept it hidden. From a 2003 Sun-Sentinel article:

In 1985, just months after Purvis was convicted, police and then-prosecutor Robert Carney, now a Broward Circuit judge, received information that Hamwi's ex-husband, Paul Hamwi, had hired someone to kill her. They checked it out but closed the case and never told Purvis or his attorney.

Years later, Purvis' appellate lawyer, Steve Wisotsky, a law professor at Nova Southeastern University, asked for the file. Fort Lauderdale Detectives Tim Bronson and Robert Williams began re-investigating.

In 1994 Paul Hamwi and Paul Serio were convicted of murdering Susan Hamwi and are serving life in prison. Hamwi paid Robert Beckett and Serio $14,000 to kill his wife to get out of paying a $180,000 divorce settlement. Beckett was granted immunity after agreeing to cooperate in the investigation.

Purvis broke down under police interrogation and confessed. Same for Caravella. In that case, there were at least two other viable suspects, including Cyril "Chip" Cozier. Here's a passage from a 2001 Sun-Sentinel story on the case:

Cozier came under suspicion when police spotted him near the body and noticed he had blood on his shirt. Cozier and his wife said he had injured himself at home.

FBI tests showed that a hair found on Cozier's shirt matched the victim's and a hair found on the victim's pants matched Cozier's.

Prosecutor Robert Carney... said in 1984 that police could have mixed the pants and shirt together when they were transported or tested, allowing those items of clothing to contaminate each other.

Carney also said at the time that Cozier had been cleared by a police investigation. "We looked at him long and hard. He has checked out as clean," Carney said. 

Carney went on to prosecute Caravella -- a mentally challenged child -- based on a series of flimsy confessions that never made sense from the beginning.

And finally, you have the Clugston case. In that one, Carney gave immunity to a man named
Jessie Ziegenhagen in the 1981 murder case of Bryce Waldman. Ziegenhagen testified against Clugston, who was convicted and sent to prison, where he said he was raped and contracted HIV.

In 1994, information came to light that Ziegenhagen may have actually committed the crime. Ziegenhagen was already dead, a murder victim himself, so there was no new trial. Then-Gov. Lawton Chiles granted clemency to Clugston.  

Clugston went to trial not once but three times, with Carney overseeing the first two that ended with hung juries. Carney didn't preside over the third in which Clugston was convicted. Carney was prosecutor at trial for Caravella but not Smith. The trial prosecutor for Frank Lee Smith was William Dimitrouleas, who told the jury in closing arguments that the Smith trial was a "fair American trial." Dimitrouleas is now a veteran federal judge.

Hopefully Caravella will escape Frank Lee Smith's fate -- death in prison -- and will soon see freedom. For any hope of that, he can thank Broward County Chief Public Defender Diane Cuddihy, who fought hard for the DNA tests. Sun-Sentinel reporter Paula McMahon gives her newspaper some of the credit too by pointing out that the Sentinel referred Caravella's brother to the Public Defender's Office back in 2001.

Actually, McMahan and former Sentinel reporter Ardy Friedberg both did fine work reporting on those cases. Everyone involved deserves to be commended.

Carney, though, might want to start following Finkelstein's advice right about now.