My best friend Joey was found guilty in 2001 for a murder he can prove he demonstrably did not commit. And although a judge confirmed this in 2008, he is still remains innocently incarcerated in Florida.
Lawrence Joey Smith moved into a housing estate managed by Faunce P. in June 1999. Faunce P. was a drug dealer who ran his business together with Teddy B. In the evening of September 13th, 1999, Faunce P. hired the victims to be Robert C. and Stephen T. and their friends Ken S. and Amanda H. to buy drugs for him worth $1300. The four of them set out to do so but were then cheated out of the money by their middlemen, so that the group returned to Faunce P. without money and without drugs. Faunce P. took the four of them hostage for hours, held them at gunpoint and forced the victim Stephen T. to perform oral sex on him. Ken S. and Amanda H. were each rescued from this situation by family members.
Then Faunce P. called his friend Teddy B. Nobody knows exactly what was said in this phone call, because Teddy changed his testimony about it several times. Teddy first summoned his best friend Heath B. and then knocked on Joey’s door and told him that Faunce had been beaten up and needed help.
Joey, who had already been in bed at that time, got dressed and accompanies the two of them. A few minutes later Robert C. was dead, and Stephen T. was badly injured. Stephen never saw who shot him as he was shot from behind. The murder weapon belonged to Faunce P.
Teddy and Heath were questioned by the police the same night. At first, they denied having been at the scene of the crime at all, but then they admitted it and testified that Joey was the perpetrator. Then they both got to go home, and neither of them ever had to spend a night in jail, not even on remand.
From that moment on, police work was focused solely on Joey as the shooter. He was arrested on that same night. Faunce was untraceable and on the run and was arrested weeks later. Although the police know of three of the four possible perpetrators a few hours after the crime, only Joey is examined for gunshot residue and is transferred to prison.
Faunce P. was accused of having ordered the murder and attempted murder. And Joey was accused of being the shooter. Until the trial, Heath and Teddy were questioned 7 times by the police or the District Attorney. No two statements were ever the same. Joey was offered a deal if he pleads guilty.
He refused because he believed the gunshot residue test will prove his innocence. The trial started in 2001 and the prosecutor announced that the result of the gunshot residue test has unfortunately been lost and nobody would ever know the result. Joey’s public defender made no move to look for the lab’s findings or the actual swabs.
From this moment on it is all about whether the jury will believe the statements of Teddy and Heath or not, because the prosecutor has nothing more to say. Before the trial there are several witnesses who turn to Joey’s public defender and testify that Teddy told them that he will give false testimony against Joey to save his own hide. Since Joey’s public defender at trial failed to cross-examine Joey to ask Teddy if he ever said he would testify falsely, the defense attorney was not allowed to call these witnesses anymore, since the prosecutor could now rightly argue that this is hearsay.
Joey had no motive. He wasn’t involved in the drug deal, nor has he ever seen the victims before. Which is why the prosecutor told the jury that Joey acted out of sheer lust for murder. He supposedly was a vicious killer who killed even when he can’t take advantage. Just because he loved doing it. This claim was supported by the prosecution’s key witness, Teddy B., who then testified before the jury, and for the first time ever, that Joey confessed to 11 other murders that night.
After always claiming that Joey didn’t say a word after he fired the gun, he now testified at trial, when asked if Joey said anything, that Joey said „That’s twelve and thirteen, eight more to go and I’ll match Billy the Kid.“
Joey tried later tp get a new trial based on this statement, because it goes without saying that such a statement made a lasting impression on a jury.
But the Florida Supreme Court declined, arguing that this testimony was important in determining Joey’s character. The fact that Joey had never been accused of a violent crime before apparently said less about his character than this statement of Teddy B.
Teddy further claimed to have seen and heard that Joey asked Faunce for his gun and that the two of them exchanged their guns. However, Stephen T., the surviving victim, who was present at all times, testified that he neither heard nor saw anything like that and that he never felt threatened by Joey at any time. Nevertheless, the jury believed Teddy B. and not the victim and Joey is sentenced to death in 2001.
In 2004 Joey won a resentencing because the judge told the jury in 2001 that “if they find him guilty of being the murderer, they MUST vote for the death penalty”. Since that is not legally correct, the sentence phase of the trial was repeated.
Before that happened, Joey’s new public defender, who has been assigned to the case for over half a year, asked me to write to him and tell him exactly what the case is all about, because “I would know the case much better than he does”.
Joey then decided to defend himself because he didn’t believe that his lawyer would make any real effort for him. His public defender was merely on stand-by. In 2007 a private investigator managed to find the original gunshot residue test kit from the night of the crime. They are sent to an independent laboratory. The result is negative. A particle was found on his left palm. Joey is right-handed. If he’d fired, there should have been hundreds of particles on the outside of his right hand. The D.A. argues that gunshot residue tests are unreliable anyway. The result is not admissible as evidence in the resenting process.
Since the judge from the 2001 trial had retired in the meantime, Judge Lynne Tepper is assigned to the case. For Joey it was surely a great luck, because she didn’t know the case and had to work her way through all the files. Therefore, she noticed several inconsistencies and also the statements of Teddy and Heath were still fresh in her memory. These both testified again and Teddy again told things he never testified before. When asked if he could remember his old statements which were so completely different from what he is saying now, he replied that he could remember even better 8 years later. The jury again votes 7 to 5 for the death penalty.
And then something remarkable happened. Judges are actually expected to follow the recommendation of the jury and do so in the majority of cases. Judge Lynne Tepper did not. She decided against the death penalty and sets out on 23 pages in her Sentencing Order why she decided so. This is what she wrote:
„What is not proven beyond a reasonable doubt is who the shooter was. The only evidence offered to establish who the shooter was is circumstantial evedince and the eye witness testimony of Teddy B. who attributes statements to Joey Smith that others did not appear to hear“ She also wrote that the statements by Heath and Teddy differed in many ways from the surviving victim’s statement and that his statement was credible while those of Teddy and Heath’s statement were not. Furthermore, she stated that the evidence allows more than one conclusion about what happened that night. And that Teddy B. had every reason to lie, because unlike Joey he had a motive, because the money in the said drug deal belonged to one half of Faunce P. and the other half to Teddy B. Again something the jury never heard in the first trial.
She further wrote that Joey’s involvement that night was minimal and that he was in no way guiltier than Teddy and Heath. She wrote „Between Lawrence Joey Smith and the two uncharged Teddy B. and Heath B. it is not possible to have proportionality if one is put to death and two walk free without prosecution or sentence. It shocks the conscience of this court to be asked to do so“
Since a penalty phase is all about how a defendant is to be punished and his guilt is presupposed, her hands were tied to do more for Joey than to not sentence him to death. Still, we had high hopes after that sentence. Not only because Joey was not sentenced to death again, but because it was put down in black and white that the state had not succeeded in proving that Joey was the perpetrator, which is a prerequisite for a guilty verdict according to law. And that Joey was convicted solely based on unreliable testimony. Unfortunately, all our hopes have been dashed.
As Joey has not had a public defender since 2008 and his family doesn’t have the financial means to pay fora lawyer, Joey has been struggling on his own ever since. And of course, he makes mistakes, mostly of a formal nature, which make it easy for the courts to reject his appeals.
In March, his “habeas corpus” was rejected, and he was not allowed to appeal further. So in April I sent emails to all available appeal attorneys in Florida with an urgent appeal to help Joey because he only has 30 days to file a motion with the Atlanta Court of Appeals and because it is his very last chance to avoid being silenced in court. I have received many reactions, but unfortunately with offers that far exceed our financial possibilities.
And then Robert Berry contacted me. He is both a criminal defense attorney and an appeals lawyer with over 33 years of experience. He asked me for further documents to get a better picture of the case and after reviewing the documents he made me a remarkable offer. He was willing to take on the case for a fraction of his regular fee because he is convinced that a great injustice has been done here. He also said that in 33 years he had never come across such a remarkable Sentencing Order as the one of Lynne Tepper, because she declared Joey quasi innocent. My husband and I were able to raise this amount and Robert Berry immediately got to work and filed the application in Atlanta on May 27th.
Now we are waiting for the court’s decision. And this can happen very quickly, because the public prosecutor’s office for its part has refrained from reacting to the application. If the motion is granted, Robert Berry would represent Joey in Atlanta. If the motion is denied, Mr. Berry would go to the US Supreme Court. I don’t have the financial resources to handle either case. Again, although Mr. Berry’s offer was more than generous, I am simply stretched to my financial limits.
Which is why I’m asking for your help, so Joey doesn’t miss his last chance for justice.