Still no justice for man who spent 22 years in prison for crimes he did not commit

Jerry Frank Townsend

Jerry Frank Townsend

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Confessing to a murder or rape you did not commit is unthinkable.

But as DNA testing continues to exonerate convicted murderers and rapists, new research shows that nearly 20 percent of those innocent inmates falsely confessed to the crimes that sent them to prison.

More than 250 convicts nationwide have been cleared by DNA testing. University of Virginia law school Professor Brandon L. Garrett’s study found that more than 40 of them confessed falsely, and seeks to explain why.

How this happens is a question that haunts the state of Florida.

According to the Innocence Project, a dozen Florida men in prison for years have been exonerated since 2000. Three of them – Jerry Frank Townsend, Larry Bostic, and Anthony Caravella—were Broward residents who gave false confessions or admissions to police.

Those cases led the state Supreme Court to create the 23-member Florida Innocence Commission, which held its first meeting Sept. 10 in Tallahassee. Its job: to “reduce or eliminate the possibility of the wrongful conviction of an innocent person.”

Garrett wanted to know how an innocent person could convincingly confess to a crime. He found that innocent people not only confessed, but gave “surprisingly rich, detailed and accurate information” about crimes they did not commit. The details, he concluded, “must have been disclosed to them, most likely during the interrogation process.”

He said police have long been trained to avoid contaminating a confession by feeding or leaking crucial facts.

Nonetheless, that’s what appears to have happened to Townsend, according to court records reviewed by Broward Bulldog.

Police were under pressure to solve a string of brutal rapes and murders that had terrorized a northwest Fort Lauderdale neighborhood. The fear was so bad that a man with cuts on his face from a fight with his girlfriend was chased down by a crowd who wanted to lynch him. Police saved him.

Townsend, a grown man with the mental capacity of a child, confessed to nearly two dozen sex murders in Miami-Dade and Broward. He was convicted of six murders and a rape in 1980, and sent to prison for life. He stayed there for 22 years, until DNA tests cleared him in 2001.

Miami police and the Broward Sheriff’s Office later paid a combined $4.2 million in settlements. Defense lawyers for the police cost taxpayers another $1 million. But the detectives whose testimony sent Townsend to prison were never investigated, according to Townsend’s Fort Lauderdale attorney, Barbara Heyer.

Public court records, including the lawsuit and original court proceedings, lay out in chilling detail how multiple murder charges were apparently trumped up against Townsend using perjury and the falsification of police reports. The DNA evidence that exonerated him now implicates police.

The lawsuit accuses BSO detectives Mark Schlein and Anthony Fantigrassi of pinning the murders on the weak-minded Townsend to advance their careers.

Fantigrassi retired as head of BSO’s Criminal Investigations Unit in 2005. Schlein, an attorney, is a lieutenant colonel in charge of insurance fraud investigations for the state.

At trial in 1980, both detectives testified Townsend led them to the scene of four Broward murders, and provided them with details only the killer would have known.

Sonja Marion

Sonja Marion

But Townsend wasn’t the killer, so the detectives’ damning testimony takes on new meaning.

Townsend allegedly walked detectives to the spot by the Dillard High School athletic field where 13-year-old Sonia Marion was raped and murdered. Schlein said Townsend identified the weapon he used to kill her.

“The words he used – I’m not absolutely positive – but [Townsend] hit her in the head with a brick,” Schlein testified.

At a pre-trial hearing, detectives offered graphic testimony about Townsend’s alleged confession to the murder of Terry Cummings.

“He indicated, number one, that when he initially struck her in the vicinity of the shack her wig had fallen off. That wig was in fact recovered immediately outside the shack,” said Schlein. “When she threatened to scream or began to scream he removed a very large – like a knee sock, which was red and white in color, and stuck it deep into her throat. This is consistent with the way the body was originally found.”

Fantigrassi testified about the sock and other details. “He drew a diagram in the sand for us,” he said. “He pinpointed which direction the head was, which way the legs were, how the legs were. He made mention of a hand he had placed up on – the left hand, that he had place up on her pants.”

Schlein’s reports contain many of those same statements. A Sept. 12, 1979 report said,   “Townsend stated that he placed her left hand on her hip, “to make her look like she pulled down her pants.’”

Townsend, of course, could not have known any of those crime scene details. DNA tests prove conclusively he did not kill Marion or Cummings, and identify the real killer as insane asylum inmate Eddie Lee Mosley.

Schlein declined to be interviewed about his testimony. Fantigrassi said he never lied to convict Townsend.

“I still vividly remember standing in that crowd with the Miami detectives and Mark and listening to [Townsend’s] story and him making the comment about the color of the sock in the mouth,” Fantigrassi said. “How did he get that specific information? I don’t know…But he didn’t get it from me, and he didn’t get it from Mark. We are both cut from the same cloth. We don’t play around like that.”

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4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. expose FTL says:

    Sir, I am on the inside of this system I am going to give a bit of information because it is time for it to change, the system has been corrupt for too long in Fort Lauderdale: the reason the police in Fort Lauderdale are corrupt is that the criminals have paid off the department, and this is not just the department but the entire system. All in office love money. They love money. So whom ever pays them the most is the most innocent in Fort Lauderdale, and I am sure all around the country. (Don’t feel bad, Babylon is everywhere. Better yet, let us call Fort Lauderdale Sodom, it fits the bill a hell of a lot better. Remember Lot and the homosexuals trying to sexually assault his guests. Re-read that Biblical account to recognize the true ID of Fort Lauderdale.. That means justice is perverted. The criminals are innocent and the Innocent are criminals. So when a criminal calls to report his theft, now the police have to find someone to blame it on. Yes sir yes sir, the police say, we will find the guilty party, but of course we will look everywhere except YOU, for you have made a donation to the PBA or some other crony association. For example: Les Steinger and Joel Steigner both criminals have the police department on their pay rolls. Joel Steigner is still defrauding innocent people out of money with fake investments like the “organic Pizza Scam”. Who knows what Joel is doing with his time now. He has to make money somehow and has no skills other then theft and he is too fat to work. Is the old thief still alive? I don’t even know. He went and bought pizza from a local pizza house and put on a plate and then told some Innocent investors that it was home made organic pizza and he needed a massive amount of money to get his “business” off the ground. (That’s great Joel, Keep up the good work, the Police department and officials in high Government need more donations and gifts). He stole a fortune from some people for a lie. Look it up. (Need more info, research it your self. No more free rides.)

    The police Department is crooked: if the police are paid off by Criminals like Joel and Les Steigner (Les don’t forget had fake doctors with the Mutual Benefits scam) how in the world can there be any justice. He who has the biggest gift wins? Steigner He bought a wonderful house on the end of Pelican Isle (3) I believe it is. He was so good at theft that his widow had to change her name to try and not be associated with her now dead husband’s criminal enterprise Look it up on the internet 3 Pelican Isle is no longer associated with Steigner but Stacy’s maiden name now. If you notice her vehicle still has the “police” car tag as did Les’s car while he was alive. They have paid off every Politian to look the other way. The only people that benefited were him and his cronies; the name was a massive esoteric joke to the initiated. The shoeple believed they were benefitting. What a joke.

    So, in summary, when wicked people have the police department on their pay roll, the police have to find somebody upon which to pin crimes the only people left are innocent people. Black are a great target because most of them do have the money to play the game and stay out of jail. But anybody can become a target because the people who are supposed to be finding the guilty have been paid off by the guilty.

    So Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Go &$%@ your self. The complaint department is run by, wait for it: Pallen as in Palliative care. I.E. we will listen to your complaint but we won’t do anything. Kind of like Obama –care, otherwise know as Death care to the esoterically minded. Any shoeple think that anything is “free” are blind and stupid. End of Rant Have a nice day in Sodom. I am outta this town.

    To the Criminal Cabal in the White house all the way down to the local: There is only One God and it is not Allah, it is not Buddha, and it is not your wallet, it is Jesus Christ. Repent and do justice because when Jesus Christ shows up you will have to look at HIM a man that was sentenced to death illegally by the original criminal Cabal: The Jewish leaders. So he knows the truth. Every dollar you have taken to pervert truth and justice. –Officer Blank.

  2. Larry Grigg says:

    It has been alleged that 4% of the worlds population are sociopaths and that 10% of the people in positions of authority, judges, prosecutors, and police are sociopaths. It is clearly evident here that the prosecutor and police involved in this case fall under the description of sociopath behavior.

  3. Ester says:

    Got another one for you…..Broward does not like to admit to it’s mistakes when caught…..one lie leads to another and another…until it gets to the top and then starts running over. “Everything that is hidden in the dark, will be exposed by the light.” TRUTH-JESUS! Check out CASE NO. 90-013837CF10A talk about the law not abiding by the law. Look for your self.

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