Dedge was given a second trial because prosecutors at his first relied upon discredited evidence that a dog had picked up Dedge's scent in the victim's room.

Innocence lost: An independent  investigation should be conducted to find out who is accountable for an innocent  man spending 22 years behind bars.
St.  Petersburg Times Newspaper Editorial, Florida 8-22-04

Wilton  Dedge is a man who spent half his life in a Florida prison for a crime he didn't  commit. He was convicted of a violent rape in 1982 and was released 22 years  later, thanks to the tireless efforts of a group of lawyers convinced of his  innocence.

But what transforms Dedge's tale from a personal tragedy to a  public travesty is the way the prosecutors spent years blocking efforts by Dedge to prove his innocence. Then, when it became likely they had the wrong man, prosecutors stood in the jailhouse door and fought every effort to free him,  even to the point of arguing that his innocence didn't matter.

The case  against Dedge was weak from the start. At least six of his co-workers said that  he was working at his job at an auto body shop when the brutal rape was supposed  to have occurred many miles away. The victim first identified her attacker as a  six-foot-tall bald man, when Dedge was five-foot-six and had a full head of  hair. But she later said Dedge was the perpetrator.

Dedge was given a  second trial because prosecutors at his first relied upon discredited evidence that a dog had picked up Dedge's scent in the victim's room. At his second  trial, a big deal was made of pubic hair found at the crime scene. A forensics  witness from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the hair could be  Dedge's. It wasn't, as it turns out, but that was only discovered 16 years later  after a DNA test. Also at the second trial, notorious jailhouse snitch Clarence  Zacke testified that Dedge had confessed the crime to him. Zacke's general  cooperation with prosecutors earned him 120 years off his sentence. Dedge was  convicted again and sentenced to life in prison.

In 1996, Dedge first  started asking for DNA tests on the pubic hair. But Brevard County prosecutor  Robert Wayne Holmes vigorously and repeatedly fought the requests. Help for  Dedge came from Barry Scheck and Nina Morrison of the Innocence Project  and Milton Hirsch, a Miami defense attorney, who were all working pro  bono. With that kind of legal firepower, the DNA test was finally done in late  2000. The hair was found not to be Dedge's.

But rather than admit an  error, Holmes changed strategies. He said the pubic hair was insignificant and  Dedge should not be released on that basis. For more than three years, Holmes  and Assistant Attorney General Bonnie Jean Parrish argued before Florida courts  that regardless of the result, the DNA test should not be considered since it  occurred before the enactment of statutory rules on DNA testing. And, they  argued, that in the interest of finality - the principle that the system is  harmed when criminal cases are repeatedly reopened - Dedge should remain in  prison regardless of whether he did the crime or not. After a second DNA test  was conducted on semen samples, excluding Dedge as the rapist, prosecutors finally dropped the charges against him and he was released earlier this month.

How these prosecutors can sleep at night is their problem. How  they are still in their jobs is ours.

Seminole-Brevard State Attorney  Norm Wolfinger is refusing to do an internal investigation into how this  injustice came about and whether to hold anyone accountable for a man who lost  22 years of his life. It is a typical close-the-ranks reaction, but there isn't  a rug big enough to sweep this one under.

It is essential that an  independent investigation be conducted, including whether the snitch Zacke was  coached in any way by prosecutors. If Wolfinger isn't willing, then the governor  should appoint a commission to investigate. If the governor's not interested,  then the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division should be enlisted. One  way or another a bright light needs to be shined on how things went so horribly  wrong.

In addition, Dedge is deserving of substantial compensation, and  the Legislature should make that one of its first orders of business when it reconvenes. The state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars putting Dedge in  prison and keeping him there. Now the state has the duty to dig even deeper to  try to compensate for what was done to him.

Money is only part of the  recompense. Dedge also needs to know that the people who helped to steal his  youth will face their own judgment. Being a prosecutor is a high privilege and  with that comes the corresponding responsibility to put truth-seeking above all  other considerations. When prosecutors are uninterested in evidence of a  defendant's innocence, they have lost their professional way. They should not  only lose their job but their license to practice law.

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