Dave Keaton (1952-2015)
Dave Keaton was arrested in 1971 for the murder of an off-duty police officer at a Florida convenience store. After three days of relentless interrogation – with threats, lies, and beatings – investigators coerced a confession from him. Although details of the number of participants in the crime, the weapons used, and the location of the “getaway car” differed sharply from the state’s evidence, an all-white jury convicted and sentenced Dave to death. He was 18 years old.
Once he was on death row, the case against Dave quickly unraveled. Journalists revealed that the polygraph operator in his case had a history of extracting false confessions from frightened suspects without lawyers. Fingerprints from the scene and a tip from an informant led prosecutors to the real culprits, who were indicted and later convicted for the murder. Dave was granted a new trial, but without the confession, there was not enough evidence to try him and the charges were eventually dropped. Ultimately, he spent two years on death row for a crime he didn’t commit.
The first man to be exonerated from death row in the United States, Dave was an outstanding poet and an active member of Witness to Innocence. Danny Glover played him in the motion picture The Exonerated.