DNA used in exoneration? No
Reasons for wrongful conviction:
Perjury or false accusation
Freddie's Wrongful Conviction
Freddie Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee, both African-American, were convicted and sentenced to death for the 1963 murder of two white gas station attendants in Florida, despite a complete lack of physical evidence. Prosecutors used confessions that were extracted through beatings, testimony of a suspicious eyewitness, and polygraph tests taken under extreme duress to win their case. A few weeks after Freddie and Wilbert were sentenced to death, a white man sentenced to life for another homicide admitted to the killings.
Despite learning of this confession, the local sheriff ignored it. A polygraph examiner who had heard the white man confess took the matter to the press, and soon a new trial was ordered. But astonishingly, Freddie and Wilbert were again convicted. After the second conviction, the alleged eyewitness recanted her testimony, and the state Attorney General admitted that the State had unlawfully suppressed evidence.
The defendants were released in 1975, when they received a full pardon from Governor Reubin Askew, who stated he was “sufficiently convinced that they were innocent.” In 1998, after a 20-year wait, Freddie was awarded $500,000 by the Florida Legislature. This marked the first time that the legislature ordered restitution for a person wrongly sentenced to death.
Freddie's Work Today
Freddie now resides in Miami Shores, Florida. He has devoted his life to educating the public about the death penalty with his razor-sharp knowledge of the legal system that put him on death row. Freddie was formerly the Board Chair of Witness to Innocence.
Here at Witness to Innocence, we like to frequently cite one of Freddie's most moving quotes, as we believe it summarizes our beliefs regarding wrongful convictions and the death penalty: “You can release an innocent man from prison, but you can’t release him from the grave.”
Invitation to a Lynching
Written by Gene Miller and inspired by Freddie and Wilbert's case
Miller's reporting on Freddie and his co-defendant, Wilbert Lee, won him a Pulitzer Prize and helped to free Freddie and Wilbert from prison
In The Media:
7.17.13 Florida’s Timely Justice Act Is Neither Timely Nor Justice
8.30.16 Letter to the editor: Issues with the death penalty
5.1.17 Florida faces its past and is sorry, but does an apology really matter?
2.6.18 Celebrating Black History Month: How a scary night in a small Panhandle town forever changed Annetta Wilson
6.13.18 How Do Innocent People End Up Behind Bars? 6 Shocking Wrongful Convictions
11.2.18 He spent 12 years on Death Row for murders he didn’t commit. Wilbert Lee dies at 83