Shabaka Brown

Shabaka Brown (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein)

Shabaka Brown (Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein)

When the snitch lied, the prosecutor stood moot

Shabaka Brown, also known as Joseph Green Brown, was sentenced to death in 1974 for the rape and murder of the owner of a small shop in Tampa, Florida, after a trial at which he was represented by a 30-year-old court-appointed lawyer whom the state paid only $2,800 for the case.

The prosecution rested primarily on the testimony of a man who claimed to have committed an unrelated robbery with Brown and who testified in exchange for leniency. When the witness was asked on cross examination if he had been promised anything in return for his testimony, he responded that he had not when, in fact, he had struck a deal with the prosecution eight months earlier. The prosecution did nothing to correct the perjury.

In addition, the prosecution falsely informed the jury that a handgun Brown had turned over to police at the time of his arrest had been used in the crime, although FBI ballistics tests had eliminated that possibility.

In 1986, just 15 hours before Brown's scheduled execution, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit granted his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that the prosecutor had knowingly allowed and exploited false testimony from the state's star witness; the reversal was based largely on a reinvestigation of the case by Centurion Ministries.

The state dropped all charges on March 5, 1987.

Case Data

Jurisdiction: Hillsborough County, Florida
Date of crime: July 7, 1973
Date of arrest: July 8, 1973
Charge: Rape, robbery, and first-degree murder
Sentence: Death
Release or exoneration date: March 5, 1987
Months wrongfully incarcerated: 165
Defendant date of birth: 1949
Defendant race: African American
Race of victim(s): Caucasian
Defendant prior felony record: None
Known factors leading to wrongful conviction: False testimony of a witness granted leniency in an unrelated case, prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel, junk science
Did an appellate court ever affirm conviction? Yes
Exonerated by: Reinvestigation by Centurion Ministries, all charges dropped
Compensation for wrongful imprisonment: None

— Rob Warden