William Jent

William Jent and his stepbrother Ernest Miller were sentenced to death in Pasco County in 1980 and exonerated in 1988

William Jent and his stepbrother, Earnest Miller, were sentenced to death for the rape and murder of an unidentified woman whose badly burned body was found in a Pasco County, Florida, game preserve. The convictions rested on the testimony of two purported eyewitnesses who claimed they saw the defendants beat the woman until she collapsed, put her into the trunk of a car, drive to a game preserve, and set the body afire. A third purported eyewitness corroborated parts of the story. The convictions were twice affirmed by the Florida Supreme Court, and the defendants came within 16 hours of execution in 1983 before winning a stay from a federal judge because the prosecution had withheld exculpatory information. In 1986, the victim finally was identified and it was determined that her death occurred at a different time than the eyewitnesses had contended. The defendants had a solid alibi. Moreover, it turned out, the victim's former boyfriend had been convicted in Georgia of an eerily similar crime. A new trial was then ordered, but prosecutors refused to drop the charges. In 1988, the defendants pled guilty to second-degree murder in order to be released immediately from prison. Once free, however, they repudiated the pleas. The original witnesses subsequently made statements indicating that they had been coerced by sheriff's officers to fabricate the story presented at trial. In 1991, the Pasco County Sheriff's Department paid the men $65,000 to settle civil rights claims. The defendants and the victim were Caucasian.