Legacy of retiring Judge Silvernail will continue | FLORIDA TODAY | floridatoday.com
It was a historic moment, one that helped set a man free and one that a retiring judge will remember forever.
I, having been in the courthouse, will likely remember it forever as well.
Despite Florida state legislators, our senate president, our house speaker and our governor repeatedly refusing to answer my simple question of whether or not exonerees are gagged in state exoneration compensation agreements about discussing their cases, I think the above-linked article provides the answer, that yes, indeed, they are. Because neither reporter John Torres or retiring Judge J. Preston Silvernail got their stories straight about Wilton Dedge’s exoneration.
The documentary After Innocence contains courtroom footage of Wilton’s hearings before Silvernail. In no way does the footage match Torres or Silvernail’s recollections.
I can’t imagine being Wilton right at this moment, and being powerless to correct the misinformation, knowing that there’s little chance it’s innocent error and a whopping chance that the shared mis-recollections are designed to keep additional, nearly identical frame-ups intact.
Silvernail did not order mitochondrial DNA testing of Wilton’s evidence, he ordered Y-STR DNA testing; mitochondrial was anything but new in 2004. And Silvernail did not order DNA testing of hair, he ordered it on the rape kit.
The hair evidence had already been DNA tested years earlier, and was determined not to match Wilton or the rape victim. The hairs did not even match each other, which suggested that they had been planted. Wilton should have been freed right then, because there was already overwhelming evidence that he’d been framed.
Prior to Gerald Stano’s 1998 execution, Clarence Zacke recanted his jailhouse informant testimony against both Wilton and Gerald, naming prosecutors Chris White and John Dean Moxley as his coaches. Zacke’s admission was made over a prison phone, with no expectation of privacy. There was no forensic evidence against Gerald for any homicide, let alone dozens, and charlatan dog handler John Preston – discredited in Dale Sutton’s Ohio federal case in December of 1982 – had been involved (as he had in Wilton’s case), publicly claiming to have come yards away from putting Stano at one (1) homicide scene, long after the fact. Several Daytona officers testified FOR Gerald, insisting that he was a serial confessor from whom investigator Paul Crow had coerced numerous false confessions. The first ghostwriter that investigator Crow hired to capitalize on portraying Gerald as a serial killer backed up the Daytona officers’ testimony with his own.
As I knew that Chris White had coached Zacke before Wilton’s hearings before Silvernail were underway, I have issues with White being allowed to continue to prosecute Wilton. With such a large team of Innocence Project and other attorneys, I can’t imagine how it was that Wilton was subjected to being in the same room as White. I have issues with White even remaining free, given his penchant for repeatedly putting Preston and jailhouse informants on the stand.
I find it incredible that Silvernail didn’t know about Preston being discredited, or White being outed for soliciting false testimony, not only because of Dale Sutton’s exoneration, but of another Brevard judge’s diligence in the absence of being duly apprised by prosecutors that Preston had been discredited. In Juan Ramos’ 1987 retrial, Judge Gilbert Goshorn skill-tested Preston and found he couldn’t track anything. Goshorn concluded, formally, that Preston must have been fed information in order to testify so credibly against Ramos. Goshorn has NOT remained silent; he has taken every opportunity to remind the public of that skill-test.
As to prosecutor’s obligation to apprise judges of Preston being discredited, it was clear that Brevard prosecutors knew of Sutton’s exoneration in a January 30, 1984 Sentinel article about Gary Stanley Bennett’s then-recent conviction (another Preston frame-up), “Legal foes differ on value of dog’s nose.” Prosecutor Moxley was quoted in the article, and so was Norm Wolfinger, who had helped defend Ramos. Sutton’s case was referred to in the article, without naming him. Not only had Preston failed at identifying scent in Sutton’s case, he had blatantly misrepresented his own training as well as his dog’s lineage.
Brevard prosecutors desperately want to keep Gary Bennett’s now nearly 30-year-old Preston frame-up intact, so desperately that they transferred his prosecution to the 9th judicial circuit, the circuit that had recommended Preston to them. There, Preston had been used in another federal case, which resulted in schizophrenic Linroy Bottoson’s 2002 execution … despite a legitimate dog handler, Orange County deputy Greer, blowing Preston’s phony testimony out of the water.
Florida prosecutors like to bury their mistakes and malice. Literally. By law, evidence can be destroyed 60 days post-execution, which is convenient for maintaining undeserved reputations, but not at all convenient for solving cold cases. Wayne Tompkins was executed hastily, with Governor Crist refusing the Innocence Project of Florida’s offer to DNA test evidence for free. Saving reputations is priority one with Florida governors … my first protests about Wilton and Gerald’s cases were electronically sent to then-Governor Bush and Attorney General Crist.
Unfortunately, Wilton’s wasn’t the only case that Torres touched on … he also reminisced about being present in Silvernail’s court for Sherman Dorsey’s Shaken Baby Syndrome homicide conviction. And I suspect that this, too, was agenda-laden. The criteria for Shaken Baby Syndrome has been narrowed significantly since Dorsey was convicted, resulting in exonerations. It could be that the newly narrowed SBS criteria indicates that Dorsey is innocent.
Torres touted Silvernail’s service on Florida’s Innocence Commission, which was a wholesale waste of taxpayer dollars. The Commission was marketed to the public as following North Carolina’s lead in investigating the integrity of standing convictions. The Commission was not as advertised. It devoted all its time to criteria for “preventing future wrongful convictions,” which is as wise as working on preventing future fires when there is a four-alarm blaze in progress … Florida holds the record for death row exonerations, and that’s with fighting with all their might to execute innocents like Gerald Stano and Linroy Bottoson, and perhaps Wayne Tompkins. Silvernail was not the only one on the Commission aware of the Preston frame-ups four-alarm fire. Commission Chair Judge Belvin Perry hailed from the circuit where Bottoson was Preston-prosecuted (and likely additional persons whose names haven’t come to light) and Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey couldn’t help but know the extent of his Brevard representative’s participation in covering up rather than curing Preston-tainted convictions, among other rogue behaviors. That FDLE Brevard representative – Wayne Ivey – is now Brevard’s sheriff, even though his service record with the FDLE renders him unemployable in law enforcement.
Because of all the above, I was not touched in the least by Torres mention of Silvernail’s grave illness.
Illness is natural; frame-ups are not. Recovering from illness is also natural, but recovering from being framed is not … I bet there is no mental health expert anywhere on earth that would say that it’s even possible to recover from being framed.
Wilton can’t even have the peace of mind that reporting his story straight would provide, as the hard truth would put dangerous felons as well lawless officers, prosecutors, defenders, and judges behind bars while getting innocents out from behind them.
Please do rent After Innocence. Watch Chris White’s over-the-top theatrics, and imagine being Wilton, forced to sit there and listen to the shrill nonsense, knowing that Clarence Zacke had made it clear – in the previous century – exactly what White was … just as much as a phony as John Preston. Do watch the outtakes, too, and learn that Norm Wolfinger is cut from the same cloth as White, and that it very much mattered in how Trayvon Martin’s homicide was handled, among many other travesties, including Gary Bennett’s ongoing persecution.
After watching the DVD, please join the fight to free Gary. Use the link to the right to join the Facebook group his family set up. And if you Tweet this blog post, please use #FreeGaryBennett somewhere within it.
Above all, please take mainstream media reporting with a truckload rather than a grain of salt … start noticing when someone story is told only in others’ words, like Wilton’s story.
USA Today told Juan Ramos’ story much the same way on January 19, 1994 in “CONVICTED ON FALSE EVIDENCE?/False science often sways juries, judges;” the reporters called a still-illegitimate “all clear” on Preston frame-ups.
As you may have guessed by the similar names and similar “reporting” style, USA Today and Florida Today have the same owner, Gannett. Somehow, federal authorities are content with media ownership that’s now so concentrated that the truth doesn’t stand a chance.
Silvernail is likely being whitewashed to take on some new role, just as former Brevard sheriff Jack Parker was whitewashed to seemingly deserve a new position at Brevard’s Eastern Florida State College, for a whopping $120,000 a year, which I’ll address further in a subsequent post.
There’s one more thing you can do to help Gary (pictured below with his niece and mother) and others who remained Preston-pejury framed. Email Florida Attorney General Bondi and ask her to make good on her campaign promise to investigate all Preston convictions.