Conviction Integrity Units not only exonerate the innocent, they solve crimes and bring justice

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On Thursday, Aug. 4, State Attorney Andrew Warren planned to hold a press conference announcing he’d solved the 1983 murder of Barbara Grams. He still held that press conference, albeit later than intended, after spending the day with Grams’ family and after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him as State Attorney.

Warren’s Conviction Integrity Unit exonerated Robert DuBoise of Grams’ murder in 2020. But the State Attorney’s Office’s work didn’t stop there. DNA technology has significantly evolved since 1983. Using previously untested rape kits from not only Grams’ case but also the rape and murder of Linda Lansen, the Conviction Integrity Unit solved those crimes.

Now two men — Amos Robinson and Abron Scott — have been indicted for the 1983 murders of both Grams and Lansen. The two men also are under investigation for other cold cases in the Tampa Bay area, while notably, serving life sentences for a 1983 murder that occurred in Pinellas County — meaning their crimes are certainly not isolated to Hillsborough County.

Lansen’s niece spoke at the press conference last week, saying she thought this day would never come. She remarked that reaching resolution in her aunt’s case “meant everything,” talking specifically about the Conviction Integrity Unit’s work giving their family the gift of “calm.”

It was profound and what anyone hopes for those who have suffered the tragic loss of a loved one — a resolution unfortunately not often provided by the justice system.

Unfortunately, the State Attorney’s Office, Sixth Judicial Circuit (Pinellas-Pasco Counties) does not have a similar Conviction Integrity Unit. When appointed by Gov. DeSantis following his predecessor’s passing, Sixth Circuit State Attorney Bruce Bartlett said he did not see the point in establishing one.

If it were up to Bartlett, heinous cold cases like these would continue to sit on a shelf, unsolved. Advancements in DNA technology have identified DNA foreign to Sharra Ferger inside of her 9-year-old body, yet despite that DNA not belonging to either man serving life in prison for her rape and murder, Bartlett is fighting tooth-and-nail to maintain the convictions of those men, Gary Cochran and Steve Cannon.

Ironically, the State Attorney’s Office concedes it prosecuted the wrong man — Dale Morris — in this exact case initially, yet somehow holds firm to the infallibility of the convictions of Cochran and Cannon despite physical evidence proving their innocence.

Similarly, in 2015, Kevin Kyne was exonerated at trial of the murder of his mother, Diane Kyne. And despite the fact that credible evidence exists that his stepfather, Diane’s husband, Bill Kyne murdered Diane, the State Attorney’s Office has never prosecuted him.

Bill Kyne was prosecuted in 2019 for running a bicyclist, a prominent local doctor, off the road on his motorcycle, badly injuring the man, and then fleeing. Bill Kyne is currently in prison for those crimes. When you prosecute the innocent, the guilty go free. And continue to victimize people.

Charles Hixon was charged with two counts of first-degree murder in 2018. Mr. Hixon was in jail nearly a year, facing the death penalty, all while the State Attorney’s Office knew that the police were investigating an alternative suspect.

That alternative suspect, Corey Small, coincidentally murdered someone exactly 30 days after the murders of Cheryl Casey and Kenneth Shook, the murders for which Hixon was originally charged.

Charges were ultimately dropped against Hixon when the one witness implicating him recanted her testimony, stating that law enforcement pressured her into saying what she initially did. Small has since pled guilty to the later murder. The State Attorney’s Office, under Bartlett’s leadership, has never successfully prosecuted anyone for the murders of Casey and Shook.

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, prior to the pandemic, Florida’s Sixth Circuit sent more people to prison annually than any other in the state, including Miami-Dade, and Bartlett is at the center of the problem.

In DeSantis’ announcement suspending State Attorney Warren, the Governor described investigating all 20 State Attorneys in Florida. Perhaps Gov. DeSantis should take a harder look at his own appointee, Bruce Bartlett.

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Allison Miller is a longtime trial attorney, public defender, and victim advocate running for State Attorney in Pinellas and Pasco Counties. To learn more, please visit MillerForStateAttorney.com.

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