Defense attorneys and prosecutors team up to exonerate innocent man imprisoned for 16 years

By: - December 14, 2020 5:06 pm

Leonard Cure, surrounded by family members, was wrongfully imprisoned for 16 years and was fully exonerated Monday. Credit: Cure family photo provided by Innocence Project of Florida

A Black man misidentified as an armed robber, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison in 2004 was exonerated Monday after prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys worked together to prove he was innocent.

Leonard Cure, now 51, was imprisoned in Florida for 16 years based on a flawed prosecution largely based on eyewitness misidentification, official misconduct, and ineffective assistance of counsel, according to recent court records.

Innocence Project of Florida attorneys collaborated with investigators in the 17th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office, based in Broward County, to find the evidence that set Cure free.

Circuit Judge John J. Murphy III ordered Cure released from prison on April 14, when the Conviction Review Unit in State Attorney Mike Satz’s office in Fort Lauderdale concluded there was a very high probability that Cure had been wrongfully convicted of the armed robbery of a convenience store.

By April, COVID-19 had begun infecting prison inmates and prison employees, along with the general public, so it was agreed that Cure should not remain in prison pending further investigation that might fully exonerate him.

The judge converted Cure’s sentence to time served — 16 years. He was released and is now living with his family.

“He has a very positive attitude, much better than I would probably have. So many of them do — they are so gracious and grateful and forgiving,” said Innocence Project of Florida staff attorney Krista Nolan, who represented Cure.

“He is living with his family and trying to get a job,” she said.

Nolan said the Innocence Project connects exonerees with social workers to help them navigate public and private social services, training, education, and employment assistance.

In October, an independent review panel (IRP) — a panel within the State Attorney’s Office that includes members of the community — met to pore over additional research and investigative findings and voted unanimously that Cure’s conviction should be overturned.

“The IRP determined that a complete review of the evidence presented at trial and in discovery, as was further investigation of that evidence, demonstrates that the case against Mr. Cure gives rise to a reasonable doubt as to his culpability, and he is most likely innocent,” the judge’s order reads, in part.

Hence, Cure is not only free but fully exonerated. However, he will not be eligible for state compensation for wrongful conviction because he had two prior felonies, including a purse-snatching.

In Florida, a wrongfully convicted person must have “clean hands” — no more than one felony conviction in a lifetime — prior to the wrongful conviction to sustain a claim for compensation, capped at $50,000 per year of wrongful imprisonment.

If not for the clean-hands provision, Cure would be eligible to file for $800,000 to help him recover from the years of liberty taken from him.

The Conviction Review Unit in the 17th Circuit is one of five around the state that reinvestigate convictions involving credible claims of innocence.

The Innocence Project of Florida, and the Innocence Project nationally, have been doing that work for decades. In Cure’s case, the review unit run by Assistant State Attorney Arielle Demby Berger, in league with the Innocence Project, confirmed Cure’s claims that he didn’t commit the crime.

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Laura Cassels
Laura Cassels

Laura Cassels is a reporter, former statehouse bureau chief, and former city editor. She is a classical pianist, a Florida State University graduate and proud alum of the Florida Flambeau, an independent college newspaper. Contact her at [email protected]