Miami commissioners agreed Thursday to pay $2.2 million to settle a grave injustice involving a mentally retarded man who spent 22 years behind bars — for murders and rapes he didn’t commit, reports the city’s Herald. The main evidence against Jerry Frank Townsend: his own confessions. But those confessions were fundamentally flawed. Townsend has an IQ of 58, making him vulnerable to police coercion. Following his 1979 arrest, he was questioned for five days by Miami police and the Broward Sheriff’s Office, without an attorney present.
Prodding by both police departments led Townsend to claim responsibility for a host of crimes. Townsend’s confessions were rife with inconsistencies, but he was sent to prison anyway. Finally, in 2001, DNA evidence cleared Townsend and led to his release. ”This is a perfect example of how not to handle a case like this,” Miami City Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez said Thursday. Townsend, 57, lives with relatives in North Florida. He is a mild-mannered man, with a speech impediment and the mental capacity of a child. ”I’ve been through hell for something I didn’t do,” Townsend told reporters in 2001.