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Retarded man's murder conviction is tossed out

In his ruling, a federal judge finds fault with the actions of the sheriff's detectives and the trial judge in the case.

©Associated Press
March 20, 2003

MIAMI -- A federal judge threw out a murder conviction against a retarded man in the killing of a deputy 12 years ago and issued an order Wednesday telling the state to retry him or free him within 90 days.

U.S. District Judge Donald Graham found several faults with the way Broward County sheriff's detectives got Timothy Brown to waive his right to remain silent as they questioned him in the shooting death of one of their own.

The ruling eliminated a confession the judge called "the only meaningful evidence" against Brown, who was 15 at the time of the killing, and had a mental age of 7 or 8.

Brown, now 27, is serving a life sentence.

Graham had been considering the dispute since December, after hearing weeks of evidence about the original investigation and a second one that began after a new suspect surfaced two years ago.

"I'm very ecstatic. I am happy. I am over-overjoyed," said Othalean Brown, who claimed her son was railroaded along with another retarded youth. "He should never have been in prison from day one. My son should have been home all this time with me enjoying life with the rest of us."

Tim Day, Brown's federal public defender, said, "We praise God for this result." He told WSVN-TV that "our prayers and our thoughts are also with the Behan family," referring to the family of the slain deputy. "We pray that justice will come to them as it has come to Tim Brown."

Florida Assistant Attorney General Celia Terenzio said she would consult with Broward prosecutors, and Attorney General Charlie Crist would decide whether to appeal within a 30-day deadline set by federal law.

There was no immediate comment from prosecutors or the Sheriff's Office.

Only their conflicting confessions, given after they were arrested nine months after the shooting, linked Brown and co-defendant Keith King to the late-night shooting of Patrick Behan in his patrol car outside a Pembroke Park convenience store. King served nine years on a guilty plea to manslaughter.

In a 91-page order, Graham said Brown's trial judge violated his constitutional rights by allowing jurors to hear the confession. "His conviction and current custody are unconstitutional," the judge concluded. The judge earlier took what he called "the rare and extraordinary" step of agreeing with Brown's "actual innocence" claim based on taped confessions to undercover agents by the new suspect.

The Sheriff's Office decided last year it didn't have enough evidence to prosecute the new suspect, a fired jail guard who held a grudge against a deputy whom Behan was filling in for the night he was killed.

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