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Murder case reopened; teenager gets apology

A sheriff and prosecutor apologize to a young man after he is acquitted of murdering a tourist last year.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001

JACKSONVILLE -- The sheriff and top local prosecutor have new leads linking two men to the slaying of a Georgia visitor and have formally apologized to a teenager already tried and cleared in the crime.

Sheriff Nat Glover is reopening the investigation into the robbery-slaying last spring of Mary Ann Stephens, following a tip from the assistant public defender who convinced a jury that 16-year-old Brenton Butler was innocent of the crimes.

Glover said Wednesday that investigators are still developing evidence against the pair and have made no more arrests. The new suspects have not been named publicly.

"No words can express my personal regret and the regret of my entire office for the ordeal Mr. Butler and his family wrongly endured," State Attorney Harry Shorstein said Wednesday. "There are now two tragedies that have resulted from this case: the brutal murder of Mary Ann Stephens and the unjust arrest of Brenton Butler."

The sheriff agreed.

"Any time we arrest the wrong person, I'm embarrassed by that," Glover said. "In this case, I feel like I do owe Brenton and his family an apology."

Stephens, 64, of Toccoa, Ga., was robbed of her purse and shot in the face May 7, 2000, as she and her husband walked to their room at a Ramada Inn.

Butler was picked up that day. After Stephens' husband said he was the attacker, he was charged and jailed without bail. Police said he gave them a confession. Butler claimed the confession was coerced by the sheriff's son, homicide Detective Michael Glover, who was called onto the case on his day off. Butler said Glover punched him in the chest, threatened to have his parents harmed and have him put in the electric chair.

Last Nov. 21, a jury found Butler innocent of all charges.

The sheriff's son denied hitting the teenager but also apologized.

"We went with what we had to go with. He was found not guilty. The system did work on his behalf," Detective Glover said. "He does deserve an apology for everything that happened to him. I just want the truth to come out."

The case was reopened after Assistant Public Defender Pat McGuinness got a tip about possible suspects in the case and passed it on, Glover said.

A private attorney for Butler's family, Tom Fallis, called on Shorstein to appoint a special prosecutor.

"There were criminal acts committed here that need to be prosecuted if the system's going to maintain its integrity," Fallis said. "The kid should never have been prosecuted. The system broke down."

Butler's family has notified the city it plans to sue for $2.5-million.

- Information from the Florida Times-Union was used in this report.

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