January 24, 2003

Martin McClain : 850-488-7200
cellphone : 305-984-8344
Linda McDermott, 850-488-7200
Jeff Walsh, 850-510-8897

23rd Florida Death Row Inmate Exonerated
Attorneys, Experts Available for Comment

Rudolph Holton spent more than 16 years on Florida's death row for a crime he did not commit. This morning, Mr. Holton becomes the 23rd Florida death row inmate to be exonerated since 1973, and the fourth Florida death row inmate exonerated in the last 25 months.

In dropping all charges, prosecutors stated, "due to the unreliability of witness testimony and the lack of physical evidence, the State of Florida cannot proceed to trial." Mr. Holton is currently being held at the Union Correctional Institution, but is expected to be released later today.

Mr. Holton was represented by Linda McDermott of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel-North (CCRC-N) and Martin McClain, a special assistant legal counsel to CCRC-N.

Like the 22 inmates before him, Holton was found to be wrongly convicted -- after serving over 16 years on Florida's death row. This latest exoneration comes in the midst of heightened national concern about the accuracy of the death penalty system and Florida Governor Bush's recent budget proposal to de-fund the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels, the state agency responsible for representing death row inmates in their final postconviction appeals.

In early November 2001, Florida 13th Circuit Court Judge Daniel L. Perry overturned Holton's 1986 conviction because critical evidence had been withheld from the jury that convicted Holton. This evidence implicated David Pearson, the man that Katrina Graddy, the victim, had told the police had raped her ten days before she was found murdered. The police report concerning Ms. Graddy's accusation claim that Pearson had raped her was not provided to Holton's attorney until March of 2001, nearly fifteen years after Holton's trial. Another witness, Donald Smith, came forwarded in 2001 and testified that David Pearson had admitted that he had murdered Ms. Graddy.

The State appealed Judge Perry's decision to the Florida Supreme Court. On December 18, 2002, over one year after Judge Perry's decision, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Judge Perry that Holton's conviction was error riddled and unreliable. At the hearing, Supreme Court Justice Pariente stated that the case "troubled her" and that it "comes close to one of the
strongest cases of potential for actual innocence that [she] had seen."

Mr. Holton joins 102 others nationally who have also been wrongfully sent to death according to records kept by the Death Penalty Information Center. (

"Though we are certainly pleased that the State Attorney has dropped the charges, this does not change the awful fact that Rudolph Holton served over sixteen years on death row for a crime that he did not commit," says attorney McClain.

Mr. Holton is expected to be reunited with his children at the time of his release later today.  Holton's exoneration comes one year after Juan Roberto Melendez's exoneration in January of 2002, and his release from death row after spending over 17 years there.

Holton's exoneration comes two years after Frank Lee Smith was exonerated posthumously through DNA testing. Smith spent over 14 years on death row before succumbing to cancer in January of 2000, eleven months before DNA testing cleared him and identified the real killer.

In just over two years, these three long time death row residents have been exonerated. Additionally, Joaquin Martinez, a Spaniard who won a new trial from the Florida Supreme Court in 2000, was acquitted of the murder charges against him in 2001 after spending 4 years on death row. The compelling and sometimes horrific stories of these other death row exonerees reflect the urgent need to examine Florida's capital punishment system.

In commuting the death sentences of all of the condemned on Illinois' death row, Governor Ryan said, "Our capital system is haunted by the demon of error: error in determining guilt and error in determining who among the guilty deserves to die."

Florida's capital system is plagued by error that steals away the lives of innocent men. Smith gave Florida's death row the last 14 years of his life for a murder that he did not commit. Melendez gave Florida's death row over 17 years before he was exonerated. And Holton gave Florida's death row over 16 years before his release today.

Rudolph Holton, Juan Melendez, and Frank Lee Smith were each represented by the Office of the Capital Collateral Regional Counsels.

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