DNA Frees Mentally Disabled Man

MIAMI (June 16, 2001) - A judge on Friday lifted the murder and rape convictions of a retarded man sent to prison 22 years ago, ordering his immediate release. DNA evidence cleared the man of the crimes in April. 

Jerry Frank Townsend was freed from the Polk Correctional Institution near Lakeland late Friday. Before leaving the prison, Townsend waited inside the prison's lobby with his mother and sister for another relative. 

``Given the preferred deficiency in the state's evidence, a lack of trust in its evidence including the obtained confession, and in some cases what may very well be Mr. Townsend's outright innocence, it is abundantly clear that he is the victim of an enormous tragedy,'' Judge Scott Silverman said in ordering Townsend's release. 

Katherine Fernandez Rundle, state attorney for Miami-Dade, said Thursday it would be too difficult to retry on the rape and second-degree murder charges because prosecutors have no physical evidence and cannot find witnesses. 

``By law, once the Broward sentences were set aside Mr. Townsend's pleas to concurrent life sentences in the Miami-Dade cases must also be set aside,'' Rundle said in a release. 

Townsend, 49, was arrested and charged with raping a pregnant woman in daylight on a downtown Miami street. The victim and witnesses pointed Townsend out to police a few blocks from the scene. 

Townsend's IQ is between 50 and 60 and he has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old, authorities said. 

During the investigation, Townsend confessed to several other slayings and was taken to Broward County murder scenes. During taped confessions, police helped Townsend remember details and corrected him when his story was inconsistent. 

His defense attorneys have said that because of his impairment, Townsend admitted to crimes he did not commit to please investigators. 

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