For five years retired FBI Agent John Connolly has been wrongfully imprisoned in a Florida prison. The Florida Appeals Court refuses to write a decision on his appeal. Is it that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) weighs in so heavily on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County that it fails to see that it looks like something rotten is happening? It is so obvious John Connolly should never been incarcerated in Florida that his continuing internment is a mockery of justice. No self-respecting court could countenance such a happening unless it was being influenced by outside forces.
I know Connolly is a pariah. I’m certainly no fan of his. The DOJ, the FBI, and Boston’s media outlets have castigated him. Gangsters used him as a doormat over which to walk to freedom. Yet no man who is innocent should spend a day in prison. Connolly has spent over five years and is facing the future no hope of getting out alive.
Broke, in prison since 2002, abandoned by most, Connolly is represented by law students from the University of Miami School of Law Innocence Clinic. That group on October 9, 2013, filed a Motion for Postconviction Relief. An inarticulately worded press release about that filing follows in pertinent part:
“On November 6, 2008, FBI agent John Connolly was convicted of shooting a man with a firearm. However, John Connolly was in Boston, Massachusetts, when the shooting took place in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Nevertheless, John Connolly has spent the past decade in prison for a murder someone else committed. . . . [he] grew up in South Boston’s projects, alongside the Irish underworld. These childhood contacts later became Connolly’s key informants to bring down Boston’s Italian Mob in the 1980s.
Twenty years after the fall of the Italian Mob, these informants, cooperated with the government to convict Connolly for racketeering and obstruction of justice. The State’s theory was the Mr.Connolly informed members of the Irish Mafia that the FBI was pursuing one of their gang members for cooperation, which resulted in the murder.
Because the statute of limitations for a first-degree felony at the time of the murder was four years, and the state did not indict Connolly until almost twenty years after the murder, the state tried to circumvent the statute of limitations through jury instructions. Although Mr. Connolly was convicted of second-degree murder, the state illegally enhanced the conviction to second degree murder with a firearm by instructing the jury that during the act, John Connolly carried a firearm. The indictment, on the other hand, did not charge Mr. Connolly with carrying a weapon. Rather, the indictment alleged premeditated murder by shooting with a firearm.
It was undisputed at trial that Mr. Connolly was not present at the murder. Indeed, Mr. Connolly was approximately 1500 miles away in Boston. Moreover, the gang member that did shoot the victim testified that he acted alone. Despite this uncontested evidence, the government argued that Mr. Connolly was carrying a firearm, his FBI issued service firearm, in order to trigger the firearm enhancement. Nevertheless, in order for reclassification of second degree murder with a firearm to apply, Mr. Connolly had to have possessed the actual murder weapon at the time of the murder. Mr. Connolly never possessed the actual murder weapon during the commission of the crime.
Mr. Connolly’s attorney highlighted the state’s illegal enhancement in a Motion for Arrest of Judgment on December 2, 2008. The judge agreed with Mr. Connolly, finding the motion to be “legally correct.” However, under Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.590(a), a Motion for Arrest of Judgment
must be filed within ten days of the jury’s verdict. The jury convicted Connolly on November 6,2008. The motion for arrest of judgment had to have been filed by November 16, 2008.
Because of this late filing, the judge was jurisdictionally barred from granting the motion. Since Spring 2013, students Anastasia Cembrovska and Lindsey Halligan of the University of Miami Law’s Innocence Clinic have worked on Connolly’s case. Most recently, the students filed a post-conviction motion for relief, arguing that if it was not for Connolly’s attorney’s failure to file a timely Motion for Arrest of Judgment, Mr. Connolly would be out of prison. The Judge will then either grant a hearing to reconsider the Motion or grant the Motion and release Mr. Connolly from prison.”
In other words to be convicted of the crime for which he was convicted Connolly had to have been the person with the gun, he wasn’t. Even if properly convicted, the statute of limitations had expired. After his conviction, his lawyers had 10 days to set aside the verdict and they failed to file the necessary motion to do this. A case full of errors, an innocent man doing 40 years, and in Florida there is not relief.
There is no way this man should be in prison. I’ll talk about this more tomorrow.