Shortly before 9 p.m. on July 31, 1990, Michael Callaghan, a clerk at a Chevron gas station, was robbed of $463 at gunpoint.
About three weeks later, Leroy McGee, 23, a janitor at a local high school, went to the station to buy $3 worth of gas. Callaghan identified him as the man who robbed him and McGee was arrested.
In April, 1991, McGee went on trial. He had told his lawyer, Theota McClaine, that he was polishing floors at the high school from 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the night of the robbery, that he had a time-card to prove it and that a fellow worker was prepared to testify that they communicated every 15 minutes by walkie-talkie during their shift. Further, Callaghan’s description of the robber was of a thin man with a mustache. McGee was stocky and had no facial hair.
However, McClaine never called the co-worker as a witness, tried to introduce McGee’s time card for the week preceding the robbery and failed to voice a single objection during the 1½ day trial.
McGee was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.
In June, 1992, the Court of Appeals of Florida affirmed his conviction.
While in prison, McGee wrote numerous letters protesting his innocence. One of those letters, written near the completion of his prison term, was directed to Broward County Circuit Judge Paul Backman—McGee’s trial judge. Judge Backman treated the letter as a motion for new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel and appointed an attorney for McGee.
The attorney, Michael Wrubel, re-investigated the case and filed a motion for new trial in July, 1994. At a hearing before Judge Backman, Wrubel presented the exculpatory evidence regarding McGee’s whereabouts on the night of the crime, plus evidence that McGee’s car was inoperative on that night and his wife had driven him to work.
In August, 1995, by which time McGee had served his sentence and had been released from prison, Judge Backman vacated his conviction because of McClaine’s inadequate defense. The state then dismissed the charges.
McClaine was disbarred by the state of Florida in 1993 for mishandling client funds.
In February, 2010, McGee was awarded $179,000 from the Florida compensation fund.
– Maurice Possley