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Ronald Stewart

Other Broward County Exonerations
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On May 4, 1983, the body of 20-year-old Regina Harrison, a student at West Palm Beach Atlantic Junior College, was found in in a park in West Lake Park in Hollywood, Florida. She had been raped and strangled.

One of Harrison’s friends helped police create a composite sketch of a man who had been seen cycling with Harrison.

Five months later, a Fort Lauderdale police detective saw a television news report about Harrison’s murder. At the time, the detective was a member of a task force that had arrested 23-year-old Ronald Stewart for a series of rapes. During questioning, Stewart admitted to committing nine rapes in Broward County, although he did not admit raping and killing Harrison.

A woman who told police she saw Harrison riding her bike in the park identified Stewart as the man she saw riding along with Harrison. At about the same time, a jail inmate came forward and said that Stewart had confessed to raping and killing a woman in the park. Stewart still denied he was involved in Harrison's murder, but he was charged with the crime. Subsequently, other Broward County Jail inmates who were confined with Stewart told detectives that Stewart had confessed to the murder.

Ultimately, Stewart pled guilty to three of the nine rapes to which he confessed and was sentenced to lengthy prison terms. In 1984, he was transferred to Mississippi where he pled guilty to other sexual assaults and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

On January 28, 1985, Stewart was back in Broward County and pled no contest to second-degree murder for killing Harrison. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

In 2008, Stewart died of cancer while in prison.

In November 2018, a detective received a letter from the sister of Jack Jones, who had been sentenced to death and executed in 2017 in Arkansas. The letter, which Jones had written, asked his sister to hold onto it for a year and then to inform Harrison’s family and authorities. In the letter, Jones said that he wanted Harrison's family to know that he was the real killer.

“So, you just let them know that I am deeply sorry, that I couldn’t rest easy until they knew the truth," Jones wrote in the letter to his sister. “Let them know that in the end I became a better person, and I did the best I could to be as much as I could for others, out of respect for the ones I’ve harmed.

Jones was arrested in 1995 in Arkansas for the rape and murder of a woman and the beating of her 11-year-old daughter. He was convicted and sentenced to death. In 2003, DNA tests linked him to the 1991 rape and murder of a woman in Fort Lauderdale. Both victims were—like Harrison—strangled. Jones pled guilty to that murder and went back to Arkansas where he was executed in April 2017.

After police re-opened the investigation into Harrison’s murder, DNA tests were performed. In February 2019, the tests linked Jones to the rape and murder of Harrison and excluded Stewart.

On March 21, 2019, the prosecution filed a motion to vacate Stewart’s conviction. The motion was granted and the charges were dismissed.

The Broward County District Attorney’s Office and the Hollywood Police Department jointly issued a statement saying, “Although Stewart is now deceased, it is appropriate that the record be corrected at this time to reflect the results of the new information and evidence uncovered since November 2018.” The statement said, “Ronald Stewart would not have been charged with murder if DNA testing had been available at the time. Ronald Stewart was not responsible for the murder of Regina Harrison.”

The statement added, “The Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Hollywood Police Department regret the roles that our agencies played in Stewart’s conviction for the murder of Regina Harrison.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/24/2019
State:Florida
County:Broward
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1983
Convicted:1985
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:50 years
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*