Convicted of first-degree murder and robbery in Escambia County, Florida, in 1983, Anthony Silah Brown was exonerated three years later after his alleged co-conspirator admitted that Brown knew nothing about the murder for which he was convicted.
On December 21, 1982, James Dasinger, a 53-year-old propane gas delivery man, was making a delivery to a rural area in Cantanment, Florida, when he was robbed and shot to death. When he did not return to the gas company from his route, the company called the police and reported him missing.
Florida State Police Deputy Schulz stopped at a neighboring house to inquire about the location of the gas request. Wydell Demitice Rogers, who was visiting his neighbor, admitted that the address in question was his, but he denied any knowledge of the gas request. Deputy Schulz located Rogers’s home and found the gas truck and the body of James Dasinger. He had been robbed and killed with a .410 shotgun.
During the inspection of the area by Schulz, Anthony Brown appeared at the address. Noticing a small amount of blood on Brown’s watch, Schulz took the watch for evidence and Brown in for questioning. Brown declared that he had been with Rogers earlier in the day and had left to buy drugs at a pool hall in Atmore, Alabama, before returning to his home. Rogers was questioned, but did not show up for further questioning a few days later. When he was subsequently spotted by an officer on December 29, he was taken to the police station where a warrant for grand theft was found in his possession. During the interview, Rogers accused Brown of the robbery and murder.
In June 1983, Rogers pled guilty to second-degree murder without a firearm and to armed robbery without a firearm in exchange for his testimony against Brown. On July 10, 1983, Brown’s trial began. The State argued that Brown and Rogers conspired with each other to rob the gas delivery man. Rogers testified that Brown armed himself with a loaded gun, which enabled Dasinger’s murder. According to Rogers, the defendant admitted that he murdered Dasinger when Rogers picked him up at the scene of the crime. After a 3½ hour jury deliberation, Brown was found guilty of first-degree murder and robbery with a firearm. Despite the jury’s recommendation of life imprisonment, Circuit Judge Joseph Q. Tarbuk overrode the recommendation and sentenced Brown to death on July 15, 1983.
Tarbuk said Brown had no regard for Dasinger’s life and therefore should be sentenced to death. Tarbuck stated that the testimony of Rogers and other witnesses had clearly shown that Brown methodically planned the robbery and that the shooting happened while he was in the act of another felony.
Rogers was sentenced by Circuit Judge Joseph Q. Tarbuck to life imprisonment with no mandatory minimum serving time for the murder and 15 years for the robbery, both sentences running concurrently.
In May 1985, the State Supreme Court overturned Brown’s conviction and ordered a retrial.. The Supreme Court justices found that prosecutors erred while preparing for the first trial when they took a pretrial deposition from a witness without Brown’s presence, thus depriving the defendant of his Constitutional right to confront and cross-examine the witness.
“A prosecutor’s nightmare came true,” according to the Pensacola News Journal, when Rogers reversed his testimony and admitted that Brown knew nothing about Dasinger’s murder.
During the second trial in the Escambia County Circuit Court, Rogers, whose testimony was responsible for Brown’s original conviction, told jurors that he had lied about Brown’s involvement in the slaying of Dasinger. As stated by Defense Attorney James Johnston in his closing arguments: “You’ve got more reasonable doubt in this case than any lawyer could hope for. The only shred of evidence is the testimony of a bald-faced liar.” On February 14, 1986, Brown was acquitted.
In an interview with the News Journal, Rogers said of Brown’s acquittal: “I can say I’m glad he’s free. I wrongly testified against him. Now, I feel good about my testimony.”
- Marisa Rosenbaum and Stan Matthews
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.