On the evening of December 8, 1992, Judy Miscally, the editor of the society page of the Bradford County Telegraph, was shot during a robbery in a phone booth outside a convenience store in Starke, Florida.
Before she died, Miscally said a skinny black man shot her, and that he ran behind a dumpster near the nearby Starke Motor Court.
Thirty-six-year-old Joseph Nahume Green, Jr., an African American with a history of numerous convictions, including second-degree murder, was living in room 2 at the motel.
Although one witness said she thought three men were involved in the robbery, the Starke Police Department focused on Green after they interviewed Lonnie Thompson, a man with an IQ of 67 who had consumed eight 16-ounce beers prior to the shooting.
Thompson said he was standing more than 250 feet away, across a five-lane highway in front of the store, when he saw a gunman shoot the victim after a struggle.
At first, Thompson said he thought the killer was a white man, but three hours later Thompson told a Bradford County sheriff's deputy that the killer was Green.
Although there was no physical evidence linking Green to the crime, he was convicted by a jury and sentenced to death in October 1993, based on Thompson’s testimony and evidence that he was in the vicinity and could have committed the murder.
On November 27, 1996, the Supreme Court of Florida ordered a new trial for Green, ruling that Green’s clothes had been seized from his room at the motel based on an overly-broad warrant, and that the prosecution had improperly cross-examined a defense witness at trial.
In June 1998, Circuit Judge Robert P. Cates, who had originally sentenced Green to die, held a hearing to determine whether Thompson was competent to testify given his low IQ, a history of head injuries, and substantial alcohol consumption at the time of the crime. At the hearing Thompson said he agreed to name Green after a sheriff’s deputy insisted that Green was the shooter. Judge Cates barred Thompson from testifying, saying he was an unreliable witness.
Green was released from custody in July 1999 to await a new trial.
Ultimately, the original trial transcript minus Thompson’s testimony was submitted to Cates, who acquitted Green on March 16, 2000, saying there was no evidence tying Green to the murder.
Green later filed a civil wrongful conviction suit that was settled in December 2001 for an undisclosed amount. As part of the lawsuit, Thompson provided a sworn affidavit in which he said he was trying to stay out of trouble with police by identifying Green.
“Once they got me to say it was Joseph Green who shot Miss Miscally, I believed if I said anything else that I would be in bad trouble with the law," Thompson said in the affidavit.
– Karen Oprea