In 2001, Antonino Lyons, a well-respected Cocoa, Florida businessman and a local NAACP leader, was arrested for cocaine trafficking and selling counterfeit merchandise. No drugs, drug paraphernalia, counterfeit items, or any other physical evidence was found in a search of Lyons’s home. The only evidence against Lyons at trial was the testimony of 29 inmates, all of whom received reduced sentences, who testified that they bought drugs from Lyons as part of a drug ring. In November 2001, a jury convicted Lyons of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, trafficking stolen merchandise, and carjacking, an incident that allegedly occurred during a drug deal gone bad. Before Lyons was sentenced, he was granted a new trial because of prosecutorial misconduct, but he remained in jail while the prosecutor's appeal was pending.
While in jail, Lyons received letters from other inmates who claimed that they had been approached by prosecutors asking them to testify against Lyons, and that they had refused. After a federal judge ordered the government to turn over a number of documents, it was discovered that the prosecution had withheld notes and documents from the defense that supported Lyons’s claim that the felons who testified against him had been lying, and that the prosecutors knew about the lies. In May 2004, the government asked the court to dismiss the drug charges against Lyons. In September 2004, a United States District Court judge vacated Lyons’s convictions and dismissed the remaining charges with prejudice, precluding a retrial. In July 2010, the same judge declared Lyons actually innocent of the charges, a prerequisite for a claim for compensation for wrongful imprisonment under Florida law.
- Stephanie Denzel