Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Antonino Lyons

Other Federal Exonerations with Misconduct
In 2001, 40-year-old Antonino Lyons, a well-respected Cocoa, Florida businessman and local NAACP leader, was arrested for cocaine trafficking and selling counterfeit merchandise.

A search of Lyons’s home produced no drugs, drug paraphernalia, counterfeit items, or any other physical evidence.

Lyons went to trial in U.S. District Court in November 2001. He faced a potential sentence of life in prison if convicted. The primary evidence against him 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. One of the witnesses, David Mercer, testified that he purchased five kilograms of crack cocaine directly from Lyons every two weeks for about three years.

On November 26, 2001, after a 12-day trial, a jury convicted Lyons of conspiracy to distribute cocaine, trafficking stolen merchandise, and carjacking based on an incident that allegedly occurred during a drug deal gone bad.

Before Lyons was sentenced, however, his attorneys discovered that the prosecution had failed to disclose evidence of false statements made by Mercer. The undisclosed evidence included a report showing that despite Mercer's claim that he met Lyons face-to-face every two weeks for about three years, he had difficulty picking Lyons out of a photographic lineup. The prosecution claimed the evidence was not in its possession and that tapes of interviews with Mercer had been destroyed--claims that were exposed as false.

On May 22, 2002, U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense and knowingly allowed Mercer to testify falsely. Presnell granted Lyons a new trial. Lyons remained in jail while the prosecution appealed the judge's ruling.

While in jail, Lyons began receiving letters from other inmates who claimed that they had been approached by prosecutors asking them to testify against Lyons, and that they had refused.

In 2003, the Eleventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reversed the ruling granting a new trial. The prosecution sought to move ahead with sentencing, but Judge Presnell ordered the prosecution to disclose for his review all records relating to the other witnesses besides Mercer. The judge discovered that the prosecution had withheld notes and documents from the defense that supported Lyons’s claim that other inmates who testified against him had been lying, and that the prosecutors knew about the lies.

In May 2004, the prosecution asked the court to vacate Lyons's convictions. In September 2004, Judge Presnell dismissed the charges, calling the case a "prosecution run amuck."

In July 2010, the same judge declared Lyons actually innocent. In 2012, the federal government agreed to pay him $140,000 in compensation.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 8/8/2017
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Possession of Stolen Property, Drug Possession or Sale
Reported Crime Date:2000
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:40
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No