Shortly before 9 p.m. on July 31, 1990, Michael Callaghan, a clerk at a Chevron gas station, was robbed of $463 at gunpoint.
About three weeks later, Leroy McGee, 23, a janitor at a local high school, went to the station to buy $3 worth of gas. Callaghan identified him as the man who robbed him and McGee was arrested.
In April, 1991, McGee went on trial. He had told his lawyer, Theota McClaine, that he was polishing floors at the high school from 2:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on the night of the robbery, that he had a time-card to prove it and that a fellow worker was prepared to testify that they communicated every 15 minutes by walkie-talkie during their shift. Further, Callaghan’s description of the robber was of a thin man with a mustache. McGee was stocky and had no facial hair.
However, McClaine never called the co-worker as a witness, tried to introduce McGee’s time card for the week preceding the robbery and failed to voice a single objection during the 1½ day trial.
McGee was convicted by a jury and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison.
In June, 1992, the Court of Appeals of Florida affirmed his conviction.
While in prison, McGee wrote numerous letters protesting his innocence. One of those letters, written near the completion of his prison term, was directed to Broward County Circuit Judge Paul Backman—McGee’s trial judge. Judge Backman treated the letter as a motion for new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel and appointed an attorney for McGee.
The attorney, Michael Wrubel, re-investigated the case and filed a motion for new trial in July 1994. At a hearing before Judge Backman, Wrubel presented the exculpatory evidence regarding McGee’s whereabouts on the night of the crime, plus evidence that McGee’s car was inoperative on that night and his wife had driven him to work.
In September 1995, by which time McGee had served his sentence and had been released from prison, Judge Backman vacated his conviction because of McClaine’s inadequate defense. The state then dismissed the charges.
McClaine was disbarred by the state of Florida in 1993 for mishandling client funds.
In February 2010, McGee was awarded $179,000 from the Florida compensation fund.
– Maurice Possley
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.