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Steven Carter

Other 1990 Exonerations
At 5 a.m. on July 29, 1989, six workers for Florida Power & Light Company were replacing a power pole in Bradenton, Florida. Four of the men were working in raised buckets and two men were on the ground when a man armed with a shotgun emerged from the pre-dawn shadows and ordered the two men on the ground to get down.

When the two workers, William Gray Jr. and Gary Dill, attempted to get away, the gunman shot at them and fled. Gray was hit in the left lower leg and Dill was struck by pellets in the lower back and buttocks. Both men survived.

About two weeks later, the police said an informant said the gunman was 19-year-old Steven Carter. At around the same time, two people reported to police that Carter approached them on the street waving a pistol and accusing them of cooperating with the police investigation of the shooting. The two people said Carter fired several shots in the air before they fled.

Carter, who had a prior conviction for aggravated battery, was arrested on August 16, 1989. Dill and Gray identified Carter in a photographic lineup and then in a live lineup. Carter was charged with attempted murder, aggravated assault with a firearm, aggravated battery and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. No shotgun was found.

Carter went on trial in Manatee County Circuit Court in April 1990. Dill and Gray both identified him as the gunman. They testified that Carter approached and ordered them to lie on the ground. When they didn’t immediately get down, he fired once into the air and then when they attempted to move away, he shot them.

Carter’s attorney, James Slater, attempted to undermine the identifications of Carter by pointing out that the initial description of Carter given by Gray and Dill was of a man no taller than 5 feet, 9 inches tall with a stocky build. Carter was 6 feet 4 inches tall and had a slender build.

On April 19, 1990, the jury convicted Carter of aggravated assault and aggravated battery.

While Carter was awaiting sentencing, Manatee County Sheriff’s detective Ned Foy arrested 20-year-old Derrick Hawkins for two crimes committed in Bradenton with a shotgun. Hawkins was charged with committing a robbery with a shotgun on May 3, 1990 and a drive-by shooting with a shotgun on May 4, 1990.

Foy said that an informant told him that Hawkins had admitted shooting the utility workers.

On May 29, 1990, Carter’s lawyer presented the judge with photographs of Hawkins and Carter along with a physical description of Hawkins. Hawkins was shorter and heavier than Carter but his face resembled Carter’s.

“You can see from the photographs there is an amazing resemblance from Mr. Carter to Mr. Hawkins,” defense attorney Slater argued. “I would hope the court believes the state’s case was not the strongest on identification. There was no physical evidence—only the testimony of two witnesses.”

The judge granted a continuance after Assistant State’s Attorney James Parker conceded that Carter could be innocent.

In July 1990, the judge held a hearing on a motion for new trial. Slater presented affidavits from witnesses who said that Hawkins had admitted he shot the utility workers. In addition, Slater pointed out that shotgun shells recovered from the scene of the shooting had been discarded by police and could not be compared to the shotgun confiscated from Hawkins when he was arrested.

On July 20, 1990, Circuit Judge Robert Boylston vacated Carter’s conviction and ordered a new trial. On August 22, 1990, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Carter was not immediately released because that same day he pled guilty to assaulting a jail guard while he was in custody awaiting trial on the utility worker shooting case. Carter was sentenced to eight years in prison.

In December 1990 Hawkins was convicted of attempted murder and armed robbery and sentenced to 15 years in prison. He was never charged with shooting the utility workers.

Carter was released after serving less than half of his sentence. He was fatally shot outside a Bradenton tavern in 1994.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/10/2014
Most Serious Crime:Assault
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1989
Sentence:Not sentenced
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No