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Harleme Larry

Other Florida Exonerations with False Confessions
In the early morning hours of July 10, 2010, four men drinking beer were confronted by a youth who demanded money in Dade City, Florida. After 31-year-old Agustin Hernandez handed over $4, he was fatally shot in the chest.

Two days later, 14-year-old Harleme Larry surrendered to police and admitted he was the gunman. Larry said that he was walking past the men when Hernandez threatened to hit him with a beer bottle. Larry said that he had a .45-caliber revolver under his shirt and he took it out. When Hernandez came toward him, Larry said, he pushed him in self-defense and the gun discharged.

Larry said he threw the gun into a nearby lake. Divers searched, but were unable to find the gun.

A search of Larry’s home revealed a black drawstring bag that police said tested positive for gunshot residue.

In June 2013, Larry went to trial as an adult in Pasco County Circuit Court. A witness, Keith Cheatum, testified that he saw a black male walking near Oak Street in the early morning of July 10, 2010. The male had a red bandanna on his face and was carrying a black bag. The male asked Cheatum what he was looking at, and Cheatum said he replied that he was not looking at anything.

Cheatum identified the bag found in Larry's residence as looking like the bag he saw the male carrying.

Police testified that Larry had confessed to the crime, but claimed he was acting in self-defense. A recording of the interrogation and confession was played for the jury.

On the tape, Larry said he had gotten into a fight with his brother and went for a walk on Oak Street with a gun in his waistband.

He said the four men he encountered offered him a beer and he replied, “No, I don’t want a beer. I want some money, though.”

After the men gave him what little they had, they “started getting smart in the mouth.”

“Somebody swung a bottle,” he told the detectives. “The gun went off.”

Larry testified and said his confession was false. He described how, at age 3, his stepfather murdered his mother, who was a crack addict, and he had been raised by his grandmother.

He told the jury that his friend, Derrick Wright, committed the crime and asked him to take the blame.

“Me and Derrick Wright, we was real close,” Larry said. “We was like brothers.”

He said Wright asked him to take the blame because Larry was only 14 at the time of the shooting. Wright told him he'd only have to spend two years in prison if he were convicted.

Larry said Wright told him to say one of the men swung a beer bottle at him and he took out the gun, pushed it on his chest, and it went off.

“That’s my best friend. I never thought that he’d do anything to hurt me,” Larry said. “I thought he'd do the same for me.”

During cross examination, Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia asked Larry how he knew such specific details if he was not present when the crime occurred.

Larry said he just repeated what Wright told him to say.

“I didn’t do the crime, sir,” he said.

Larry’s defense lawyers, assistant public defenders Tom Hanlon and Dillon Vizcarra, sought to introduce testimony from Edner Dely. Dely claimed that not long after the shooting, Wright had admitted to him that he “shot the Mexican” and that his aunt took Larry to the police station to take the blame. The trial judge refused to the allow Dely to testify.

The prosecution later recalled Cheatum, who testified that he had known Wright since he was a young child and knew his voice. Cheatum said he was certain that the man he encountered on the street that night was not Wright.

On June 7, 2013, the jury convicted Larry of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to life in prison with no opportunity for parole for the first 25 years.

In March 2015, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that juveniles sentenced to life in prison were entitled to new sentencing hearings to determine whether their sentences should be lowered. In August 2015, Pasco County Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa resentenced Larry to a term of 40 years after a forensic psychologist said that Larry’s behavior in prison had improved and he was dedicated to rehabilitating himself.

Judge Siracusa noted that Larry “had a tragic upbringing and was given very little chance to succeed in life.” The judge added, “What you do in the next 20 years decides whether you get out or not. You quite literally hold the keys to your freedom.”

In March 2018, the Second District Florida Court of Appeals reversed Larry’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The appeals court held that Dely should have been allowed to testify about Wright’s admission to the crime.

In February 2019, Larry went to trial a second time. Wright was called to testify, but he refused even to take the oath and did not testify. Dely testified that he was in a bar with Wright two weeks after the murder when Wright said that he had committed the shooting and that Wright’s aunt took Larry to the police station to falsely confess.

On March 1, 2019, the jury acquitted Larry and he was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 10/14/2019
Last Updated: 10/18/2019
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2010
Age at the date of reported crime:14
Contributing Factors:False Confession
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No