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Leonard Cure

Other Broward County, Florida exonerations
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Shortly after 7 a.m. on November 10, 2003, a man with a revolver forced his way into a Walgreens drug store on south Federal Highway in Dania Beach, Florida. The robber entered when the manager, 47-year-old Ashraf Rizk, opened the door for another employee, 48-year-old Kathy Venhuizen, who was arriving for work. Rizk tried to punch and shove the robber to keep him out, but was unsuccessful.

When the robber pointed his gun at Rizk and threatened to blow his head off, Rizk backed off. He then opened the safe and the robber escaped with $1,700 in cash.

Rizk told police he arrived around 7 a.m. and saw the suspect in the parking lot wearing long jean shorts, a long denim jacket and a red baseball cap. Rizk said he asked the man if he needed anything and the man said he was there to make sure his child got on the bus.

At 7:15 a.m., Rizk opened the door for Venhuizen. The robber fled at 7:24 a.m., according to Rizk.

On November 12, 2003, Rizk and Venhuizen met with a detective to create a composite sketch. They could not agree on details—Venhuizen said the robber was missing teeth and Rizk never saw any missing teeth. Ultimately a version was created based largely on Venhuizen’s description. She said that the robber was missing teeth on the left side of his face. She said the robber was a Black man, 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 9 inches tall, and stocky. She said he was “missing teeth…like a vicious animal.”

On November 19, 2003, Venhuizen viewed a photographic lineup that contained photographs of six different men. She identified photograph number 3, 33-year-old Lenard Cure, as the robber. Broward County Sheriff’s Detective Jeff Mellies then showed her a different photograph lineup consisting of four photographs of Cure that Mellies had obtained from the state driver’s license database. She said, “That’s the face.”

Separately, Rizk viewed the six-person photographic lineup. He took several minutes to narrow his choice between number 3 (Cure) and number 6 and he said he was not 100 percent sure. When Rizk said the complexion of number 3 was not right, Detective Mellies showed him three of the four driver’s license photos of Cure that Venhuizen had viewed. Mellies said he covered up the fourth photo because Venhuizen had initialed and dated it. Rizk later testified that he realized the three photos were of the same person. He also claimed he did not select any photo from the first lineup—though Detective Mellies testified that Rizk circled Cure’s photo and signed his initials.

On November 20, 2003, Cure, who was 5 feet 11 inches tall, was arrested on charges of robbery with a firearm and assault with a firearm. At the time of his arrest, police seized a black jacket and a pair of black shorts.

In May 2004, Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Judge Paul Backman heard a motion to suppress the identifications and the clothing. The prosecution agreed the clothing should be suppressed because it was not seized pursuant to a search warrant. Judge Backman also ruled that the lineup procedures were “unnecessarily suggestive.” The judge said that in the six-person photo array, Cure was the only person wearing a gray shirt. He also noted that Venhuizen and Rizk had disagreed about some of the features of the composite sketch. However, the judge ruled that their identifications were reliable.

During a deposition taken prior to the trial, Detective Mellies said he had tracked down a young boy that Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy Connie Bell reported seeing walking in front of her patrol car on the morning of the robbery. At the time, Bell was on duty outside Dania Beach elementary school, which was located just south of the Walgreens. Although Bell had said she did not know the boy’s name and that she never saw him again, she said that the boy regularly walked to school with his sister. On that day, however, she saw him walking unaccompanied with a man wearing blue jean shorts, a blue jean jacket, and a red baseball cap—the same description that Rizk gave of the robber’s clothing.

Mellies said the boy picked Cure’s photograph out of a photo lineup. Mellies also said that he did not make a report of that identification and he refused to reveal the boy’s name because the prosecution did not intend to call the boy as a witness.

Cure went to trial in August 2004. No physical or forensic evidence linked Cure to the crime. Fingerprints had been lifted from the front door of the Walgreens, but none of them were identified as belonging to Cure.

Rizk and Venhuizen both testified and identified Cure as the robber, although Rizk was not 100 percent sure.

Deputy Bell testified that on the morning of the robbery, she was parked in her patrol car in front of the school. She said she was assigned to monitor the school zone and that between 7 and 8 a.m., she saw a Black man walk in front of her vehicle. Bell testified that although she responded to the call of the robbery at the Walgreens, she did not mention seeing the man until a few days later. At that time, Bell said she and her superior, Lt. Barbara Stewart, worked to find the suspect by looking through records.

Lt. Stewart testified that she went to a computer program called TRAP (Track Repeat Arrestees Program), which had information and photographs of people that had been arrested or were on prisoner release and lived in the area. Stewart said that Venhuizen had mentioned that she was impressed that the robber kept his physical appearance neat. Steward said she went through photographs until she found a man who looked like he cared about his appearance. That man happened to be Cure. Stewart said she contacted Detective Mellies, who conducted the photographic lineups.

Bell testified that after viewing the photo selected by Lt. Stewart, she concluded that Cure was the man who walked in front of her patrol car on the morning of the robbery. She also testified that two weeks to two months prior to the robbery, she was reviewing all new criminal registrants/prison-releases in Dania Beach. She said that she was assigned to Cure, who had previously lived in Miami-Dade County and was required to register. She said she had met with him at his residence.

Bell said she didn’t connect Cure to the man walking in front of her patrol car until Lt. Stewart showed her Cure’s photograph.

Although Cure had a missing front and side tooth, his girlfriend, Enid Roman, testified that he had a partial bridge that he always wore. She said that the only time Cure took it out was before going to bed. She said that she didn’t know he had any missing teeth until a while after they started dating. “He never leaves home without it,” she said.

Cure maintained that on the morning of the robbery, he left home with Roman and her three children at about 6 a.m. Two of the children were dropped off at school and the third at daycare. Roman then dropped off Cure at a bus stop and she drove to her job at Memorial Regional Hospital. Cure took two buses to get to his job working construction at Presidential Towers. After leaving the first bus and before catching the second bus, Cure went to a bank ATM at 1909 Tyler Street in Hollywood, Florida—about 3 miles south of the Walgreens. The defense presented a record of a $20 withdrawal that was made at 6:52 a.m. No video from the ATM was available because Cure’s first attorney never got it—even though Cure’s mother had tried to get it and was told that an attorney had to request it. By the time Cure replaced that attorney with the lawyer who represented him at trial, more than 90 days—the standard retention time for such records—had elapsed and so the tape was never obtained.

A co-worker at Presidential Towers, which was three miles west of the bank ATM and about 7 miles from the Walgreens, testified that Cure always came to work around 7 a.m. and was paid from 7 a.m. on the day of the robbery. However, the timesheet was handwritten and was not always filled out contemporaneously. His early arrival was the result of Roman having to be at her job by 6:45 a.m.

Roman testified that on occasion, after dropping off the children, Cure dropped her off at the hospital and then he drove to the work site. On the day of the crime, however, she said she kept the car after dropping Cure at the bus stop.

The construction manager at the site, Marty Weiss, testified that Cure had initially come to the job through a temporary agency and was kept on permanently because he was trustworthy and a hard worker. “He was…our main guy,” Weiss testified. “I mean as far as dependability, his ability to get the job done. And his attitude to be there on time, show up, get the job done and never gave me any slack.”

Cure worked Monday through Friday and some Saturdays. He wore construction boots and clothing suitable for construction work—not jean shorts. On the day of the robbery, Weiss said he arrived at 8 a.m., and Cure was already there and at work.

The prosecution’s only realistic theory for Cure to get to the ATM at 6:52 a.m., commit the crime from 7:15 a.m. to 7:24 a.m., change clothes, and show up on the construction site between 7 and 8 a.m. required him to have traveled by car. Detective Mellies presented evidence showing that the distance from the Walgreens to the ATM was 3.2 miles and from the Walgreens to Presidential Towers was seven miles.

Despite all the prosecution witnesses’ testimony that the robber was walking, the prosecutor, during closing argument, told the jury that Cure “drove his girlfriend’s car.”

On August 17, 2004, a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Prior to a second trial, the prosecution offered Cure a deal—plead guilty for a prison term of seven years. Cure rejected the offer saying he was innocent, even though he had several prior felony convictions and as such faced a potential sentence of life in prison.

He went to trial a second time a few weeks later. The testimony was similar, except Rizk testified as a defense witness that he was unsure that Cure was the robber. On September 21, 2004, the jury convicted Cure of armed robbery with a firearm and assault with a firearm. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2006, the Fourth District Court of Appeals upheld his convictions. Cure subsequently filed for post-conviction relief in 2014 and 2015, but the petitions were dismissed.

In August 2019, Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz created a Conviction Review Unit (CRU). In December 2019, Cure asked the unit to re-investigate his case. After an initial review suggested there were problems with the convictions, Assistant State Attorney Arielle Demby Berger, who headed the CRU, reached out to the Innocence Project of Florida. In February 2020, Innocence Project of Florida attorney Krista Dolan began representing Cure.

On April 14, 2020, the CRU agreed to modify Cure’s sentence to 16 years to allow him to be released on the basis of time served, while the re-investigation of his case continued. At that time, the CRU said it found “most troublesome” how “a man who had no connection to a Walgreens robbery became the main suspect after someone reviewed photos of well-dressed/neat-appearing African American males. That was it. There was no physical evidence, no witnesses who knew him, nothing but an alleged search in the questionable ‘TRAP’ program. The case became questionable at the very onset. If the identification was bad, then everything that comes after is bad as well.”

On December 11, 2020, Judge John J. Murphy III vacated Cure’s convictions based on an agreed order between the prosecution and the defense. On December 14, the charges were dismissed.

The investigation determined that Cure was not identified through the TRAP program, as Lt. Stewart testified at his trial. While there may have been some other database through which Stewart was identified, the CRU investigation suggested that an investigation by the defense prior to the trial “could have led to questions about a lawful identification and subsequent lineups.”

The CRU submitted the results of its investigation to an independent review board, which agreed that Cure’s convictions should be vacated and dismissed. In the agreed order to vacate, Demby Berger said that a “complete review of the evidence presented at trial…as well as further investigation of that evidence demonstrates that the case against Mr. Cure gives rise to a reasonable doubt as to his culpability, and that he is mostly likely innocent.”

Cure’s attorney, Krista Dolan said, “We are thrilled for Mr. Cure and his family. Having his name cleared is a well-deserved win for him, and we’re grateful for Ms. Demby Berger’s extraordinary efforts on this case. She is a credit to Conviction Review Units everywhere.”

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 1/4/2021
Last Updated: 1/4/2021
State:Florida
County:Broward
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Assault
Reported Crime Date:2003
Convicted:2004
Exonerated:2020
Sentence:Life
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:33
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No