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Edward Taylor

Other Child Sex Abuse exonerations in Florida
On May 6, 1986, in Jacksonville, Florida, a four-year-old girl, S.M., complained to her mother that she had pain in her vagina. Her mother, D.M., took S.M. to the hospital the following day. S.M. tested positive for gonorrhea. Although a physical examination revealed no trauma, because gonorrhea is transmitted by sexual contact in about 98 percent of all cases, the Duval County Sheriff’s Office commenced an investigation.

The first person to speak to S.M. about the incident was Rosemary Dennis, a Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) intake counselor, who had a 15-minute conversation with the girl on May 10, 1986 at the hospital. Dennis talked to S.M. about her playmates, including a four-year-old boy named Jermaine, and S.M.’s parents. Dennis passed along her notes from this visit to Michael Bruce, an HRS counselor in the sexual abuse unit.

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Detective John Usry interviewed S.M. in the hospital later the same day. S.M. would not say anything about being molested. The first time S.M. described being molested was later that day when she was interviewed by Bruce and a Child Protection Team (CPT) case coordinator, Larri Jo Vretis. After showing S.M. anatomically correct dolls and explaining the difference between “good touches” and “bad touches,” Bruce and Vretis asked her if anybody touched her.

S.M. initially denied that anyone touched her vagina. After Bruce and Vretis said it was their job to make sure the touching would not happen again, S.M. said, “Jermaine’s daddy did it … [H]e put his thing down there.” Asked to demonstrate this encounter with the dolls, S.M., who was white, picked up the black male doll and laid it over the white female doll.

S.M. did not mention anyone by name and gave no indication when it occurred. She said it occurred in Jermaine’s daddy’s bedroom and that she was playing with Jermaine at the time. After the interview, Bruce and Vretis told S.M. they “were proud of her.” Bruce relayed S.M.’s statements to her parents.

After the interview, Bruce and Vretis contacted Detective Usry. That afternoon, Usry asked S.M. for a second time who “touched her and made her go to the hospital.” This time, she told Usry: “Jermaine’s daddy.” Usry said S.M. said that on the day of the incident, she had come over to go swimming with Jermaine, and she was wearing a green swimsuit. S.M. said she, Jermaine, and Jermaine’s daddy had been playing “house” in Jermaine’s daddy’s bedroom. Usry said S.M. said that when Jermaine walked into the bedroom, Jermaine’s daddy told him “to go back to work.” Using anatomically correct dolls, S.M. demonstrated what happened after Jermaine left the room—she pulled down the pants of the black male doll and put it “face to face” with the white female doll. S.M. did not identify the man who molested her by name and did not say when it occurred.

Usry determined that Jermaine was S.M.’s four-year-old friend and neighbor, and that 21-year-old Edward Taylor, who was Black, was Jermaine’s father.

Usry then obtained a warrant for Taylor’s arrest. On May 13, 1986, Usry went to execute the arrest warrant at the home where Edward and Jermaine lived with Edward’s mother, Agnes Anderson, and his 19-year-old brother, Michael. Another brother, 18-year-old Ithemas, had been living there as well, but on May 10, had been sent to Georgia to live with his father.

Before Usry executed the warrant, he saw S.M. in her front yard and spoke to her. Later, Usry would testify that he could not remember exactly what S.M. said, but he learned that there were two adult males living in the home with Jermaine and that S.M. made a statement that led him to believe that the perpetrator was either Edward or Michael Taylor.

Consequently, Usry prepared a photographic lineup so S.M. could show who she was talking about. S.M. viewed the lineup on May 14, 1986 in the presence of her father. Usry included Edward, Michael, and four other black males, but not Ithemas, although Ithemas also had been living in the house at the time of the incident.

Rather than asking S.M. to identify who molested her, Usry asked S.M. if she saw anyone she recognized. She picked out both Edward and Michael. S.M. did not know Michael’s name, but knew he lived in Jermaine’s house. S.M. then identified Edward as Jermaine’s daddy and the person who touched her between the legs.

Later that day, Edward was arrested and charged with sexual battery. At the police station, he wrote out a brief statement. “I Edward Taylor didn’t do this,” he wrote. “I think this is absurd. I have a child 4 years old, I could never do something like this. I am innocent!”

On July 22, 1986, Edward’s attorney took S.M.’s deposition, and on September 23, 1986, the trial court held a hearing to determine whether S.M. was competent to testify. By then, S.M. was five years old. She said that on the day she was molested, she wore a green, two-piece swimsuit and swam in Jermaine’s pool. She testified that while at Jermaine’s house, “the man” told her he would give her some candy if she let him do “bad stuff” to her. S.M. identified Edward as “Jermaine’s daddy” and the person who offered her candy. She said that she and Jermaine and Edward had been playing house when Edward told Jermaine to leave the room and “go back to work.” She said she was molested after Jermaine left the room.

Asked if Jermaine’s daddy touched her, S.M. said, “He pulled my panties down.” She testified that the perpetrator put his “tail” in her “butt.” (Family members said S.M. used the word “butt” to refer to her vagina.) S.M. said the assault took place on a bunk bed and that after being molested, the perpetrator watched her urinate in the bathroom.

Asked if she told her parents about the incident, S.M. said she “forgot.”

During the competency hearing, Judge Louis Safer asked S.M. if she recognized anyone in the courtroom. S.M. said she recognized the prosecutor and a victim’s advocate. Asked if there was a man in the room whom she had seen before, S.M. said, “just only one, just one person,” the judge, which was inaccurate.

Judge Safer then told Edward to stand, addressed him by his surname, and asked S.M. if she knew Edward. She said she had previously seen Edward. S.M. also identified Agnes Anderson as Jermaine’s mother and Michael Taylor as Jermaine’s brother. In fact, Agnes was Jermaine’s grandmother, and Michael was Jermaine’s uncle.

When the judge asked S.M. if anybody told her what to say, she nodded her head affirmatively. Even so, Judge Safer ruled that S.M. was competent to testify.

Edward’s defense lawyer deposed Jermaine on July 22, 1986, and the court held a competency hearing on September 23, 1986. Jermaine was four years old at the time of both proceedings.

During his deposition, Jermaine implicated BeBe, his Uncle Ithemas. Jermaine said S.M. “be in the bed with BeBe, in Michael’s bed.” Asked where Edward was when S.M. was in the bed, Jermaine said, “Edward didn’t be there. Edward didn’t be.” Jermaine also said that BeBe—not Edward—told him to leave the room.

However, at the competency hearing, Jermaine said that neither Edward, Michael, nor BeBe was in the bed with S.M. Jermaine also said that his grandmother, Agnes, told him what to say at the hearing. Following the hearing, Judge Safer ruled that Jermaine was incompetent to testify; that he had been “coached” by his grandmother.

In December 1986, Edward went to trial in 4th Judicial Circuit Court. S.M. testified that she went to Jermaine’s house to swim and wore a green bikini—which her mother later threw away. She identified Edward as Jermaine’s daddy and said that “he stuck his tail in my butt.” She said he then watched her urinate in the bathroom and gave her candy.

S.M. testified that she “forgot” to tell her parents and the doctor about the assault. She recalled that Detective Usry showed her pictures of men, and that she picked out a picture of Edward.

S.M.’s mother testified that she bought S.M. a green bikini around mid-April and that S.M. wore it only once. She recalled letting S.M. go to Jermaine’s house to swim at Agnes’s request in the latter part of April. She recounted how S.M. complained of pain and the trip to the hospital. S.M.’s mother said that after S.M. tested positive for gonorrhea, she and her husband were tested and both were negative.

S.M.’s father testified that he was present when S.M., without hesitation, picked Edward’s photograph out of the lineup.

HRS counselor Bruce and CPT case coordinator Vretis, who had interviewed S.M. on May 12, 1986, both testified that S.M. initially denied anyone touched her vagina and that eventually she told them “Jermaine’s daddy did it,” and he “put his thing down there.”

Detective Usry testified that on the afternoon of May 12, 1986, S.M. told him, “Jermaine’s daddy” had molested her.

Edward testified and denied touching S.M. sexually. He denied that he saw her naked, denied helping her use the toilet, and denied that he exposed his penis to her or put his penis inside of her. Edward testified that on May 20, he was taken from jail and tested for gonorrhea. The result was negative, he said.

Dr. Craig Southwell was called by the defense and testified that he tested Edward for gonorrhea. He noted that while Edward did not appear to have any physical symptoms of gonorrhea, he still tested Edward because sometimes infected individuals are asymptomatic. Dr. Southwell also noted that approximately 30 percent of negative gonorrhea results in asymptomatic patients are false negatives. Dr. Southwell testified that people typically report symptoms of gonorrhea within two to seven days of contact but couldn’t say with reasonable medical certainty exactly when S.M. had sexual contact with the person who infected her.

Dr. Francis McCaffrey, the staff pediatrician at the Naval Hospital who examined S.M. when she was first brought in, testified that while S.M. had gonorrhea, her vaginal opening appeared “normal” and showed no indication of having been penetrated by an adult man’s penis.

On December 11, 1986, the jury convicted Edward of sexual battery. He was sentenced to life in prison with no chance for parole for 25 years.

The First District Court of Appeal upheld the conviction in April 1988. Edward repeatedly sought to challenge his conviction, but his efforts were rebuffed by the courts.

In 2016, the Innocence Project of Florida (IPF) began investigating the case and, over the next three years, developed evidence pointing to Ithemas “BB” Anderson, Edward’s brother, as the actual perpetrator in this case. In addition, S.M. recanted her identification of Edward in 2016. She said that her parents and police pressured her to identify Edward and that she was unable to distinguish between Edward, Michael, and Ithemas.

Agnes Anderson, in whose home the incident occurred, handed over a calendar from that time that showed that Ithemas left for Georgia on May 10—after the incident and on the day that S.M. finally said her attacker was “Jermaine’s daddy.” Agnes also confirmed that Ithemas’s bedroom had bunk beds and that Edward’s bedroom did not. Agnes also said that Ithemas was treated for gonorrhea at about the time of the incident.

An investigation of Ithemas in Georgia revealed that he was in jail awaiting trial on a charge of armed robbery. The IPF investigation revealed that Ithemas had been accused of molesting four girls, ages 9, 10, 11 and 12 in Brunswick, Georgia, in 1993. All four of them provided affidavits detailing the molestations.

IPF also discovered a note in Edward’s trial defense attorney’s file. The note said: "Defendant’s little boy came to door – saw someone in bunkbed with [S.M.]. It was BB – Uncle BB – his father’s oldest bro – lives in GA. Visits here on family regular. Did he have VD? … Momma doesn’t want BB charged either – she got mad when I mentioned it … [Prosecutor] said he’d drop it if we can pin it on BB. To do that we need to avoid the mother."

There was no further follow up, however.

When IPF interviewed Ithemas, he did not deny molesting S.M.

S.M., after reviewing her trial testimony and the evidence gathered by IPF, said she believed she had misidentified Edward and that Ithemas was the person who molested her.

S.M. said she “felt very pressured” by the detectives to identify the perpetrator. She said that when detectives told her to make an identification from the photospread, she repeatedly told them, “I don’t know. They all look the same to me. I can’t tell the difference between these men.”

She said that when she identified Edward, she asked the detectives if the man she picked “was the man who wore the hat?” and they told her they “thought so but weren’t sure.” S.M. said that Edward and Ithemas “looked very physically similar” to her at the time. She said she now knew that the fact that she was white and Edward was Black “may have contributed to her misidentification.”

S.M. also said she made an identification to appease her parents. She said her parents were very involved in the investigation and that she “felt uncomfortable talking about this incident in front of [them] … out of fear of hurting them more and making them relive it.”

In 2019, the 4th Circuit District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Review (CIR) unit agreed to re-investigate Edward’s case. That review uncovered two statements made by S.M. that had never been disclosed to Edward’s defense attorney prior to the trial. In both statements—the first to HRS intake counselor Rosemary Dennis and the second to Detective Ursy—S.M. said that Jermaine had “two daddies.” The statement to Usry was relayed to one of the trial prosecutors and memorialized in the trial prosecutor’s own handwriting on his stationery.

These statements had not been disclosed during the IPF investigation, despite several attempts to obtain all information in the prosecution’s possession.

The CIR concluded that the photographic lineup was flawed. Detective Usry included Edward and Michael--two of the brothers who lived next door to S.M., and four filler pictures. Ithemas, the third brother, was not included in the photo array. The four filler pictures did not resemble Edward or Michael—their hairstyles were different; some had facial hair, and some did not; they appeared to be of different ages—most appeared much older than Edward and Michael; and some showed side profiles from the left side, and some from the right. The only commonality was that they all were Black men.

In addition, Detective Usry first asked S.M. if she recognized anyone, and, when she picked Edward and Michael, he asked which one of them touched her. This “forced choice” prompt has been shown to elicit false identifications.

The CIR consulted with an eyewitness identification expert, who reviewed the case and concluded that the lineup deviated from best practices for handling lineup identifications. And the CIR consulted Dr. Edward Hook, an expert in sexually transmitted diseases and a professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Medical School, about whether there was any evidence that Edward had gonorrhea around the time of the crime. Dr. Hook concluded that, given his forty years of research and experience studying and treating gonorrhea, there was no evidence that Edward had gonorrhea before or after the assault. Dr. Hook also concluded that, “I can say with confidence that there is little chance that this man had asymptomatic gonorrhea that cleared during the time period in question.” Dr. Hook reported that only five percent of males who are contagious with gonorrhea are asymptomatic.

On June 25, 2019, Edward was released on parole and required to register as a sex offender. He had spent more than 32 years in prison since his conviction. During the parole proceedings, S.M. urged that Edward be released.

In April, IPF filed a 240-page motion, including exhibits, for post-conviction relief. The motion recited the evidence pointing to Ithemas, S.M.’s recantation, the flawed identification process, and the failure of the prosecution to turn over the two statements by S.M., which could have been used at Edward’s trial to undercut the state’s case.

“The evidence in this case, as it stands today, provides no basis to connect Edward Taylor to this crime and strongly suggests that he is innocent and was wrongfully convicted of the 1986 sexual battery of [S.M.],” the motion said.

In response, the CIR said it would not oppose vacating the conviction. The CIR noted that the statements that were not disclosed were “exculpatory and relevant to the reliability of the child’s descriptions and ultimate identification of the perpetrator.”

“There is no evidence to suggest that the non-disclosure was intentional, but the State concedes it was obligated to disclose this evidence because it is exculpatory, material, and there is a reasonable probability that this non-disclosed evidence would have resulted in the acquittal of the defendant,” the CIR said.

On May 20, 2022, 4th Circuit Judge London Kite granted the motion and vacated Edward’s conviction. The prosecution then dismissed the case.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/26/2022
Last Updated: 5/26/2022
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1986
Age at the date of reported crime:21
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No