Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Larry Troy

Sentenced to death in 1983 for the stabbing murder of a fellow inmate at Union Correctional Institute in Florida, Larry Troy and his co-defendant, Willie A. Brown, were exonerated after the Florida Supreme Court remanded their convictions due to a discovery error by the prosecution, and a key witness who placed Brown and Troy at the scene of the crime in the original trial was discredited during preparations for a second trial.
Earl Owens, an inmate at Union Correctional Institute in Raiford, Florida, was stabbed repeatedly in his cell sometime around 5:00 p.m. on July 7, 1981. Owens was taken to the prison clinic at approximately 5:45 p.m. and spoke shortly thereafter with Roy Weiland, a correctional officer and relief investigator. During the conversation, he indicated that “two blacks stabbed (him). One tall and slender, one short and slender.” Owens died shortly thereafter of hemorrhagic shock caused by multiple stab wounds and cuts.
Brown and Troy were placed in institutional confinement (solitary) the next day. They remained there for 17 months. They were advised of their Miranda rights and told that they were being confined because of the killing of Owens. They asked for a lawyer, but were not allowed to see one until their indictments. Inmate Frank Wise was also locked up by prison officials the next day, read his Miranda rights and told by Inspector H. Edward Sands that he was under investigation for murder. In an interview with Inspector Sands a week later, Wise stated that he was in the proximity of the victim’s cell during the time of the attack and heard the sounds of a beating, but that he had nothing to do with it and didn’t know anything about the person or persons responsible.
Brown and Troy were indicted for the murder of Earl Owens on October 14, 1982. Later that year, Frank Wise sent letters to the defendants accusing them of slandering his name and blaming them for failing to put a stop to rumors Wise believed were circulating around the prison that he was a snitch. Wise indicated that he was willing to testify for the defense, but that he might change his mind.
On January 13, 1983, counsel for Troy took the depositions of Inspector H. Edward Sands and Claude Smith. Inspector Sands stated that he had interviewed Smith the day after the murder and that Smith had described walking past the victim’s cell and seeing fellow inmate Frank Wise, who appeared to be standing lookout, before he left the floor. Smith’s deposition was abruptly cut short due to his concerns for his safety if he testified against any “potential defendants or defendants,” but not before Assistant State Attorney Tobin of the prosecutor’s office said to him, “(w)ell, you are about to tell (Troy’s counsel) you don’t know anything about it, I know because you don’t and I already have your statement.” Tobin later assured the defense that Smith would give a statement as soon as the State could assuage concerns for his safety.
Frank Wise was deposed by a member of the defense counsel on February 8, 1983. He stated that he hoped the defendants got the chair, and when asked if it mattered whether they were guilty of anything, replied that, “(i)t doesn’t make any difference.” Numerous pre-trial motions were filed on behalf of the defendants, including a “motion in limine to exclude as unreliable the testimony of Wise on the ground that Wise had given contradictory and perjurious testimony in his deposition,” and “a motion to compel a psychiatric examination of another potential witness, Herman Watson, and to disqualify Watson…on the ground of mental incompetency.” The motions were denied.
The jury trial before Circuit Judge John J. Crews began on June 13 and ran through June 16, 1983. A key witness for the State was Frank Wise, who testified that he saw two inmates come out of the victim’s cell at the time of the attack. He identified the inmates as Larry Troy and Willie Brown. He further testified that he had lied in his initial statement to Inspector H. Edward Sands in order to protect the defendants.
Inmate Noel White testified for the defense that he had heard noises coming from the victim’s cell. He stated that he had seen two African-American men exit the cell and that they were not the defendants. White further testified that neither Wise nor Smith were in the area at the time.
At the completion of the trial, the jury returned verdicts finding Brown and Troy guilty of first-degree murder as charged. At the conclusion of the penalty phase, the jury recommended that the defendants be sentenced to death. Judge Crews accepted the jury’s recommendation and handed down a sentence of death for Brown and Troy on July 19, 1983.
Over the course of the next three years, pleadings seeking a new trial were filed and subsequently denied, the Florida Supreme Court consolidated Brown and Troy’s direct appeals (the Florida Supreme Court hears all appeals of prisoners on death row) and then issued a stay of appellate proceedings to permit the defense to apply to the trial court for a writ of error coram nobis. The writ of error, alleging jury misconduct during deliberation, was filed and subsequently denied on August 22, 1986.
In the meantime, Brown met the German-born Esther Lichtenfels, an anti-death penalty activist, at a party for condemned prisoners who did not have other holiday visitors on Christmas Day, 1983. She was immediately drawn to his air of sadness and they struck up a correspondence. Four months later, they were “married,” exchanging vows at a pre-arranged hour from 50 miles apart. Lichtenfels repeatedly expressed her determination to assist Brown in his appeal and they continued to correspond while she lobbied for the right to visit him during scheduled weekend visiting hours.
On January 28, 1987, Brown’s lawyers appealed to the Florida Supreme Court requesting that the case against him be dismissed on the ground that the delay in prosecution constituted a violation of his Constitutional right to a speedy trial. The defense also alleged, among other things, that the judge erred in allowing undisclosed testimony of a State’s witness (Claude Smith) without first conducting an inquiry into the State’s failure to comply with the discovery rules.
The Supreme Court of Florida vacated and remanded the trial court’s decision on November 12, 1987, holding that “(1) administrative confinement of inmates was not tantamount to ‘arrest,’ for purposes of Florida’s speedy trial rule, but (2) trial court’s failure to conduct a Richardson inquiry, prior to denying the inmates’ request to exclude testimony of an undisclosed witness, constituted per se reversible error.” A Richardson hearing is held to inquire into the circumstances of an alleged discovery violation.
Over the course of the next month, private investigator Virginia Snyder, who had previously been retained to research allegations of jury misconduct after the original trial, was hired by the defense to identify witnesses for the new trial. She met with Frank Wise, who had been paroled, in Ocala. Wise asked who was paying her and she replied that Lichtenfels was paying for much of Brown’s defense. Wise called Lichtenfels at home and asked, “(d)o you want Willie to come home?” They agreed to meet at a Greyhound station in Gainesville a few nights later.
Lichtenfels and her attorney, Pat Doherty, arranged with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to record her conversations with Wise using a microphone hidden under her clothes. At their first meeting, Wise claimed that Willie Brown was innocent and would go free if he agreed to change his testimony. He asked Lichtenfels how much this was worth to her and they agreed on $2,000 compensation, half up-front and half to be paid the first day of the trial.
At their second meeting, Lichtenfels gave Wise a copy of his testimony from the first trial and $100 to consult a lawyer. Wise agreed to draft a new statement and sign it in the presence of one of Doherty’s assistants, who would then notarize it.
Wise met with Doherty’s “assistant,” actually an undercover FDLE agent, outside the Marion County courthouse in Ocala on December 9, 1987. He then drove to Gainesville, where Lichtenfels had agreed to deliver the first $1,000 payment. Wise was met by FDLE agents, who placed him under arrest on suspicion of bribery. He was taken to the Alachua County Jail, where the assistant state attorney added a charge of perjury.
On February 19, 1988, prosecutors announced that they would not seek to re-try Brown and Troy. Troy remained in prison to complete a 1975 sentence for second-degree murder and another 15½ years for aggravated battery committed while incarcerated.
- Maria T. Del Zoppo and Dolores Kennedy
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1981
Age at the date of crime:
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation