They said he was guilty and they could prove it. With that the criminal justice system of Duval County, Jacksonville, Florida threw its collective weight into the arrest and near trial of …drum roll please: The wrong man?
The 16 month series of events was documented in a recent Florida Times-Union story, written by reporter Topher Sanders that chronicled the imbalance between the considerable financial and legal abilities of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney for the 4th Judicial District of Florida versus that of “John Q. Citizen” represented by the also taxpayer-financed Public Defender.
For nearly two years, Jerome Hayes was locked up as a suspect in a series of armed robberies, when just days before the trial, prosecutors realized they couldn’t prove he was the “right man.” The case details, laid out in a series of articles by TU Reporter Sanders, led to the opening of a continuing war of words from members of the Jacksonville legal community and the elected Public Defender responsible for representing the accused Mr. Hayes.
It seems that Hays has a brother that looks similar to him, they are both African American by the way. After viewing mug shots of five men, Jerome Hays is identified by the three victims in this case as the perpetrator. The police detective uses email addresses in a cell phone to nail it down that Hayes is the key. There is more, of course, but Hays has validated alibis for where he was during the robberies and corroborating witnesses that can account for his whereabouts. Not good enough for the detectives on the case and the prosecutor who wants a win.
Hayes worked at a local restaurant, and although some may say he was guilty of something. This was not it.
The Public Defender, responsible for due diligence in investigating and representing his client in a manner reminiscent of the fair and impartial system aspired to, continued to represent his client in the manner expected of his office for the last century: always late to the game, always behind in discovery. The Public Defender alleges that the District Attorney’s Office hid evidence that could have kept his client out of jail and in his job. Shirk threatened to take the Prosecutor before the Florida Bar for his misdeeds. The Prosecutor for his part hired two lawyers of his own to defend his right to be wrong.
At issue is the signatures of the witnesses who identified Hayes from a photo array. The defense didn’t get the qualifying signatures. According to the TU article the prosecutor says ”what happened in the Hayes case was simply how the process works.”
Well-known Defense Attorney Hank Coxe is one of the private attorneys representing Assistant State Attorney Peter Overstreet . They publicly argue that Public Defender Shirk is the wrong “Pot” to be calling the “Kettle” black. Shirk, you see, has been under a State investigation for using his office as a personal boudoir and drinking lounge. Though the investigation is over with a stinging rebuke of Shirk’s conduct, the hope is that the now two year old issue will be a factor for him in next year’s reelection bid.
There appear to be no takers willing to challenge Shirk for the job.
Silent in all of this is State Attorney Angela Corey, no shrinking violet when it comes to negative comments about her office. But not a quote is carried in the story from her. Her prosecutors appear to be on their own. Thus the need to hire an attorney to represent an attorney.
As for the robberies? No one has been caught. The detectives say Hayes did it or had a hand in it. Everyone keeps their jobs. Another hiccup in the cause of justice and Hayes keeps an arrest record for robbery.