Wrongly Convicted Individuals

On January 31, 1986, Frank Lee Smith was convicted of murdering and raping an 8-year-old girl. He spent 14 years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence in the year 2000. Unfortunately, this story does not have a happy ending. 10 months before being exonerated, Frank Lee Smith died a horrible death on death row of pancreatic cancer.

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Frank Lee Smith is just one many wrongly convicted individuals exonerated due to DNA technology. The unique part of Smith’s story is he never had his opportunity to experience the joy of walking out of prison as a free man. This paper will look at the techniques used by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office that placed Frank Lee Smith in prison for so many years. A lack of solid eyewitnesses, an existing criminal history that included prior murders, potential misconduct by the lead detective, and the real perpetrator being identified by some early on but ignored all lead to Smith’s tragic end on death row.

Smith’s story is a cautionary tale about the criminal justice system and the need for organizations like The Innocence Project to exist so the truly innocent can receive the justice they deserve. It also shows the continued existence of discrimination and the ways it has tipped the scales of justice unfavorably for many locked up for crimes they did not commit.

On April 15, 1985, Shandra Whitehead died due to injuries she suffered from being hit with a rock and being strangled during a burglary in her home. An autopsy also found she had been raped and sodomized. Shandra was only 8 years old.

No one witnessed the attack. Shandra’s mom worked as a nurse’s aide and came home late from work that night. She claimed she saw a stranger standing near the window and told police he ran when she approached him. She said she could not see his face. She could only see his shoulders (“Transcript of Requiem for Frank Lee Smith,” n.d.).

The descriptions offered from neighbors were fairly dubious. The offender was described as a black man, about six feet tall, muscular upper arms, shoulders and chest, a dark complexion, about 30 years old, full beard, scraggly hair, and a droopy eye. One of the neighbors, Chiquita Lowe, provided information that led to a composite sketch. The sketch resulted in Frank Lee Smith being arrested. Chiquita Lowe’s testimony in court led to Smith’s conviction on January 31, 1986. He was given the death penalty. (“Requiem for Frank Lee Smith: Introduction,” 2002). He was 38 years old.

On the discrimination-disparity continuum, Smith was a victim of institutionalized discrimination (Walker, Spohn, & DeLone, 2018). As a black man who came from a very troubled background, the application of race neutral policies like having a prior criminal record put him at a disadvantage from the time of his arrest. This was a horrific crime, and the prosecution was eager to get a conviction. Smith was likely seen as an easy target for the death penalty. He had a prior criminal record that many Broward County sheriffs who knew him felt he didn’t serve enough time for (“A Closer Look – Interview – Jonathan Simon,” n.d.).

His conviction was like an exclamation point at the end of a very long, difficult life. He was born to poor sharecroppers in racially segregated Georgia. His father was a criminal killed by the police. His mom was a prostitute, and she was raped and murdered. After a brief time in foster care, he was placed with his elderly grandmother. With poor living conditions, he often was on his own (Walsh, n.d.).

At 13, he was convicted of manslaughter after a fight following a football game. He was sent to a school for boys known for treating its residents badly. While at the school, he suffered beatings and sexual molestation. He had several head injuries and as a result, had brain damage and developed mental illness. He would eventually be diagnosed with schizophrenia. He participated in a robbery at 18 which got him convicted of murder. He was given a life sentence, but he got out after 15 years. When he got out, he lived with his aunt with no further problems; no further problems until 1985 (Walsh, n.d.).

Critical eyewitness, Chiquita Lowe was not convinced Smith was guilty when she saw him in the courtroom. He did not resemble the man who approached her the night of the murder. She still pointed to him at the trial as the man she saw that night. Why? It has been speculated that because there were a lot of murders that happened during this time in her community, she may have felt she had an opportunity to help protect others (“Requiem for Frank Lee Smith: Introduction,” 2002). Investigators also testified at the trial that they lied to Smith while questioning him by telling him there was a witness who could place him at the scene. They claimed that Smith incriminated himself unintentionally when they told him this by making the following statement, “Well, he couldn’t have seen me – it was too dark (“A Closer Look – Interview – Jonathan Simon,” n.d.). Smith said he never made that statement, and there weren’t any records of the interrogation (“A Closer Look – Eight Things to Know About This Case,” n.d.). This “statement” was used against him during one of his appeals to justify the application of the death penalty in his case.

Another issue not brought up at trial was the fact that Frank Lee Smith was legally blind, and he was unable to see without wearing glasses. The eyewitness stated the person she saw that night was not wearing glasses, but a doctor was not allowed to testify to the fact that Smith was legally blind (“A Closer Look – Interview – Donald Jones,” n.d.).

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Wrongly Convicted Individuals. (2022, Apr 11). Retrieved May 17, 2022 , from

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