Man Held Without Trial for 14 Years

Floyd Brown's psychiatrists in Dorothea Dix Hospital say he can't tell time or the difference between right and left. He has trouble handling money, naming the day of the week or remembering the name of the mental institution where he has been held against his will for the last 14 years.

But, according to his regular psychiatric reports, family members and lawyers, the 43-year-old has been consistent about two things as the years have passed: He didn't kill Katherine Lynch 14 years ago and he wants to go home.

Brown, who is mentally retarded, is stuck in what his lawyers call a "cruel legal limbo." He has been locked up without trial in Dorothea Dix, in Raleigh, N.C., since his arrest, charged with a murder he says he did not commit.

Because he can't understand the legal process, Brown can't be brought to trial and the evidence against him can't be tested in front of a jury. Prosecutors have said Brown is dangerous and refuse to release him.

But an ABC News review of Brown's court, psychiatric and school records and interviews with his family, attorneys and some of the police officers involved in his case raise questions about Brown's guilt.

His case is one of dozens found by ABC News in which suspects found mentally incompetent to stand trial were held in custody for more than a year. The Supreme Court has said the government can hold incompetent defendants for a "reasonable" amount of time and give them medical treatment to become capable of standing trial, but has not clarified when that detention becomes illegal.

Though many states limit the maximum length of detention, some do not, particularly in violent felony cases. Others allow suspects to be held up to the maximum term of imprisonment for the charged crime. Those laws raise the possibility that criminal suspects may remain in state mental homes for years, despite questions about their guilt.

In Brown's case, there were no known witnesses to Lynch's murder and no physical evidence linked Brown to her death. Much of the physical evidence in the case, which could potentially prove Brown's guilt or innocence, has disappeared.

Confession

The only evidence against Brown, investigators who worked on his case and spoke to ABC News acknowledge, is a confession given after he signed away his constitutional rights in a scrawl, "FLOYD OBWN." But at least three forensic psychiatrists and several of Brown's former special education teachers say the words in the confession are not those of a man with the IQ of a 6-year-old.

"That's not his language," state forensic psychiatrist Bob Rollins said of the confession. "That's not Mr. Brown."

A state psychological exam taken five days after the confession said Brown wasn't mentally capable of waiving his Miranda rights when he spoke to police. Two of the officers who investigated his case have since served jail time on unrelated federal racketeering charges. Court records show the cops extorted cash from suspects in exchange for not filing charges against them.

According to Brown's lawyers, prosecutors last year offered Brown what is known as an Alford plea — meaning he would admit there was enough evidence to convict him, while still maintaining his innocence — but Brown couldn't accept the deal because he could not understand it.

As the years have passed, attempts to get Brown out of the mental institution have been denied by the courts. Now, after media reports on his story, the North Carolina Department of Justice is examining the case. A Superior Court judge next week will hold a hearing in what is probably Brown's last chance at freedom.

Limited Understanding

"It's gotten to be a nightmare," Brown's sister Frances Staton told ABC News. "He's sitting there for something he didn't do and not even understanding why they're holding him."

It was clear from an early age that Brown was, as his family puts it, "slow." One of five children born to a mentally retarded mother, Brown's IQ has measured between 50 and 57, giving him the mind of a 6-year-old.

His family says he can't tell time or read. When he was 15, one of his schoolteachers had to ask other students to show Brown how to bathe himself. His grandmother nicknamed him "Spooky," Staton said.

School records show that as a teenager, Brown didn't understand words like "exit" and "stop." The vocational center where he worked at the time of his arrest said Brown could not "express personal opinions, request assistance when needed and protect himself from exploitation or personal harm from others."

Brown often hung around the county courthouse in Wadesboro, a small town in rural Anson County. He made a little money by planting flowers at a greenhouse and worked at a vocational center for mentally disabled adults, a psychiatric report said. When he was arrested, in July 1993, Brown lived in a ramshackle house with his mother with no shower or bathtub.

Records say that Brown used to drink a lot and that he'd been picked up by police more than 20 times for public drunkenness. He also got into trouble for shoplifting and trespassing and was once charged with a misdemeanor for pulling a knife on a police officer. School and medical records say Brown is sometimes paranoid and given to sudden outbursts. He can be violent and exhibits inappropriate behavior toward women, according to the records.

His father, Cleveland Cash, told ABC News that Brown was not dangerous. "He wouldn't mess with nobody. He's scared of other people," he said.

Murder Case

On the morning of July 9, 1993, sheriff's deputies found 80-year-old Katherine Lynch's bloody body in her bedroom. She'd been beaten to death with her own walking stick.

Police records show that two men at what was referred to as a "drink house" said that a man who hung around the courthouse knew something about the murder. That led police officers to Brown.

On July 15, police searched Brown's house and spoke to him. Staton said Brown later told her police had taken him to Lynch's house and told him to pick up a stick.

Two detectives involved with the case denied that ever happened.

"I'm a Christian. I'm all for helping people, not hurting people," said former Detective Robert Poplin. "I don't have no vendetta against Floyd Brown."

Roland "Bud" Hutchinson, listed in police records as the lead investigator on the case for the sheriff's office, said he was not involved in the investigation. "I don't know anything about Floyd Brown," he said. "I was not involved in the case at all."

The next day, according to court records, investigators picked up Brown at the vocational center and took him to the police station. Cash, Brown's father, told ABC News that he went to the police station and was told police only wanted to talk to Brown.

The police gave Brown a sandwich and a soda and he signed a waiver of his right to remain silent. Then two agents from the State Bureau of Investigation interrogated Brown for two hours, according to police records.

There are no notes or recordings of the interrogation, but at the end, Mark Isley, one of the SBI agents, typed out a confession, which he has testified was a "verbatim" transcription of what Brown said.

'No Coercion'

Isley, now head of the SBI's Medicaid Criminal Investigations Unit, did not return several messages left at his office. Bill Lane, a former SBI agent who was present for the interrogation, said he didn't remember the details of the questioning, but said that the written statement was accurate.

"There wasn't any coercion at all," he said. "There was no water pouring down his nose or anything. I don't do business that way."

Asked whether it was appropriate to interrogate a mentally retarded man, Lane said, "He was over the age of 18. He seemed to understand and know what he was doing."

Hutchinson and Poplin were convicted in 1998 of racketeering for shaking down criminal suspects. Court records show that the two extorted money from criminal suspects in exchange for not filing or dropping charges against them.

"They were as dirty as anyone I've seen," said David Ramsey, a former SBI agent who investigated their case. "They could have done anything."

Hutchinson and Poplin both deny doing anything improper in Brown's case, and there is no evidence they did anything illegal in his case.

"They want to imply that they picked up this poor fella and plotted against him to fabricate a confession," said Sheriff Tommy Allen. "None of that is true. That's just absurd to think that."

'Hit Her on the Neck'

But, Brown's psychiatrists at Dorthea Dix, another psychiatrist hired by his lawyers and Brown's special education teachers say he could not have written the confession. They say the three-page confession uses words that Brown does not know and shows a pattern of logical thinking that is beyond Brown's mental abilities.

The confession begins, "On Friday, July 19, 1993, my mama woke me up at 6 a.m., in the morning."

Psychiatrists say Brown does not understand time and has difficulty with dates. Brown's psychological reports say he speaks in short, repetitive sentences. The confession contains complete sentences that flow logically from one to another.

"It's too educated, too sophisticated, too relevant, too cohesive for Mr. Brown," state forensic psychiatrist Rollins said.

The confession goes on to say that after Brown asked Lynch for a dollar, "When Ms. Katherine told me she didn't have a dollar, I hit her on the neck with a stick that I brought into the house. … I hit Ms. Katherine again, but this time, on the right arm."

It says Brown brought her into the bedroom and checked her breathing, a skill his lawyers say doesn't have. It ends, "I'm sorry for hitting her. I told you I made a mistake."

Forensic psychologist Mark Hazelrigg, one of Brown's doctors at Dorthea Dix, said, "Mr. Brown could not be trained or coached to talk in the same manner as the alleged confession."

'Too Detailed'

"As a whole, the alleged confession is too detailed and organized for even a normally intelligent person," Hazelrigg wrote in a sworn statement.

Mary Gaddy, one of Brown's teachers, said in a sworn statement that Brown can't use correct tenses or use words that are in the statement such as "located" and "heartbeat."

The prosecutor's office declined to comment, but a Superior Court judge, in granting a hearing for Brown, recently wrote that the allegation of a false confession "appears to have gone unrebutted by the prosecution."

Brown was arrested and sent to Dorthea Dix. A month later he was declared mentally incompetent. He has been there ever since.

As the years have passed, lawyers have attempted to free Brown, with no success. Tim Rogers, chief assistant district attorney in Anson County, declined to comment on the case.

But, in 1998, District Attorney Michael Parker wrote in a letter to the state attorney general's office that "Mr. Brown is a danger to the community," and said that he would seek the death penalty if Brown was found fit to stand trial. Under a Supreme Court decision issued after the letter, Brown is not eligible for the death penalty because of his mental retardation.

"If he is well enough to be released, then he should be well enough to stand trial," the letter said.

In 2003, a doctor at Dorthea Dix said Brown was now fit to stand trial. When his lawyers tried to get the physical evidence in the case, they hit a snag — most of it was missing.

Records show that the physical evidence, including the murder weapon, was sent to a state lab for analysis and that it was mailed back. But, much of the evidence has disappeared, and no one involved in case seems to be able to explain what happened to it.

Missing Evidence

"If we knew what happened, we would be able to find it," said Allen.

According to Ramsey, the former SBI agent, the Anson County Sheriff's Office at the time "had no procedures whatsoever" for maintaining evidence. The evidence room "was open so anyone could walk in. Anyone could have access to it," he said. "We found money missing, drugs missing."

Allen, who was not the sheriff between 1994 and 2002, said the evidence procedures in Anson County have since been improved. "One of the reasons I ran for sheriff again was because this place was such a mess," he said.

Asked in a court hearing what he did to recover the evidence when he learned that it was missing, Allen testified, "I didn't do anything." He told ABC News that not all of the evidence had disappeared, but he would not say which evidence was still there.

Lab reports show that no blood was ever found on Brown's clothes and that fingerprint tests on the murder weapon were inconclusive.

With Brown's trial set for September 2006, Brown's lawyers say the district attorney's office offered Brown a plea deal that would let him out of the mental institution with time served. Under the agreement, Brown would plead guilty, but could still assert his innocence.

Court records say that Brown could not be made to understand the agreement and that he was once again declared incompetent to stand trial. He went back to Dorthea Dix.

Early this month, a Durham County judge will hear what is probably Brown's last chance at freedom. His lawyers argue that keeping him confined in Dorthea Dix violates his due process rights.

The North Carolina Justice Department is also examining the case, but a spokeswoman would not elaborate on the details of the investigation.

"He says he wants to come home," said his sister Staton. "He wants to know why they're keeping him. He's always wanted to come home."

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