Fla. Stop Sign Case Dropped

T A M P A, Fla., May 21, 2001 -- Charges were dropped today against three friends convicted by a lower court in a deadly accident at an intersection where the stop sign was missing, ending a four-year string of appeals.

The Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office said it would not refile charges against the three because of a recent state appeals court ruling that threw out their conviction and ordered a new trial.

"Given the opinion of the 2nd District Court of Appeal and the evidence and testimony as it now exists, we are convinced we cannot proceed with a new trial," said Pam Bondi, a spokeswoman for the Hillsborough County State Attorney's Office.

"Our hearts go out to the families of the innocent young men who lost their lives."

Thomas Miller, Nissa Baillie and Christopher Cole had been convicted of manslaughter in the 1996 deaths of three 18-year-old men, who died in a collision with an 8-ton truck. Killed were Randall White, Kevin Farr and Brian Hernandez.

Appeals Court Paved Freedom Path

The accident occurred at a county intersection that normally had a stop sign. But the night of the accident, the stop sign had been pulled from the ground and was lying nearby.

Baillie, 25, and Cole and Miller, both 24, admitted they stole traffic signs in the area, but denied they tampered with the one at the intersection.

Earlier this year, the appeal court overturned the trio's conviction, saying the jury was tainted by remarks made by then-prosecutor Leland Baldwin in the 1997 trial.

Defense attorneys tried to get a new trial for the three, saying there were new witnesses who would testify the sign was down days before the crash. They also accused prosecutors of intimidating witnesses and failing to pass along information might have helped their case.

All three were sentenced to 15 years in prison by trial Judge Bob Anderson Mitcham, who refused in 1998 to grant them a new trial.