Innocents: David Keaton of the Quincy Five

This is an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. To read more of these stories, please click here. If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at mommy@godlessmom.com. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Price and Reasonable Doubt

david keaton

In September of 1970, two deputy sheriffs were shot in a grocery store robbery in Leon County, Florida. Deputy Hallie Carroll survived. Deputy Thomas Revels did not. Four other people were present during the robbery, and reported three armed black men as the perpetrators. 5 black men, however, were indicted for the crime. Dave Keaton, Johnny Frederick, Alphonso Figgers, Johnny Lee Burns, and David Charles Smith, Jr were known from that point on as the Quincy Five.

Dave Keaton endured 5 days of constant interrogation. It only ended when he agreed to confess. Later, he reported that the officers conducting his interrogation had beaten him relentlessly. 18 year old Keaton got many of the details of the crime wrong during his confession, and recanted it during trial citing coercion. He reported that while he was being held for interrogation, he plead with officers to allow him to call his mother to find him a lawyer. They would not allow him to do so, and ignored his alibi: he had been driving his mother to the hospital at the time the crime in question was being committed. Despite all of this, he was eventually convicted anyway, by an exclusively white jury. He was sentenced to death while Frederick received a life sentence.

Soon after Keaton was tucked away on death row in a cell no wider than his arm-span, journalists uncovered that the officer who had conducted his polygraph test had a certain track record. It was discovered that he had obtained many false confessions from many innocent suspects during many polygraph tests. He was known for false positives.

After just four months on death row, where Keaton saw the electric chair daily through the windows facing the yard, Keaton learned that 3 other men had been indicted for the same crime he was to be executed for based on fingerprint evidence at the scene. The men were also convicted, making the running total convicted for a single murder, 5 people. The court quickly suggested a new trial for Keaton and Frederick, based on the latest conviction of three more men and the fingerprint evidence produced at trial. Citing the fact that the witnesses were too ill to testify, the courts instead exonerated Keaton and Frederick. Dave Keaton became the first person in the United States of America to be exonerated from death row. He was released in 1979.

Since that time, Keaton struggled with the stigma attached to having been, at one point in time, convicted of capital murder. He had a hard time holding down a job, or even finding one in the first place. He became a shut-in, unsure of what to do with his newfound freedom, and eventually found himself abusing crack-cocaine for a while. The only things he wanted, he said often, was a meaningful relationship and a challenging job. Instead, he lived quietly on his own. A loner, unable to shake the shackles that caught him when he was still a kid. His one true success since being released from prison, is that he was an active, outspoken and founding member of Witness to Innocence:

There is no support for the men and women exonerated from prison. They are left to their own devices to overcome the trauma they experienced. Keaton himself was offered no reintroduction services. He was unable to receive compensation for what he endured because compensation laws are set up to make it difficult to navigate and benefit from.

In 2005, a film was made called The Exonerated. The film covers the stories of 6 individuals who were wrongfully convicted and sentenced to death but later exonerated. It stars Susan Sarandon, Aidan Quinn, Brian Dennehy and Danny Glover as Dave Keaton. Here’s the trailer:

Just over a week ago, David Keaton passed away at the age of 63. Since Keaton, 153 more men and women have narrowly escaped being executed after it was found out they were wrongfully convicted. How many weren’t so lucky?

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This is an ongoing series telling the stories of wrongful convictions in North America. To be notified when the next one is posted, please fill out to subscribe:

To read more of these stories, please click here. See my two previous series on the American Justice System, The Ultimate Price and Reasonable Doubt.

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If you have a story of someone wrongfully convicted, or you were yourself and want to talk about it, please email me at mommy@godlessmom.com

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