Was a 16-year-old Florida Boy Framed for Murder by His Older Brother?
An article in today’s
Tampa Bay Times
tells the story of a 1987 murder case of a homeless man in Florida and calls into question whether the then-16-year-old white supremacist who was convicted for the crime was actually innocent.
In December 1987, a 41-year-old Vietnam War veteran named Isaiah Walker was sleeping on the balcony of the Tampa Museum of Art when he was fatally stabbed in the heart. A bloody fishing sinker was found at the crime scene.
Initially, the case lingered as local police struggled to make leads on possible suspects. But several months into the investigation, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office received a call from a woman named Sarah McKee. With some reluctance, she said that her sons—Scott and Dean McKee—might have been involved in the murder.
Scott and Dean, then 18 and 16 years old, respectively, were members of a clique of destructive neo-Nazi skinheads. Scott was said to have “a passion for random violence.” Supposedly, he carried a fishing sinker as a weapon and targeted homeless black people for violent assaults, reports the
Tampa Bay Times
. But it was Dean, the younger brother, who was targeted by police as Walker’s murder. According to Sarah McKee, Dean had called his father while drunk and told him that he’d slashed a man in Tampa.
While no physical evidence tied Dean to the crime, prosecutor Michael Benito lined up four people—including Scott and the brothers’ father—to tell police that Dean had bragged about killing a black man in Tampa. Dean, himself, confessed to killing Walker in a letter that he wrote to his brother. Over the course of the trial, however, Dean recanted as did one of the prosecutor’s witnesses; another witness said that he was only testifying against Dean because he’d been threatened by Benito. Nonetheless, a jury found Dean guilty and he was sentenced to life in prison.
A decade later, questions began to arise around Dean’s conviction when the witness who said he’d been coerced into testifying against Dean recanted. In a signed document he said that Dean did not touch Walker on the night of the crime; rather, he’d pulled his brother, Scott, off of Walker. And nearly a decade after that, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found that DNA testing—conducted at Dean’s request—of the fishing sinker and of skin under Walker’s fingernails revealed two male profiles. Given this new evidence, the Innocence Project of Florida took Dean’s case in 2011. Later that year, the group found that neither of the profiles belonged to Dean.
In recent years, more potentially exculpatory evidence has surfaced, including testimony from one of Scott’s ex-girlfriend’s who said that Scott confessed to her that he had murdered Walker, but that he and his father were going to blame Dean, feeling assured that because his brother was a minor, “everything would be okay,” reports the
Tampa Bay Times
. At a recent evidentiary hearing for Dean, Scott pleaded the Fifth when questioned about the crime.
According to some of his fellow inmates, the now-middle-aged Dean has been transformed during his time in prison; he no longer follows a hate-filled creed, writes the
Dean could receive a decision as to whether his conviction will be overturned in a matter of weeks.
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