investigators

He Is Serving Life. His Victim Changed His Story But Died Before Testifying

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For years, Leonard Dupree has been going in and out of court trying to reverse the life sentence he received in his early 20s.

Dupree, 42, is a convicted armed robber. He spent time in prison for one in 1997, and then a jury found he pulled another one in 2000.

Because the second crime occurred less than a year after he was released from prison, prosecutors sought and secured a life sentence after he was found guilty.

"I cried, I cried and I told him I don’t know how to get him out, I was just lost," Delores Williams, Dupree’s mother, told the NBC 6 Investigators in February.

Dupree is one of about 2,000 inmates doing life under Florida’s Prison Releasee Reoffender (PRR) sentencing law, which allows prosecutors to seek tougher sentences for people who committed crimes within three years of their release from prison.

As you might expect, Dupree and his family say he is innocent.

“He would always call me, ‘Please help, please help me. I didn’t do it, I didn’t do,’” Williams recalled her son saying after his second conviction. 

But crucially so does his one-time supposed victim: Javaris Mills. 

"I have to get this off my chest," Mills wrote in letters sent in 2005 to Israel Encinosa, one of Dupree’s attorneys. "I wish to recant all prior statements made to law enforcement and to the state," adding they were "made under pressure through vindictiveness."

In court filings, Dupree said he did not learn of the recantation until 2014, when his family sent him legal documents his lawyer had in storage for years.

When asked about the letters, Encinosa told NBC 6 Investigators he couldn’t recall the exact chronology of events.

The box is now in the hands of private investigator Jerry Pasquino, who was alerted to the case by Dupree’s family.

“Mr. Dupree finds that letter in the box and he couldn’t believe there was a letter from the victim,” Pasquino said.

Pasquino pored over the documents and became a believer in Dupree. So he reached out to Mills. 

“He wanted to tell the truth that he lied at trial, it never was this person," Pasquino said.

In December 2017, Dupree finally got what he wanted: a sworn statement from Mills, taken at the Desoto Correctional Institution work camp where Mills was an inmate at the time. 

But last year, that effort suffered a potentially decisive blow.

Mills lost control of his motorcycle on Miami Gardens Dr., crossed the median and crashed into an on-coming car. He died on the roadside.

“After I heard that he passed away, I guess, I just gave up and said he’ll never come home,” Dupree’s mother said. 

Also disappointed was Pasquino. "You don’t want to know my thoughts," he said. "It would be, 'Oh, s [expletive].'"

That’s because prosecutors can seek to block the statement since Mills cannot be cross-examined. 

“That’s what I would expect the argument will be,” his new attorney, Kenneth Speiller, told us after court, adding he asked the judge for additional time to research his options moving forward.

The prosecutor’s office declined to comment about the case.

Dupree’s innocence claims also have some issues. 

He now says he had an alibi. But in a letter to Dupree, his trial lawyer, Anthony Genova, wrote, “You (Dupree) told me that you did not steal the scooter/motorcycle” but that Mr. Mills “allowed you (Dupree) to ride it.”

Pasquino said he believes “it was just a misunderstanding from the attorney.”

Genova declined to discuss the letter, citing attorney-client privilege.

Mills also told police the robbery happened just two doors away from Dupree’s home at the time.

“It would seem like a coincidence that it happened close to his home, but how many people do you think would rob somebody in front of their home?” Pasquino said.

Dupree’s fate is now in the hands of Judge Charles Johnson.

If his last-ditch effort fails, Pasquino said, “he’ll have to serve the rest of his life in prison.”

But Dupree’s mother holds out hope.

"I hope he'll be able to come home. It’s a long time, a very long time," she said.

A legislative effort that could convert Dupree’s life sentence to 25 years is stalled in committees. That bill could reduce sentences for about 7,500 people who like Dupree received tougher sentences for being convicted of new crimes within three years of their release from prison. 

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