Leonard Cure Monday got the phone call he has been waiting 16 years to get: he is going to be freed from custody after being charged, convicted and sentenced to life for a crime he always said he did not commit.
"He was, of course, ecstatic," said Seth Miller, one of his attorneys with the Innocence Project of Florida. "He has been advocating his innocence for 17 years."
So when Cure, 50, heard last year that the Broward state attorney had created a new Conviction Review Unit, he filed his own petition to the office to have his case reviewed.
Prosecutor Arielle Demby Berger quickly saw his challenge had some merit and asked the Innocence Project of Florida to assist him.
They did and two months later Cure is set to go free, with the state agreeing to modify his sentence to 16 years time served while it continues to investigate his case. Cure is the first defendant the unit has recommended be released.
“After considering the facts and circumstances of this case, it is our conclusion that it is in the best interest of justice to release Mr. Cure as soon as possible," Berger said in a memo making the recommendation to superiors, who concurred. "This will allow him to be released while we can thoroughly review his case."
After one hung jury, Cure was found guilty in retrial by a jury of robbery with a firearm and aggravated assault with a firearm for a Nov. 10, 2003 robbery of a Walgreen's store in which two employees had about $1,700 in cash stolen.
Prosecutors said there are issues with how Cure became a suspect in the case and how the two victims identified him based on photo line-ups -- one of which contained only photos of Cure.
"If the identification is bad, then everything that comes after is bad as well," Berger wrote in her memo.
"Eyewitness identification is the leading cause of wrongful convictions," Miller said. "If you look at the 360 exonerations through DNA testing, almost 70% of those individuals had at least one witness who misidentified in their case."One of the victims later wavered on his identification of Cure and was not called by prosecutors in the retrial.
There was no physical evidence linking him to the crime and he had an alibi: an ATM receipt showing he withdrew $20 about 20 minutes before the robbery at a bank two and half miles away, after which he took the second leg of a bus trip to a job site in Hollywood Beach, where coworkers said her arrived as normal around the same time the robbery was being committed.
The victims said the robber had been struck by them and would have been injured, but Cure's co-workers said he appeared normal that morning.
While he remains a convicted felon, the state could later seek to vacate his conviction entirely.
Miller had nothing but praise for the prosecutors office.
"Credit where credit is due," he said, adding Berger "has been great to work with. Any time a prosecutor's office is going to make an effort to proactively see that justice is done in a case we're going to stand with them to do that ... After Mr. Cure gets released, we will continue to work with them to hopefully fully vindicate him and reach a full exoneration."
Citing a prior conviction for felony purse snatching, prosecutors obtained a life sentence under the state's prisoner releasee reoffender act. Cure is an inmate in Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell.
The case was affirmed on appeal and all post-conviction relief has been denied by the courts.
A judge is being asked to approve an order modifying the sentence on Tuesday and Miller said Cure could be released within a few hours of the ordering being signed.