The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A man left prison after three decades. Now, he might be sent back.

Crosley Green gave emotional testimony about his disputed murder conviction at a press conference in Titusville, Fla., on April 27. (Video: The Washington Post)
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Crosley Green walked out of a Florida prison on April 8, 2021, more than three decades after he was convicted of a murder he always denied committing. Loved ones dressed in “Free Crosley” shirts rushed to greet him, laughing and crying as they threw their arms around his neck.

A jury convicted Green of killing 21-year-old Charles “Chip” Flynn Jr. in 1990, after Flynn’s ex-girlfriend told police that he had been robbed and shot by a Black man. No physical evidence linked him to the 1989 crime, and a federal court reversed the conviction in 2018, saying the prosecutor had withheld information suggesting investigators suspected someone else: the ex-girlfriend.

But after a year of freedom, Green, who is now 64, with a beard that has gone white, is staring down the possibility of returning to prison because the state has appealed and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has thrown out the lower court’s decision to vacate his conviction.

During a Friday news conference at a Baptist church in Titusville, Fla., Green grew emotional as he approached a lectern to talk about his case. He turned away for a moment to collect himself, then returned and took a breath before he began speaking.

“Yes, a wrong has been done to me,” Green said before glancing skyward. “With the grace of God, I hope it will be straightened.”

Among those speaking on his behalf Wednesday was Diane Clarke, who responded to the crime scene as a sergeant in Brevard County. She said Green “spent half his life in prison for something that I don’t believe he did” and called his imprisonment “a travesty of justice.” Attorney Jeane Thomas said the state “cheated in order to get a conviction.”

Green’s ordeal must be viewed through the context of the state’s history of wrongfully convicting Black men, said Kenneth Nunn, a professor of law at the University of Florida. He cited the Groveland Four — a group of exonerated Black men who had been convicted of raping a woman in 1949. Long before their names were cleared, two were shot and killed, one by a segregationist sheriff.

“We have to put Mr. Green’s case in that context and know that this is bigger than just him,” Nunn said. “It is about what is going to be viewed as appropriate conduct for prosecutors all over the country, all over this nation, to do when they have a case where somebody says the Black man did it.”

The Florida attorney general has stood by the conviction, fighting against his release.

The crime that would derail Green’s life is detailed in court records. Just after 1 a.m. on April 4, 1989, 19-year-old Kim Hallock called 911 and told dispatchers that a Black man pulled a gun on her and Flynn. The two had been sitting in Flynn’s pickup truck in a secluded part of Holder Park, she would later tell investigators, and were smoking marijuana and talking about their relationship. The man “took us somewhere,” Hallock said, and she had managed to drive away in Flynn’s pickup.

Clarke and a deputy, Mark Rixey, struggled to find the spot. When they arrived about 1:42 a.m., they found Flynn facedown and bloodied, his hands tied behind his back. They pressed him for information about what happened.

“Get me out of here. I want to go home,” was his only response. By the time a rescue unit arrived at 1:57 a.m., he was dead.

Canine tracking and a police sketch led authorities to Green, then 31, who had served prison time after being convicted of a 1977 armed robbery in New York.

A police canine took a deputy to Green’s sister’s house, and days later, two people said they recognized a police sketch as depicting him. A onetime classmate and a former auxiliary officer called law enforcement to report they believed Green was the man in the sketch and had seen him at Holder Park on April 3. Authorities had Hallock view a lineup of six men, and she pointed to Green. With that, the sheriff’s office obtained a warrant for his arrest.

At trial, three witnesses testified that Green had confessed to the killing; they have since recanted. The all-White jury voted to convict and sentenced Green to death row, where he remained for 19 years before a circuit court decision led to the penalty being converted to life in prison.

He had been imprisoned for 28 years when U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton determined that the original prosecutor withheld evidence that could have changed the outcome of the case: his handwritten notes from a conversation with the investigators at the scene.

“Mark and Diane suspect girl did it,” one of the notes said of Hallock, who has never been charged in Flynn’s death. “She changed her story a couple times.”

Dalton wrote in his ruling that it was “difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense and the development of the defense strategy” than the fact the responding officers thought the investigation should go in another direction. The state appealed, causing Green to stay in prison until 2021, when Dalton ordered his release amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since getting out, Green said Friday, “I’ve felt a lot of love.” He’s been working and spending time with his siblings, children and grandchildren.

“Just being out there with him on holidays, it’s just like him being my little brother all over again,” his sister, Shirley White, said during Wednesday’s news conference.

The appeals court ruled that Dalton had erred in his decision, arguing that concerns over withheld evidence had already been exhausted at the state court level. Green’s attorneys are asking that the full 11-judge appeals panel reconsider the decision.

They vowed to not to give up, saying they would ask the governor for a pardon if their court effort fails.

Green said he had faith that he would prevail.

“There’s nothing I’m going to let stand in my way of moving forward and doing the right thing,” he said. “I got family I want to be here for. The good Lord brought me this far; he’s going to continue to carry me.”

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