Crosley Green spent 33 years in prison before being released. (Crowell & Moring)
9 min

For Crosley Green, freedom has been about things big and small: Getting to soak up time with his now-grown children and their children. Being able to eat his favorite ice cream — strawberry — whenever he wants.

The Florida man spent 32 years in prison, including 19 on death row, before being released by a federal judge who ruled that a prosecutor withheld evidence in his murder case. Green, who has long denied involvement in the 1989 killing of 21-year-old Charles “Chip” Flynn Jr., left a Brevard County correctional facility in April 2021, gray-haired and in his 60s.

But his grasp on freedom is slipping away. After Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) appealed, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling that set the stage for his release to home confinement. Her office is now pushing for him to be sent back to prison for life.

Green’s attorneys argued in a Friday filing with the Middle District of Florida that he does not belong behind bars, noting that he has held a full-time job and become a valued member of his community since his release in 2021. They are asking that he be allowed to continue his current condition of release and remain out for at least 60 days. His attorneys plan to pursue two potentially long-shot paths to freedom — clemency or parole — after others ran out in recent months. The 65-year-old is determined to not miss another generation of his family growing up.

“I tell my sons how much I love them, how much I missed them,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I wasn’t there for them, but I want to be there for my grandkids.”

It’s the latest chapter in a long-running case that has grappled with questions over the evidence that must be turned over to a defendant and the role of race in criminal prosecutions. Green’s pro bono legal team from D.C.-based Crowell & Moring has been fighting for his release since 2008. Now their hopes lie with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), who has the power to grant Green clemency, or with a state board that could give him parole.

Keith Harrison, one of Green’s attorneys, described it as “a case that cries out for justice.”

“From our perspective, there is literally no reason to send Mr. Green back to prison,” he said.

Whitney Ray, a spokeswoman for Moody, said in an email to The Post that the attorney general’s office is required to uphold judgments and sentences sought by prosecutors and imposed by trial courts. The prosecutor said he still believed he pursued the right man in a 2020 interview with CBS News.

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Green has remained hopeful, even as the state has fought his release at every turn. He found faith after his anger-filled first years on death row. He’s clung to it since then.

“I must say it again, this is God’s will,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. I have my faith. I have my trust.”

The crime that landed Green in prison unfolded in the early-morning hours of April 4, 1989. A 19-year-old woman named Kim Hallock called 911, saying that “a Black guy” had shot her ex-boyfriend. She said she and Flynn were sitting in his pickup truck in a wooded area, smoking marijuana and talking about their relationship, when the man approached the truck wielding a gun.

Hallock said their assailant kidnapped them and drove them to an orange grove. Then, according to the account she gave police, Flynn used his own gun to shoot at their attacker but missed. She said she saw the man fire a shot before she managed to drive away in the truck.

Brevard County sheriff’s deputies found Flynn 30 minutes after Hallock’s 911 call, facedown with his arms tied behind his back. “Get me out of here. I want to go home,” was all he would say when they asked what happened. He was dead by the time an ambulance arrived 15 minutes later.

A canine led investigators to Green’s sister’s house. And two tipsters told officers a police sketch resembled the then-31-year-old man, who had served time following a 1977 armed robbery in New York. Hallock pointed at him in a police lineup of six Black men.

With that, police got a warrant for Green’s arrest. The evidence was all circumstantial, the defense argued. Three witnesses, who have since recanted, testified at trial that he had confessed to the shooting. An all-White jury sentenced him to death by a vote of 8-4.

“My first three years in prison while I was on death row, I was a wreck. You understand? I was angry. I was mad,” Green said. “After the first three years, I gave my life to God.”

Crosley Green’s attorneys filed arguments with a Florida court asking he be kept out of prison. Green was released by a judge in 2021 after serving 33 years. (Video: Angela Hill/The Washington Post)

Green’s sentence, which could have led him to “Old Sparky,” the notorious electric chair used in Florida until 1999, was converted to life in prison in 2009. He had served 28 years when U.S. District Judge Roy Dalton of the Middle District of Florida ruled in 2018 that the prosecutor had failed to turn over evidence that might have changed the outcome of the case — a violation of Green’s constitutional rights. At issue was then-prosecutor Chris White’s handwritten notes from a conversation with the on-scene investigators.

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

Dalton’s ruling said it was “difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense and the development of the defense strategy” than the fact the initial investigators thought someone else might be responsible. He threw out the verdict, ordering the state to release or retry Green. Moody’s appeal kept him behind bars until 2021, when Dalton ordered his release amid the coronavirus pandemic, in part because of health concerns.

Leaving prison, Green marveled at being able to stand in the shade of a tree. One of his first stops was an ice cream shop.

Since his release, he has worn an ankle monitor and is required to stay at his brother-in-law’s house in Titusville. He has permission to leave for the grocery store, church and his full-time job in manufacturing, where, his lawyers said, he is often the first to arrive. His family comes by the house to be with him. He can’t go as far as the mailbox, but they can still have cookouts, play cards and toss a ball around in the yard.

“Just having him home with us, it’s a miracle,” said his sister, Shirley White. “And we just thank God and just enjoy every day, day by day. Whatever we got, we just thank God for it.”

But about a year after he walked out of prison, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Dalton had erred in his decision, writing that concerns over the withheld evidence had already been exhausted at the state court level. The court also said the notes were immaterial because they would have been inadmissible at trial. Hearing that news, White said, “there was a drop in our belly.”

“I want to tell you, I have cried many nights,” she said. “I have been on my knees. There’s been a time I asked God why? Why my brother?”

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Green appealed to the Supreme Court, which announced on Feb. 27 that it would not take the case. In response, Dalton asked Green and the state attorney general to file briefs on whether his order granting release should be rescinded or modified.

Moody’s office argued in its filing that “the terms of Green’s release expired with the conclusion of the appeal in the Eleventh Circuit.” It said he should surrender himself or the court should rescind its order granting release “and return him to the custody of the Florida Department of Corrections so that he can complete the remainder of his lawfully imposed sentence.”

If Dalton rescinds his release, some of the only remaining routes for Green to stay out of prison are parole or clemency. Neither looks easy. Parole could require an admission of guilt — something he refuses to do. Clemency is at the governor’s discretion but requires the support of two out of three Cabinet members. Moody is one of them.

Green said he hopes that DeSantis, whose office did not respond to The Post’s request for comment, will look at his case and his record.

“I will plead to him for my freedom,” he said. “And I will ask him with every being in my body to please see that I stay free, because I would like to remain with my family.”

Green’s legal team is “always looking for options and maintaining and obtaining Crosley’s freedom, because he is actually innocent,” Harrison said. But he acknowledged it’s an uphill battle.

Still, Green and his family have allowed themselves to picture what it would look like if he were granted true freedom — if he were allowed to take off the ankle monitor and freely venture beyond the mailbox. White said they would eat “eat strawberry ice cream every day.”

Green bought a motorcycle that he has not yet been able to ride. He dreams of taking off and going to the mountains alone. He still hasn’t been able to release the emotions from everything he’s gone through.

“The only way I can release it is just go up in the mountains somewhere, you know, all by myself,” he said. “Where I can yell to the top of my lungs, and I don’t have to worry about someone saying you’re stupid or you’re crazy or what are you doing? No. It’ll just be me. Me. Me and the animals.”