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Message from the State Attorney

Photo: Katherine Fernandez Rundle Headshot 2

Katherine Fernandez Rundle
State Attorney

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Dear Friend,

A prosecutor “has the responsibility of a minister of justice and not simply that of an advocate.”
                                                         —     Comments Regarding the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar, Rule 4‑3.8

Being a prosecutor is one of the most difficult and most rewarding jobs in the world. As ministers of justice, we are charged with protecting and serving the entire community, including those accused and/or convicted of even the most heinous crimes. Our job is not to obtain convictions, but to uncover the truth and obtain justice for victims, defendants, and the community. I have never wavered in my commitment to fulfilling these basic obligations and have worked hard to live by these values and instill them throughout our office.

Of course, actions speak louder than words. During the past month, we coincidently took action in two separate cases that stunned the nation, but simply are a reflection of my commitment to our ideals. In the first case, we exonerated an innocent man, Thomas Raynard James, who sat in prison for over 30 years after being convicted of murdering Francis McKinnon. In the second, we charged four correctional officers with a number of charges, including murder, after they beat inmate Ronald Gene Ingram to death.

All of us – victims, witnesses, officers, prosecutors, judges, and jurors – are human and can make mistakes. Finding the truth can be a difficult, tedious, labor intensive, and an emotional path, but one I’m not afraid to take. In 2003, I created the Justice Project to review claims of innocence submitted by incarcerated individuals convicted of felony offenses. Since that time, we have freed multiple people and vacated dozens of warrants and/or convictions.

In James’ case, he always maintained his innocence. However, the evidence suggested otherwise. He was found guilty by a jury of his peers after a critical eyewitness testified that she was “positive” he participated in the victim’s murder: “I will never forget his face. I will never forget his eyes.”

Ten times, James filed motions for post-conviction relief, and 10 times, our prosecutors and the courts rightfully rejected his claims. Even the skilled committee investigators and attorneys at the Innocence Project rejected his case. But when the key eyewitness recanted her testimony, we decided to take a closer look at the evidence.

Justice Project attorneys spent approximately one year reviewing over 10,000 documents, re-investigating the case, and interviewing numerous witnesses scattered throughout Florida. At the conclusion of the investigation, I and my incredible team, consisting of Don Horn, Christine Zahralban and Reid Rubin, came to the inescapable decision that James was innocent. At my request, the Justice Project attorneys filed a Motion to Vacate the conviction. When the judge granted the motion, we dismissed the charges and James walked out of court a free man.

Honesty and integrity are a prosecutor’s guiding light. We must never be afraid to admit or correct mistakes. We must maintain our objectivity, remain open-minded, and be vigilant at all times.

Ingram was an inmate housed in the mental health unit of the Dade Correctional Institution. He was serving a life sentence for 1st Degree Murder and was in the process of being transferred to Lake Correctional Institution in Clermont, Florida. He never completed the trip alive.

Ingram reportedly threw a cup of urine at correctional officers who were assigned to move him from his cell. The evidence shows that several officers beat him in retaliation, causing numerous broken ribs and a punctured right lung, before loading him into a transport van. A witness recalled hearing one of the correctional officers saying, “Ingram would never throw urine on another correctional officer again.”

Sadly, he was right. When the van stopped in Ocala, Ingram was dead. The Medical Examiner who autopsied him concluded that Ingram died from blunt force trauma. In the State of Florida, the Medical Examiner is legally responsible for determining the cause of death. Based on their finding that a homicide occurred, we charged four officers with a multitude of offenses, including 2nd Degree Murder.

Justice demands that those who uphold the law must abide by it. Simply stated, abuse and “back-alley justice” have no place in Florida’s correctional system. Sentenced inmates have forfeited their freedom, but not their basic rights.

These cases reflect the best and worst about our system. While we did what we could to bring justice in each of them, we recognize that James and his family will never recover the time they lost, the McKinnon family will never obtain the justice they deserve because the true killers will never be held accountable, and we cannot bring Ingram back to life. Nonetheless, I’m proud that we did what we could to seek the truth and find justice.

Stay safe, healthy, and strong.


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