MIAMI - A Miami man sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile in the slaying of an ice cream vendor's wife has been freed after serving 44 years in prison.
Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Richard Hersch on Friday ordered the release of 60-year-old Prince Johnson after both the state attorney and Johnson's public defender had argued the life sentence was unlawful.
Landmark rulings by the U.S. and Florida Supreme Courts have required new sentencing hearings for juveniles given life terms. Johnson was a minor when he was tried and sentenced as an adult in 1971.
A state attorney's office spokesman was quoted by The Miami Herald as saying that at the time, prosecutors determined Johnson had participated in a robbery that led to the fatal shooting of Marta Roman in her husband's ice cream truck.
However, Griffith said, both the prosecutor and the public defender agreed that it was not Johnson, but another defendant, who shot Roman.
Gale Lewis, supervisory attorney in the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office, said Johnson's case had been rushed through the courts in less than one month. She took up Johnson's defense after he filed a habeas corpus petition last year.
"I don't know what happened back then," Lewis said after Johnson's release. "All I know is, we had to make it right."
Johnson cried as family members rejoiced over Hersch's ruling.
"It took a long time coming since 1971," said Johnson's sister, Olive Coley. "My brother went to jail when he was 16 years old. And one of these days, we're gonna go through that court and prove and exonerate his name completely."
"He missed his whole life," she said. "He was only 16."