McKee took the fall for a Tampa hate crime he didn’t commit in 1987.
“It’s over and he’s a free man,” Seth Miller said.
You can hear the joy in Miller’s voice — he’s a lawyer with the Innocence Project of Florida — when he talks about his former client, Dean McKee.
Former as of this morning.
It’s been a long road for McKee, who falsely confessed to the 1987 racially motivated murder of a black man, Isaiah Walker. The judge sentenced the 16-year-old boy to life in prison for murder. Read our full story about what happened next here, but bottom line: McKee kept protesting his innocence and, when DNA evidence suggested he was right, the Innocence Project of Florida took the case in 2011.
For eight years, Miller, his staff and McKee worked to get the conviction overturned. In October 2017, two years after a hearing, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell issued a 17-page order overturning the 1988 murder conviction. DNA showed McKee never touched the victim.
The State of Florida filed an intent to appeal Campbell’s decision.
McKee stayed in jail, this time in solitary confinement for his own safety, until the court released him on an appeal bond on Jan. 9.
The rules of his temporary release were clear: McKee had to wear an ankle monitor. He couldn’t drink. He couldn’t go on social media. He couldn’t leave Pinellas County, except for work. He had to be in his home by 9 p.m. every night. He had to plug his ankle monitor in nightly or go back to prison.
Since Jan. 9, 2018, McKee’s had some firsts. His fiance threw him his first birthday party in more than 30 years. He “paroled” an Australian Shepherd that follows him everywhere. He started making plans in case he could be free — but not definite plans. He knew that the state’s appeal could find him guilty again, and he knew that even if the state didn’t find him guilty, they could re-try.
All that went away this morning. The State dismissed the appeal on Dec. 28, but had not yet decided whether or not they would re-try McKee’s case.
At a status hearing this morning, the state attorney told the court they would drop the appeal and would not re-try McKee.
And just like that, with no pomp or circumstance or flashbulbs popping in the courtroom, McKee’s nightmare — which began in 1987 at the Tampa Museum of Art — was over.
He turned to Miller, who’s led him through every decision since 2011, and asked, “What do I do now?”
“Whatever you want,” Miller told him.
“He’s a free man,” Miller told Creative Loafing. “It’s over. He’s no longer a convicted felon, no longer charged with first-degree murder or any other crime. He’s a free man in America. This is what we’ve been waiting for, what we’ve been hoping for.”
And, Miller added, “we’re thankful the State Attorney Office finally got to this point.”
McKee, tearing up a bit, thanked the state attorney.
“I know this means a lot to you,” the Honorable Barbara Twine Thomas told McKee, “Good luck.”
The 1987 murder of Isaiah Walker remains unsolved.
This article originally appeared at Creative Loafing.