Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Freed from death row, he faces a new murder charge

Joseph Green Brown was released from prison in 1987. Since then he has worked as a truck driver and a homeless shelter cook. He now stands accused of killing his wife in South Carolina.

Times files (1989)

Joseph Green Brown was released from prison in 1987. Since then he has worked as a truck driver and a homeless shelter cook. He now stands accused of killing his wife in South Carolina.

A black man named Joseph Green Brown was accused of raping and killing a white woman in 1973 in a Tampa clothing store called the Just Kids Shoppe. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Fitted for a burial suit. Granted a stay some 15 hours before his scheduled electrocution in 1983. He was set free in 1987.

In the years since then, Brown worked as a truck driver, a homeless shelter cook, a convenience store clerk. He got married. He moved from Washington, D.C., to Charlotte, N.C. He talked to church groups about staying out of trouble.

Last week he was picked up by police in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., after his wife was found dead in their apartment in Charlotte.

He's 62. He has a court hearing today. He's facing a first-degree murder charge.

• • •

In July 1973, Earlene Treva Barksdale was found in her shop dead on the floor, naked with a bullet hole in her head.

Later the same afternoon, Brown, who was 23 at the time and had no criminal record, flagged down a Tampa police car. He wanted to confess to a robbery. He told officers he and another man broke into a Holiday Inn by the airport and robbed a woman and that he had started to molest her before stopping. The other man's name, he said, was Ronald Floyd.

A detective thought there might be a link between the two crimes. He asked Brown and Floyd if they knew anything about the Barksdale murder. Brown said no. Floyd, eventually, said yes — that he only drove, that Brown fired the shot.

The murder trial was "the biggest thing going on," attorney J. Michael Shea said this week. He was Brown's court-appointed attorney. "All the news. All the television stations."

The prosecutor, Robert Bonanno, had Floyd's testimony, but that was about it. No fingerprints. No matching blood. The bullet that killed Barksdale couldn't have come from the gun Brown had used in the hotel robbery, but Bonanno told the jury it was the murder weapon.

Shea asked Floyd at the trial if he was getting a deal from prosecutors for his testimony against Brown. Floyd said no.

The all-white jury quickly found Brown guilty. Brown got 20 years for the robbery on top of his death sentence. Floyd got probation.

Shea still thinks Brown was innocent.

"As far as I'm concerned, he was always guilty," said Bonanno, who became a judge and was the subject of a series of ethics investigations before resigning in 2001 to stop another.

• • •

Floyd got in trouble shortly after the trial and went to prison. He told Shea in 1975 in a sworn statement that his testimony was false and that he had lied in exchange for "favorable consideration" from the prosecution.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund took over Brown's appeal in 1981. Florida Gov. Bob Graham rejected Brown's plea for clemency in 1982. He signed his death warrant in 1983.

Brown kicked and screamed when they came to measure him for that suit. He was asked what he wanted for his last meal. He said he wanted nothing.

The stay came the night before he was to be killed.

The federal appeal court overturned his conviction because Bonanno had "knowingly used false testimony" — a reference to Floyd's lie about his deal with prosecutors.

Hillsborough County prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to retry Brown. Brown was mopping the floor at the county jail when he got a call saying he was free. He was released with the 75 cents from his personal prison account.

"I can't tell you he was wrongly imprisoned," said Henry Lavandera, the prosecutor who dropped the case. "All I can tell you is that I couldn't prove that he was guilty."

In 1999, Brown, who started going by Shabaka WaQlimi, Swahili for "uncompromising," told a Times reporter he was still bitter.

"You've got to realize, you put a man in a cage and treat him like a dog, talk to him like a dog, feed him like a dog … there's gonna come a time he wants to bite like a dog."

Ten years after that, in a talk with a group of students, one of them asked if he was "healed."

"I'm healed enough to control those emotions, but I still possess those emotions," he said. "When I talk to audiences … I ask them to pray for me. And the reason why I ask them to pray for me is that I know that one day all these emotions is gonna swell up. And I ask people to pray for Shabaka that when that day come I be by myself."

• • •

Charlotte police received calls almost two weeks ago from people who were worried about Mamie Caldwell Brown. They went to check on her.

Police say she suffered unspecified trauma.

The retired secretary was 71.

At a hearing last week, Joseph Green Brown had on handcuffs and an orange jail jumpsuit. He took a quick look at his wife's family and then turned away.

• • •

Shea kept in touch with Brown. He wrote a book about Brown. He exchanged Christmas cards with Brown. He knew his wife. He talked with them on the phone, at least a couple times a year. He said they'd been having a tough time financially.

"I think it's sad," Shea said, "if Joe actually killed his wife. That's very sad. He should pay the consequences if he did it.

"I don't know the circumstances," he added. "Probably only two people do. And one of them is dead."

News researchers Carolyn Edds, Caryn Baird and Natalie Watson contributed to this report, which used information from the Los Angeles Times, the Charlotte Observer and the Associated Press. Michael Kruse can be reached at mkruse@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8751.

Freed from death row, he faces a new murder charge 09/25/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 10:01pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays pitchers rave about Twins pitching coach, ex-mentor Neil Allen

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — There have been a lot of coaches who have had a hand in helping Chris Archer get to the big leagues and to the front of the Rays rotation, and as he took the mound Friday night at Target Field, he had reason to nod appreciatively toward the home dugout.

    Minnesota Twins pitching coach Neil Allen jogs back to the dugout after paying starting pitcher Tyler Duffey a visit on the mound in the first inning of a baseball game against the Texas Rangers on Thursday, July 7, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
  2. Swan sculpture deputies say was stolen by naked man found near Lakeland pond

    Crime

    A $25,000 swan sculpture that Polk County sheriff's deputies say was stolen by a naked man last weekend was found near a pond in Lakeland on Thursday.

    A swan sculpture that was stolen in Lakeland on May 19 was recovered by the Polk Sheriff's Office on Friday.
  3. Mayor Rick Kriseman says election is about moving forward

    Blogs

    Mayor Rick Kriseman christened his campaign office  Friday evening by telling his supporters that the mayoral election was about moving forward, not backward..

    Mayor Rick Kriseman says mayoral election is about inclusiveness Friday at campaign office rally
  4. Mulberry teens, 15 and 18, killed when cars collide at Plant City intersection

    Accidents

    MULBERRY — The local high school has an enrollment of 1,000 but to some it feels like a tight-knit family. Many of Mulberry High School's students have spent all of their school days within the city limits, said principal Michael Young.

    Pepe Salgado, 18, was killed Friday along with his sister Frinzi Salgado-Diaz, 15, in a car crash in Plant City. They were passengers in a car driven by their cousin Edilberto Nava-Marcos, 18, who was transported to Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center and was listed in critical condition. All three lived in Mulberry and attended Mulberry High School. [Polk County School District]
  5. Assisted living facility owner accused of sexually assaulting employee in Pinellas

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — An assisted living facility owner was arrested Thursday on charges that he sexually assaulted an employee, the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office said.