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Wrongly accused man's family to seek $3.5-million

Trying to avoid a long court battle, relatives turn to the Legislature.

The family of a death row inmate who was cleared of a murder charge 11 months after he died of cancer will ask the Legislature for $3.5-million.

State Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale, said she will sponsor legislation that would pay that amount to the family of Frank Lee Smith, a Fort Lauderdale man who died in January after spending 14 years on death row. Earlier this month, a DNA test showed that he was wrongly convicted of the 1985 murder of an 8-year-old girl.

"I think there are a lot of people sitting in prison who shouldn't be there," Dawson said. "I imagine this bill will begin a debate about the state's responsibility when it keeps people locked up who shouldn't be."

Frank Lee Smith's sister and aunt live in Fort Lauderdale.

Attorney Jeff Smith, who represents the family but is not a relative, said the family decided to ask the Legislature for the money instead of filing a civil lawsuit because they did not want to face a long court battle.

"The family would like to bring this to a close," he said. "They don't want to spend another 14 years in court."

But legislation filed on behalf of other wrongfully convicted men has not passed smoothly. It took 21 years for the Legislature to give $500,000 each to Freddie Pitts and Wilbert Lee, who each spent nine years on death row for murders they did not commit.