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Evidence of injustice "compelling,' judge says

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

A judge deciding whether a man convicted of murdering a sheriff's deputy actually killed him called the evidence supporting the man's innocence "fairly compelling" Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Donald Graham said he was surprised that prosecutors don't intend to challenge the evidence that points to Timothy Brown's innocence in the 1990 slaying of Broward County Deputy Patrick Behan.

"There's one big ethical concern _ we want to make sure the right people are in jail," Graham said.

Assistant Attorney General Celia Terenzio said her office has not investigated the new suspect, Andrew Johnson, because of "ethical concerns" during an investigation by another state agency.

Johnson became a suspect in April 2000 after his estranged wife told a police informer that Johnson had admitted the killing.

The Broward Sheriff's Office followed up with a 10-month undercover investigation, which produced a series of detailed confessions from Johnson, a former jail deputy. But Sheriff Ken Jenne said in February there wasn't enough evidence to charge him.

Graham said he couldn't understand why the state did not plan to have the undercover agents testify.

After a taped meeting last Aug. 23, a summary of the session said investigators obtained "a full confession." On the tape played for the judge, Johnson described shooting Behan with a single hollow-point bullet from his .357-caliber revolver while Behan sat in his patrol car.

The details match the ballistics report and Behan's wounds when he was shot in a convenience store parking lot late at night writing reports. Johnson gives even more details in later tapes.

Brown, 26, claims that confessions were beaten out of him and Keith King. They said they killed Behan on a dare. Both are mentally retarded. King served nine years for manslaughter, and Brown was sentenced to life.

Assistant Attorney General Leslie Campbell told the judge on the first day of the hearing Wednesday that he shouldn't believe anything said by Johnson, his wife and the informer. She retracted the statement Thursday and said the state is taking no position on Johnson's credibility while the Florida Department of Law Enforcement reviews the case.

The judge said he might give the state extra time to file paperwork privately after testimony ends to explain its neutral position on Johnson.

"What you're telling me just does not fit with the evidence," he said. "What I've heard thus far is fairly compelling."