SUMTER COUNTY, Fla. – A man who served 16 years in prison as part of a life sentence after being wrongfully convicted has been released and could soon be exonerated, according to the Innocence Project of Florida.
Leonard Cure was convicted in 2004 of committing a robbery and aggravated assault on two employees at a Broward County Walgreens on Nov. 10, 2003.
Records from the Conviction Review Unit in the office of Seventeenth Judicial Circuit show the perpetrator pushed his way into the convenience store as the manager and an employee were opening it up, threatened to “blow (the manager’s) head off” and then forced them to open a safe and hand over $1,700.
The problem, according to prosecutors, was that both victims had a hard time picking the suspect out of an initial photo lineup, which included a picture of Cure because they both said the face looked the same but the skin tone was not right. At that point, they were both shown a second photo lineup that only included four pictures of Cure and no one else.
According to the report, one of the victims said the culprit was neat and well dressed, so a lieutenant assigned to the case looked through photos using the Track Repeat Arrestees Program until she found Cure, who met that standard.
A judge in 2004 ruled that the photo lineup was “unnecessarily suggestive” but would not be suppressed and therefore could be used at the trial.
Additionally, records from the state attorney’s office show Cure was working his construction job at the time the robbery was occurring. A coworker verified he was there on time that day and his boss described him as a good worker who was very dependable and one of the few who could be trusted to work the early shift.
The CRU became aware of the discrepancies in Cure’s case in December 2019 after he wrote to them insisting that he was innocent.
A review was conducted and assistant state attorney Demby Berger wrote that the evidence used to convict Cure was “troubling” and asked that his sentence be modified so he could be released from the Sumter Correctional Institution.
“The issues we find most troublesome are those surrounding how Cure became a suspect in the first place. Seemingly, a man who had no connection to a Walgreen’s robbery became the main suspect after someone reviewed photos of well-dressed/neat appearing African American males. That was it, there was no physical evidence, no witnesses who knew him, nothing but an alleged search in the questionable ‘TRAP,’ Program. The case became questionable at the very onset. If the identification was bad, then everything that comes after is bad as well,” Berger wrote in her findings.
On Tuesday, a judge signed an order modifying Cure’s life sentence to the 16 years he has already served so he could be freed from prison.
“I am beyond excited. I have so many thanks for the State Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project of Florida for paving the way for my freedom. I’m looking forward to spending time with my family for the first time in 16 years,” Cure said in a news release.
The CRU will now be able to complete its investigation and the hope, according to the Innocence Project of Florida, is that Cure will be fully exonerated.
“We are so thrilled Ms. Demby Berger of the Broward CRU chose to investigate Mr. Cure’s case and saw significant issues with the evidence to allow for his immediate release from his wrongful incarceration. Our hope is that by the end of their investigation, they will agree to further relief that vindicates Mr. Cure and recognizes his innocence. We look forward to more collaborative opportunities in this case and future cases to achieve justice for the innocent,” Cure’s IPF attorney Krista Dolan said.