Police find photos after man is freed

Lost evidence resulted in killer's release from jail

January 23, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A police evidence file that investigators lost, prompting a city circuit judge to set a convicted killer free after three years in the city jail, was found the next day in the folder for another criminal case.

Prosecutors said yesterday that it is too late to change the outcome of the criminal case against William T. Flowers, 21, who was charged in 1995 with shooting a man six times in a pool hall during a dispute over a girlfriend.

After police could not find the file containing a series of mug shots critical to the case by 11 a.m. on Jan. 11, the deadline imposed by Judge Thomas Ward, prosecutors cut a plea deal with Flowers.

He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, was sentenced to the three years he had served while waiting to be tried and was sent home.

Robert W. Weinhold Jr., a police spokesman, said the missing file was found in another folder Jan. 12.

"It's a misfiled document," Weinhold said. "It's a very serious matter." The misplaced file was discovered in the department's homicide office at headquarters.

Police said the homicide detective who investigated the case, Walter M. Akers, will not be investigated or disciplined because he is planning to retire soon. Commanders said they believe it was an honest mistake.

The Flowers case garnered attention at a time when the city's court system is being troubled by chronic delays in scheduling allowing homicide suspects and others to be set free.

Flowers had waited for three years for his trial, which had been delayed 17 times.

When his case finally got into a courtroom in January, his attorney sought to keep an eyewitness identification from being admitted during trial. That meant police had to produce a set of six photographs of the suspect and other people who looked similar, from which a witness in the case had claimed to identify Flowers as an assailant.

Police had copies of the photographs, but they were unreadable, and Ward demanded to see the originals. Police were unable to produce the originals and had assumed they were lost.

Without the original photos, and therefore a key witness identification, prosecutors decided to make a deal with the defendant.

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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