The First 48 Makes Millions Off Imprisoning Innocents

<i>The First 48</i> Makes Millions Off Imprisoning Innocents

No one thought twice about the gunshots. It was just before midnight on NW 77th Street in Little Haiti. At that time of night, neighbors would later tell police, they often hear gunfire. Usually, it's some jacked addict playing around like a fool. Other times, it's significantly worse. But in this Miami neighborhood, where nearly one in 60 is a victim of violent crime, you don't mess with someone else's business.

Miami Police would grossly misrepresent witness statements and tell outright lies.

So when a curvaceous 18-year-old woman named Ciara Armbrister ducked out of her one-bedroom apartment just minutes after hearing multiple gunshots, she wasn't worried. Wearing Spider-Man socks, she padded down the weedy alley behind her building toward the apartment of the teenager she'd recently started sleeping with. She knew 18-year-old Jonathan Volcy, confident and smooth, was a drug dealer. But so were a lot of people in this neighborhood.

Her mood darkened, however, when she saw Volcy's back door wide open. Strange, she thought. The back door's never open. She crept into the 500-square-foot apartment, cluttered with Moon Pie wrappers and baggies of coke. Peeking her head around the corner, she saw them: two bodies, face-down, drenched in blood.

Taiwan Smart repeatedly said he didn't commit or witness the murders. The cops didn't listen.
Marta Xochilt Perez
Taiwan Smart repeatedly said he didn't commit or witness the murders. The cops didn't listen.
A killer executed Raynathan Ray, 14, and Jonathan Volcy, 18, with single bullets to the backs of their heads.
Courtesy of Joe Klock
A killer executed Raynathan Ray, 14, and Jonathan Volcy, 18, with single bullets to the backs of their heads.

Armbrister couldn't breathe, couldn't think. She had to get out of there. Moments later, she was pounding at the door of a neighbor, who put down his X-Box controller. Armbrister's socks, he noticed, were sopping crimson. "Somebody shot them boys!" she shrieked. "Somebody shot them boys!"

It didn't take long for the cops to arrive. Close behind was a camera crew filming an episode of The First 48, one of television's most-watched reality crime programs. The A&E show hinges on the premise that detectives have 48 hours to solve a murder before the trail goes cold. And in the double murder of Volcy and his 14-year-old housemate, Raynathan Ray, the clock was already ticking.

Under the camera's gaze, detectives quickly assembled a grisly assortment of facts. Seven bullet holes pockmarked the apartment. Four 9mm Luger bullet casings littered the floor. The side window was open six inches. Bloody footprints and shoe prints marked the white tile floor like a macabre piece of art. And most important, both victims had been killed by a single gunshot to the back of the head. Whoever executed the boys had been inside the apartment. This had been an "inside job," as the episode would later be named.

It was great television. And sure enough, within days, barely past the show's deadline, Miami Police had their man. The missing roommate, 21-year-old Taiwan Smart — who'd been present before the murders but conspicuously absent afterward — was charged on November 18, 2009, with two counts of second-degree murder. "What we have is a circumstantial case, but the circumstantial evidence that we have tells a strong story," Detective Fabio Sanchez said into the cameras as Smart was carted away in handcuffs. Sanchez paused. "It's a shame that these two victims, who were very young, had to lose their lives to a person who they thought was their friend."

But the cops' case wasn't nearly as strong as Sanchez made it sound. To lock up Smart — which they'd do for a staggering 20 months — Miami Police would grossly misrepresent witness statements and tell outright lies. They'd take an impoverished kid and destroy his character not only on the streets but on a national scale. Finally, they'd ignore the man who was fingered as the real killer.

The tragedy inflicted upon this wrongfully accused man, however, is only the latest injustice in this show's history. In Detroit, city police shot a 7-year-old girl in the head in a bungled attempt to catch a suspect on The First 48. In Houston, another man was locked up for three years after cops wrongfully accused him of murder within the first 48 hours. And in Miami, according to a New Times examination of court records, at least 15 men have walked free of murder charges spawned under the program's glare.

Despite it all — sloppy crime scenes, rushed arrests, ruined lives — The First 48, which has now reached its 13th season, is as popular as ever. Millions of Americans tune in to every new episode, and with ratings as seductive as these, who cares about a few botched investigations?


Around 1 a.m. the night of the murders, a frantic rattling sounded outside a barracks-style home blocks from the crime scene. Inside the house, a middle-aged man with a thick black mustache cracked opened his front door to find a thin, jittery kid at his gate, whispering, "Let me in, let me in." The moustached man, Eduardo Rivera, knew his visitor as local boy Taiwan Smart. Everyone in the neighborhood knew Smart. He was a wannabe rapper who had short dreadlocks he couldn't keep his hands out of and was, Rivera said, "tall like crazy."

Rivera let Smart inside, noticing he was barefoot. His size-11 feet looked stained with a tan — almost reddish — color. "Do you have a phone?" Smart rattled in a machine-gun cadence, according to a statement Rivera later gave police. "I need to call the police! There's been a shootout at my crib!"

Rivera's wife, Wanda Fernandez, pulled out a chair for the restive youth. The couple, who didn't have a phone, told him to slow down, take it one step at a time. What happened? Smart, squeezing a cigarette between his fingers, was near tears.

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82 comments
t13heather
t13heather

There are many people that are in prison that are innocent. You're stupid to blame a TV show for putting innocent people in prison. If "The First 48" did not exist, there would still be people in prison wrongly convicted. This is a stupid article. Reality TV is not actual reality.

Lynxx3
Lynxx3

Excellent read. This is such a travesty of justice. I hope you win your case against the PD Mr. Smart.

And I hope you get your life back.  

Killjudas
Killjudas

Terrence Mccoy (author) you are a lousy journalist. Next time be less sensational and more factual. I don't love or hate the First 48 show for documenting what's happening. Whether it's filmed or not, black men are still falsely imprisoned every hour, I'd argue. I understand the prison industrial complex and it's disastrous effects. It's modern slavery for African Americans (and sometimes anyone without a good lawyer). However, you're making your disdain for First 48 laughable because you're sensationalizing the story. You're overly descriptive... "a curvacious 18 year old woman named ciara"... "teenager she recently started sleeping with". Whoa! Is this a soap opera or valuable information. Your writing is lousy.

loriegrande
loriegrande

Great article.  The fact is that this show negatively impacts homicide investigations and prosecutions.  If only one homicide investigation were to be impacted by this show, just one - that should suffice as grave enough of an impact to take the show off the air.  But many more than one have been impacted; that is not what A&E wants to believe making money off the show or even what those who are entertained by the show want to believe, yet it is true.  However, being personally impacted by this show, perhaps, my view is skewed.  What is needed is a independent, professional assessment and analysis of the impact of this show on homicide investigations across the country, since its inception.  I am happy to lend a hand to anyone interested in advocating for such as assessment. I can be reached at Facebook:  William Fenzau.

AsokAsus
AsokAsus

Ridiculous article. Very few of the crimes depicted are actually solved in 48 hours. Many shows depict investigations that go on for months. 


It is a fascinating show, however, as it does show how police investigations work, with most crimes being solved due to either witness/informers are the fact that video cameras are so pervasive that many crimes are caught on tape.


And the real cherry on top is that most of the ignorant, stupid criminals actually confess on tape in the interview room with the most obvious ploys by the cops like, "Well, we heard from so-and-so you shot Skeeter 12 times, but we'd like to hear your version of how many times you shot him." And the shooter says, "Oh, no way. I only shot Skeeter twice. Can I go home now?"

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.........................funny but isn't it the ADVERTISERS that actually contribute the money funding the profit of the show ?

so if the GOP national committee wanted to pay millions to air this show - they could - right ?

okay so what about the billions of dollars in food stamps and section 8 housing assistance and school and municipal services including water sewer and electric that is spent of public taxpayer money in aid and assistance and support in these communites under NIMBY (white people pay so these people don't live near them (N)ot (I)n (M)y (B)ack(Y)ard

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

...................blaming a reality based TV show for airing peoples' general stupidity is the real story here.................IF tywana and treyvon and now taiwan had been in the LIBRARY there is NO SHOW - right ? say amen !

brawley , martin and now smart (who apparently isn't) are ALL throw-away kids who's parents only had them to quilify for FREE government cheeze and section 8 housing and oBaMaphones and these kids get "thrown away" once they no longer qualify their parent for financial hand-outs and public support - so they are basically on their own UNeducated UNemployable and desperate leading to drug use and eventual abuse making them prone to do stupid things like crimes which escalate in severity until BANG its over for them

it doesn't look like the world is losing a rocket scientist here and what was spent on him from public taxpayers pockets life-to-date probably exceeds hundreds of thousands of dollars total in food stamps and assisted housing and support from social services and free programs which he has no chance to ever pay back = period

blame the parents

Derek Austin Scholl
Derek Austin Scholl

like its our faults cops are morons and the undesirables they catch are even dumber

mwillemstein
mwillemstein

oh boo hoo...like this is the first case of injustice in your great US of A....look at your track record and now u wanna blame a TV show...love the first 48 and have every episode recorded....to all you haters Kiss my ass....'they make the black neighborhoods look bad'....duh...wonder why...cause that's where all the shit happens...plundering, murdering and raping anything they can get their hands on....even if they were offered a way out they wouldn't take it cause they prefer their 'thug' life....killing a man just because he looked at you or 'mad dogged' you as the knuckle dragging thugs like to call it.....Det. Dwayne Thompson is a legend..can't wait to see any episode with him in....

SoBeBaby
SoBeBaby

Take a hard look at ALL reality TV


1. Gold Rush  - a complete farce with big commercial placements in the show - Caterpillar, Volvo donate the heavy equipment just so these clowns can dig holes and create environmental havoc. The costs of operation versus the gold recovered at today's price - If the people where not getting paid from the production, they would be broke.


2. Dog Bounty - again, all the product placement - GM donates new SUVs and there are other stuff plugged into the show. Is it real? yes...but as Dog gets richer it becomes more scripted. Put a fish on the hook and pretend you caught it.


3. Flipping Vegas - complete farce with the "theme" of every show...The production team actually stages the house before the remodel.


4. 48  well...it's real enough but I have to wonder if any witness has ever been killed?  Or will be killed when they are ID'd as the person who gave info to the cops...

fratdawgg23
fratdawgg23

Too many police detectives care more about 'closing' a case instead of 'solving' a case. Prosecutors care more about a conviction instead of justice. Any city that allows their police department to showboat for the few minutes of air time deserves to be named and shamed publicly in re: how many innocent lives they are helping to ruin.

CITYRIDERRT19
CITYRIDERRT19

Glad the show has moved on, puts Miami in a negative light and lumps the city in with other crime infested cities, Detroit, Cincinnati, Memphis, etc. 

uibhui
uibhui

What you should have looked into is who benefits from the charity that the City of Miami demanded the first 48 donate money to. There's a reason why they demanded money for that specific charity. It was an attempt to extort the show for money. This isn't meant to defend the First 48, but there's a bigger story here if the New Times had the balls to look into real corruption in the City.

seekermld
seekermld

How much do the producers of 48 Hours generate from this show????  And they declined to pay or rather - Donate $10,000 for  the  benefits of children in these neighbourhoods.   So they dropped them.  I am never watching this unethical show.  How is it that they can take pictures and invade the privacy of these people?  They should be responsible to the wrongly accused and not air shows that they know have been innocent.  There should be some loop holes to shut these vultures down.  We need to pass this on. Set up a petition to turn them off.  And as for the detectives who want their 5 minutes of fame.  Shame on those who twist the truth to their advantage.  It is frightening how vulnerable all of us are.  Anyone of us can be accused of a crime from lies from immoral policing.  If they do not have to pay the consequences for the lives that they have destroyed the KARMA is a B....h.

Andrea Dutchland
Andrea Dutchland

This is why they don't have first 48 in miami anymore . If u watch first 48 you'd know that .

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

....................................the "judicial system" is the BIG taxpayer MONEY feeder source not only for TV,  but the funding for judges pensions, police overtime, building construction and maintenance, and on and on = cha -ching

here in FT LIQUORDALE we are building a new courthouse complex that must be tens of millions of dollars in under the table costs alone

we will need ALL THE ignorant and poor and disenfranchised people living in heavily populated and unsecure drug-infested heavily populated neighborhoods to PAY FOR ALL THAT 

we will need ALL THE shoot-outs and armed robberies and drug-deals gone bad in those neighborhoods to provide steady J O B S for judges and lawyers and cops (especailly now that scott rothstein no longer funds BSO employees) and bloated and corrupt administrative  staffs and ALSO maintain correctional facilities and property including computer systems and paper-shredders

withOUT the ignorant and destitude committing crimes against themselves WE THE (mostly white) PEOPLE couldn't suck out taxpayer money for salaries and commissions and bonuses and pension contributions and fraud and under the table hand outs = period

it's a BEAUTIFUL THING

Jeffrey Knight
Jeffrey Knight

A&E probably figures this show is equal in popularity to E!'s "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" and encourages detectives to ham it up for the cameras. I watched it a couple times, but never again...now that I know...

DRAKEMALLARD.0
DRAKEMALLARD.0 topcommenter


The prison-industrial complex is a system situated at the intersection of government and private interests. It uses prisons as a solution to social, political, and economic problems. It includes human rights violations, the death penalty, slave labor, policing, courts, the media, political prisoners, and the elimination of dissent.Some men kill and go to prison-- sentenced to life or death. Some men go to prison even if they haven't killed-- for life and sometimes for death.

cmontaner
cmontaner

Thank you, New Times.  Thank you, Terrance McCoy.  As my heart cringed reading your article, I tried not to think of the lifetime consequences of the botched police actions.

I hope that Taiwan gets his life back, goes to college, and buys a house.  I pray for Raynathan Ray and Jonathan Volcy, asking  their relatives and friends find peace and some closure, when the real killer is brought to justice. 

I trust that our justice system, the best in the world, becomes flawless and infallible. And I look forward to looking up, one day not to distant, at our police force with respect and admiration, instead of with disdain and terror.

Chuny Montaner

Alex Anico
Alex Anico

after participating in jury duty for a murder case, i can't watch the show anymore.

Ari El
Ari El

Botched investigations by the infallible Miami PD? Impossible. -_-

J Jess Jessi Abalos
J Jess Jessi Abalos

I don't doubt it there are many times I have screeched at the TV "That doesn't mean he/she killed him/her/them!"

Victor Runciman
Victor Runciman

Funny how every time I tune in it is set up in Miami, FL or Cincinnati or another Ohio city.

tambocha
tambocha

@AsokAsus  The producers know that the whole 48 hours thing is just a device.  Besides, they even say that it's about finding a lead within 48 hours, not solving the case. That pretty much covers them.  It's not worth getting distracted from the merits or criticisms of the show itself over the title of the show.

lendagod
lendagod

Yes blame the parents for railroading and the mistreatment of people who don't have the understanding of laws or the means to get suitable legal counsel to fight said charges....Frank let me ask you a question if your brother was stalked and cornered by person then shot after defending them selves you would be up in arms about the rights of people being trampled on correct? If you were in your home the pace you are supposed to feel the ultimate safety with your family and someone tries to kill you and kills your family you get away but get charged for the murder would you say," well I guess I'm guilty cause I wasn't reading a book"?!? No you wouldn't because no one deserves to be put in lockup for a second if they don't deserve it period sir. You sound idiotic with your backwards logic the end all be all isn't education and the library won't keep innocent people out of jail boy stop.

DonaldDilly
DonaldDilly

Confessions can be faked. Police can use duress, and there have been cases where people were forced to confess to things they didn't do

joshlicon
joshlicon

You are racist and ignorant. That is all.

nuther_88
nuther_88

@mwillemstein DT is the real deal fosho...but there's a few clowns as well - Interview skills suck...Peep ready to confess but det shuts it down. (Cleveland)

mccoy.terrence
mccoy.terrence

@uibhui  Please e-mail me and let's talk about that. You can reach me at terrence.mccoy@miaminewtimes.com.

Thanks very much, 

Terrence McCoy

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.............."The prison-industrial complex is ....,"

YES indeed that's a BINGO !

as long as poor uneducated destitute BLACK kids go on drug-induced binges then shoot at themselves and continue to commit crimes THE GREASE is on that WHEEL = period

feeder breeders are young BLACK women who continue to have kids they cannot afford (and who ultimately will "enter the system" and perpetuate the poverty and crime and keep the taxpayer money flowing to the judiciary and law enforcement operations and jails)

like richard pryor said JUSTICE for BLACK people means " JUST US " !

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

.....................sadly the truth is no one really cares about any of them = period

it's the "profit motive" that anyone is only interested in as the deck is stacked against any of those unfortunate disenfranchised neighborhoods from ever producing a positive result for those people

our justice system is very expensive to operate and rely on and only the rich can avail themselves of positive results since the taxpayer money that PAY JUDGEs SALARYs and PENSIONs comes from rich people = period

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

@lendagod  


i guess rev sharpton and his ilk really do get to shape the BLACK people narrative because you miss the point 


okay by me but another fifty (50) years will go by and BLACK people may be obsolete and more irrelevant than they are today,  especially when the BLACK family disintegrates entirely


jews made it, italians made it, germans made it, asians made it and now hispanics are making it - WHY ?


GO ASK THEM HOW,  like i did and do,  and they ALL say the same thing - their parents and a supportive family !


you won't see any jews or italians or germans or asians or hispanics going around with their pants pulled down to their knees and their caps on backwards - WHY ? - they ALL say because they do NOT wish to disrespect their parents and bring SHAME to their supportive family

mwillemstein
mwillemstein

@joshlicon  nobody commends the detectives for all the times that they got it right...so typical...seek the bad and ignore the good...

mwillemstein
mwillemstein

@joshlicon  My favorite detective in the show is Dwayne Thompson and he happens to be black and i'm a racist...wtf

frankd4
frankd4 topcommenter

@lendagod  


okay 


good luck with all that


when you want to join civilized society, pull your pants UP put you cap on straight get a book and READ it (and thank a teacher) and we will be here waiting for you

lendagod
lendagod

Yes your right there isn't a mafia or murder Inc wasn't Jewish gangsters the Azn the neo Nazis I could go all night your missing the point sir just because the minority is bad doesn't mean the majority should be punished I don't divide things by race or social economic standing things of this nature is right or wrong and if your racist behind was being falsely accused I would feel the same way period END OF DISCUSSION

 
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