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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103 comments
Juan Fernandez
Juan Fernandez

Really... says the lady from CT... where the law is more biased and corrupt than FL.. Oh wait you guys have the biggest economic gaps in households in America, so I'm sure there a bit of that happening in CT.. So people don't get taken in and held for a statement? And if they're a person of interest they don't get detained longer or charged on the spot for their crime (if the evidence is right)? Then at an initial hearing they don't get an opportunity by the judge at bail dependent on their charge? Then they either bail or sit in jail until their case goes through the ringer for an end product of either guilty or not guilty?

Tawanda Mays Jolly
Tawanda Mays Jolly

What an ignorant statement! You know nothing about the Justice system! This is not how the system works! Please educate yourself about American juris prudence!

Aaron Anderson
Aaron Anderson

Lol, this is the stupidest headline I've ever seen, and completely false.

Juan Fernandez
Juan Fernandez

doesn't matter.. that ends up working in the favor of the criminals anyways.. A lot of them get charged are held in jail until they're either bailed or their hearings then found guilty or innocent. Happens. That's how the system works.. The reason for the 48 is the statistic that when a crime is not solved within the first 48 they rarely if ever are and their chances and odds diminish greatly.

Erik Ace SobeArtist
Erik Ace SobeArtist

They have rushed many cases to get it under 48 hrs for the show! The 48hr line is BS

jaytoolman92
jaytoolman92

It will be interesting to see how the court system handles this whole situation. I hate to see innocent people get tied up with these types of things. I really feel for that girl who now has to find a lawyer to help her understand the legal system just because she found the bodies. http://armstrongbarrington.com/criminal.htm

darrin.weis1
darrin.weis1

Hey NIHGABBBY? CAUGHT THE VIBE YET? WE HATE YOU.

darrin.weis1
darrin.weis1

It is tough being a porch monkey in a world that detests you. 

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....

tonlo
tonlo

@Killjudas so no white people convicted are innocent? It's just black men? Gimme a break & stop making everything about race. There are crooks, murderers, sex offenders etc in every race, country, religion & economic status. Goes the same with the wrongfully accused. Treat & judge everyone the same, don't be part of the problem.

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)

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

bookermarcus87
bookermarcus87

@frankd4 @lendagod Who says that pulling up one's pants, wearing a baseball cap "straight", and reading a book deems one civilized?  Russell Simmons is a billionaire and YOU, my friend, are a blogging zero.  Get my point?

 
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