Smart — unaware that Armbrister had been interviewed, and emboldened by his mother's advice — called the cops. He said he wanted to talk. Officers agreed to meet him at a Kwik Stop at NE 135th Street. Smart wore a black shirt and shorts. He paced outside the gas station, waiting. This is the right decision, he told himself. This is the right decision. But when he saw detectives arrive with a camera-wielding "chubby white guy in a yellow polo," he knew he'd made a mistake.

A second person appeared before the window. He held a black 9mm Luger.

With cameras rolling, the cops snapped a pair of cuffs around Smart's wrists, and it would be two years until he'd be free again.


Few jobs elicit greater esteem than a detective's. There's a cultural fascination with solving murders, manifested in the sheer number of TV shows that deconstruct homicide investigations. Crime television — from the endless stream of CSI spinoffs to Cold Case to Law & Order — account for nearly one-fourth of all prime-time television programming. This demand means production companies are constantly under pressure to expand upon the standard crime television formula, according to a 2007 study called "The CSI Effect." No channel is more bound to that effect than A&E. Over the past decade, the station has birthed a dizzying assortment of crime programs: Cold Case Files, American Justice, City Confidential, Investigative Reports, Crime 360, and The First 48, which first aired in 2004.

Detectives interrogated Smart for hours in a room they call "the box."
Photo still from A&E's The First 48
Detectives interrogated Smart for hours in a room they call "the box."

The narrative structure of The First 48 is both conventional and chronological, and nearly every episode begins with a murder. But the show's true genius lies in how it ratchets up the drama with an artificially imposed deadline.

"For homicide detectives," the narrator pronounces in a gravelly timbre at the program's start, "the clock starts ticking the moment they are called. Their chance of solving a murder is cut in half if they don't get a lead within the first 48 hours." Throughout the program, producers splice into the frame a ticking clock, and detectives may fret over their deadline. Dramatic tension mounts as investigators collect evidence, interview witnesses, and identify suspects, until it hits a crescendo with a climactic confrontation between suspect and detective during the episode's final interrogation.

On November 17, 2009, Taiwan Smart found himself inside "the box." The 21-year-old slid into a chair across from Detective T.C. Cepero, a veteran, hard-bitten cop who looks like a miniature Mr. Clean and has a Facebook fan page dedicated to his First 48 exploits. Beside him was Detective Fabio Sanchez, who opened a blue folder. (Both officers and their superiors declined repeated requests for comment.)

Smart was nervous, fidgeting back and forth, grabbing at his dreadlocks. He refused to eat a Subway sandwich they'd brought for him. For hours, the detectives listened to Smart unspool the same story he'd told everyone: An unknown person had arrived at his apartment's open window and shot inside. "I was nervous for my life," Smart said. "I heard the shooting, and I took off running out the back. I didn't see nobody get shot, I didn't see any blood, I didn't see anything. I just got out of there."

The first hint that the cops weren't on Smart's side arrived three hours into the interrogation. "You're not telling us something, or else you're bending the truth," Cepero suddenly said, eyebrows plunging into a scowl. "We have all gathered a lot of evidence, and it talks."

"What are you talking about?" Smart gasped.

"The evidence talks," Cepero replied, telling Smart the shooter had been inside the apartment, where cops had collected four bullet casings. Plus, both men had been shot point-blank, in the back of the head. "Don't get into [a lie] you can't get out of."

"You think I'm lying?" Smart asked. He pleaded multiple times for a polygraph test. He sank his head in his hands. "You're trying to get me to say something I don't know."

"You're telling me a story you concocted, and it's bullshit," Cepero told him, asserting that if Smart's story had been accurate, the window would have been shattered. (Police evidence logs show the window had been open six inches.) "I believe the evidence ten times more. I'm calling you a liar because you're blowing smoke up my ass."

Sanchez leaned in so close to Smart, he could smell him. "You know what the evidence is telling me right now?" Sanchez seethed. "That you're a fucking liar."

Eleven hours into the interrogation, when Smart realized he was going to jail for two murders, he wept uncontrollably. "I don't want to go to jail for something I didn't do!" Smart, now cuffed to the chair, begged Sanchez, who wrote in an arrest report that the youth's statements weren't "consistent" with evidence.

"I'm asking you," Smart wept. "Out of the decency of your heart, please help me! Please!"

But days later at Smart's probable-cause hearing, when Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jorge Cueto asked for harder proof linking Smart to the murders, Sanchez perpetuated the injustice.

The detective, wearing a dark-red button-down and a darker expression, first misrepresented witness Armbrister's interview. "She could hear [Smart and the victims] arguing over drugs and money," he told the judge.

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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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