Innocent Man to Remain in Prison After Judge Wants More Paperwork

86 with papers.jpg
Photo by Eric Barton
Phillips served as his own attorney for years while A trying to prove his innocence.
A federal judge declined today to release a man from prison where he is serving a 24-year term on drug charges, despite the fact that prosecutors have agreed to drop the charges against him.

Elroy Phillips will remain in federal prison in Miami while prosecutors and his defense attorney file a joint motion outlining again why they think he should be set free. U.S. District Court Judge Joan A. Lenard demanded the paperwork at a hearing this afternoon in Miami instead of accepting a joint motion to release Phillips.

The new paperwork is yet another legal hurdle for Phillips, who thought he was going to be released two weeks ago when prosecutors finally agreed to drop the charges.

Lenard sentenced Phillips to prison in 2003 after a trial that hinged on the testimony of one West Palm Beach cop. That cop, Michael Ghent, has since given up his license to practice as an officer due to allegations that he shook down a massage parlor and was selling drugs on the side. The FBI, Phillips' attorney, and prosecutors interviewed Ghent earlier this year, and multiple lies he told helped prosecutors decide that Phillips should be released.

Phillips spent years behind bars trying to prove his innocence. He requested documents, hired a private investigator, and got a paralegal's license so he could file his own court paperwork. When he learned two weeks ago that prosecutors planned to drop the charges, his daughter, Shatroyia Phillips, brought him clothes to wear when he's released. At his hearing today, he wore jail-issued white shirt and brown pants, his hands handcuffed behind his back.

Lenard said she couldn't release Phillips because she needed to see it on paper. "It has a very broad sweep and differing legal theories," Lenard said. "There are a lot of moving parts here."

After the hearing, Shatroyia Phillips, who owns a tax office in Pembroke Pines, said she was surprised with the judge's decision considering the hundreds of documents that have already been filed to support her father's innocence. "I'm disappointed. My dad, he really wants to come home, and he really thought today was his day."

Previous articles on Elroy Phillips:
West Palm's "most notorious": Big fish or a small scapegoat in the war on drugs?, September 18, 2003
After a Decade in Prison, Man Proves His Innocence -- Only to See Inaction From Courts, June 16, 2011
Don't Believe Elroy Phillips Is Innocent? Read the Evidence He Collected Yourself, August 3, 2011
Elroy Phillips Dug Up Evidence From Prison, but He Still Might Not Get a Chance to Prove His Innocence, August 4, 2011
• Elroy Phillips, in Jail on a Charge He Says He Can Prove Is Bogus, Will Get Day in Court, September 21, 2011
"In This Place, Everybody Is Hopeless," Says Prisoner With Evidence to Prove He's Not Guilty, August 3, 2011

Prosecutors Agree to Release Inmate Who Proved His Innocence, May 16, 2012

Eric Barton is editor of New Times Broward-Palm Beach. Email him here, or click here to follow him on Facebook.

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Eric Barton
Contact: Eric Barton