The letter arrived at the judge's chambers in 2003, signed by a public defender-turned-convict named Anthony Genova. He had been busted for drunk driving, was a self-described Xanax addict, and did time for bankruptcy fraud. It was addressed to his old courthouse buddies -- judges and attorneys -- explaining he had found Jesus behind bars. His writing made prison sound like a church camp full of motivational speakers.
"I was baptized with the Holy Spirit and began speaking & praying in tongues," he wrote, according to the Herald. "Praise God!! I stopped cursing, telling jokes and I watch my tongue! I quit smoking!!! I lost 50 pounds!!! . . . I'm embarrassed to say how weak I was when I got to prison, but I left bench pressing 205 lbs."(The period key must have been broken on his typewriter.)
Genova was once the lawyer for Joseph Toomer, who has been in Miami-Dade jail for an astounding twelve years with no trial. A strong-minded 31-year-old with shoulder-length dread-locks, Toomer is the longest-staying inmate in the county. "They have trampled his constitutional rights for 11 years," says close friend Zandra Specter. "This is insane."
The lawyer, Genova, is just one reason Toomer's case was delayed -- there were also flaky witnesses and complications with cops -- but he's an interesting piece of the story.
A couple weeks ago, Toomer was mentioned briefly in a New Times article about inmates who have been locked away the longest with no trial. His court file wasn't available, and his current lawyer, Rafael Rodriguez, would say only that his drawn-out case was due to a "unique confluence of events." (Read the full here.)
Turns out, it's partly due to his troubled former lawyer. While assigned to defend Toomer, the self-proclaimed "crazy drinking, drugging lawyer," smashed into a concrete barrier on the freeway, then fled, and was nailed with a DUI in 2001, according to police reports. He later served a year in prison for bankruptcy fraud. While working Toomer's case, he filed at least four continuances, which are supposed to be reserved for emergency situations. There were twelve total.
Genova could not be reached immediately for comment.
Toomer, the inmate, is accused of shooting a Lebanese convenience store owner. Once a construction worker with a crack-addicted mother, he now sleeps inside cell number 107 at Metro West Detention Center.
Specter says there's no excuse. "This kid didn't do the crime," she says. "And nobody cares."
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.