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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Deputy fatally shoots man who served 16 years for wrongful conviction

By Praveena Somasundaram Washington Post

On a sunny day in April 2020 in Fort Pierce, Florida, Leonard Cure posed for a photo that was nearly two decades in the making.

Looking into the camera, he raised his hand in the air and wore a shirt that read “INNOCENT” in white block letters, alongside an image of a fist with a handcuff, its chain cut.

Cure had been released from prison that month, 16 years after being wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and aggravated assault in Florida. He had since bought a home in Georgia, reconnected with his family and was considering taking college classes, his former attorney said.

But on Monday, Cure was fatally shot by a Camden County, Georgia, sheriff’s deputy during a traffic stop, according to the state’s Bureau of Investigation, which told the Washington Post that Cure had been pulled over for speeding and reckless driving. Cure had “complied with the officer’s commands until learning that he was under arrest,” the agency said in a statement. The deputy used a Taser and a baton before shooting Cure, the Bureau of Investigation said, adding that it had begun a probe of the incident.

Cure had been driving back to his Georgia home after visiting his mother in Florida, said Seth Miller, executive director of the Innocence Project of Florida, which represented him. The 53-year-old “had every reason to be really angry about what happened to him and yet had a positive outlook,” Miller told the Post.

“He was on an upward trajectory, and to see that cut short, it’s just really devastating,” he said. “And it’s hard to believe that it’s happened.”

On Monday around 7:30 a.m., a Camden County deputy stopped Cure’s car and requested that he step outside of it, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation said in its statement.

After learning he was under arrest, Cure was “not complying with the deputy’s requests,” and the officer used his Taser, the agency said. Cure then “assaulted the deputy,” who used his Taser again, followed by a baton, the bureau said.

When Cure “still did not comply,” the agency said, the deputy shot him.

No agencies have released body-camera footage of the incident. In a Facebook post Monday afternoon, the Camden County Sheriff’s Office said official reports on the incident would be released when the Bureau of Investigation’s probe is complete.

The deputy, who has not been publicly identified, is on administrative leave, Camden County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Larry Bruce told the Post in an email.

Cure was the first person to be exonerated by the Broward County state attorney’s office Conviction Review Unit, which was formed in 2019. In a statement Monday, the office said it was “devastated” by his death.

“The Leonard we knew was a smart, funny and kind person,” Broward State Attorney Harold Pryor said in the statement. “After he was freed and exonerated by our office, he visited prosecutors at our office and participated in training to help our staff do their jobs in the fairest and most thorough way possible.”

Cure was first arrested in November 2003 following an armed robbery at a store in Dania Beach, Florida, according to the Broward County state attorney’s office. When asked about the suspect for composite sketches, the two store employees gave different descriptions, according to the Innocence Project of Florida.

One employee recalled seeing a Black male who was 5-foot-8 with missing teeth; the second employee did not recall missing teeth, the organization said.

One week later, one of the employees selected Cure from a photo lineup, and another was between Cure and another man – but more than one of Cure’s photos were used, the organization stated, adding that the photos of the men shown were “gathered in a highly unethical way.” Although Cure had an alibi and no physical evidence connected him to the scene, he was soon charged in the crime.

At a trial in 2004, jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict, but Cure was convicted later that year during a second trial and sentenced to life in prison, according to the Innocence Project of Florida.

Cure appealed his case and applied for post-conviction relief, but the efforts were denied, the state attorney’s office said.

In 2019, when the Conviction Review Unit was launched, Cure wrote a letter to the team asking for his case to be reviewed. He had also written to the Innocence Project of Florida, Miller said.

After both examined his case, Cure’s sentence was modified by a judge, and on April 14, 2020, he was released on time served as the new investigation continued.

The case materials were then reviewed by an independent panel of attorneys, who found in October 2020 a “reasonable doubt as to his culpability, and that he is most likely innocent,” the state attorney’s office said. In December 2020, eight months after Cure’s release, a Broward circuit judge vacated his convictions and sentence.

From there, Cure dedicated his time to “looking forward,” Miller said. He found a job as a security guard and spoke about his experience at public engagements, Miller said.

In June, the state of Florida approved $817,000 in compensation for Cure’s imprisonment and wrongful conviction. Cure would also receive college tuition and planned to study music production, which was one of his passions, Miller said.

Last week, Cure closed on a house in Palmetto, Georgia, another goal he’d made after his release, Miller said.

“Then you think about these other goals,” he said, “and he just never got to there to realize them.”