During the early morning hours of September 3, 1998 Wayne Ward was confronted by two masked individuals immediately outside his home. One of the assailants attempted to handcuff Ward, but he broke free and, as he attempted to run away, the second assailant shot Ward several times at close range. A third individual, who was unmasked, picked up the first two assailants, driving them away from the scene. The crime was initially unsolved.
On February 12, 2002 following the publication of a series of news articles about the case, with full details of the crime, a jailhouse snitch named Kenny Gardner came forward with a story about how he had been in the area attempting to make a drug purchase and had witnessed the entire incident. The story that he gave to Detective Duggan, was that he saw Ward and two individuals wearing masks. Gardner claims to have seen Ward run out into the middle of the road and he then heard two gunshots. As he turned around to see what was happening, he saw Ward on the ground, and one of the masked men run over to Ward, and shoot him three or four times. The shooter was immediately picked up by a car, with a passenger who was also wearing a mask.
Gardner's story went further however, claiming that a month after the incident, he met Charles “Coop” Miller, and Miller had admitted that he had been dating Nneka West, with whom Ward was living at the time, and that West had set up a robbery, with Miller carrying out the robbery with his friends (Perry Deas and Eddie Aldred (the unmasked driver)).
Gardner never identified himself as a witness to the crime until after he was in federal custody, seeking relief on his own crime. Following Gardner's surprise revelations, two other federal prisoners in the same facility also claimed Miller admitted involvement in the crime.
On the same date, February 12, 2002 Eric O'Neal gave a statement to Detective Duggan, claiming that he lived in the same neighborhood as Miller, and that he had met up with him several days before the murder of Ward. He claimed Miller told him that he had something set up with a female about acquiring cocaine. O'Neal also claimed he told Miller he was interested in purchasing some from him at a cheap price. He further claimed he had met with Miller about a week after the murder, and that Miller told him that the rumor on the street that Deas had killed Ward was untrue, and that it had been Miller, who had been the shooter. Of course, O'Neal did not come forward with this evidence until he was in federal custody, seeking relief on his own crime, and at the exact same time that Gardner, who resided in the same facility as he did, had also done so.
A third jailhouse snitch and long-time police informant named Rafael Gonzales, claimed that, while in federal custody, he overheard Miller having a discussion with a "jailhouse lawyer" named Bruce Simmons, and overheard Miller telling Simmons that he went to a man's house to rip him off, but when he arrived there, he discovered that there was no cocaine. Gonzales claimed that Miller then said that Nneka West had tried to warn him, but he did not realize it and the situation had got out of hand. Gonzales claimed that Miller said that he had shot the victim outside the house and regretted not shooting him inside of the house, then discussed creating an alibi with Simmons. Gonzales testified that, after he overheard this, he wrote his police officer friend, on March 30, 2001 to tell him about it.
The testimony of these three jailhouse snitches resulted in Charles Miller being charged, and ultimately convicted, of the murder of Wayne Ward. Perry Deas was also convicted.
Charles Miller #775636
Taylor Correctional Institution
8501 Hampton Springs Road
Perry, FLORIDA 32348
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At trial, the prosecutor presented the testimony of the jailhouse snitches. Notably, Gonzales claimed not to know either of the other two informants, Gardner or O'Neal. This was the entirety of the evidence adduced to inculpate Miller in the death of Ward.
The forensic fingerprint examiner testified that 38 usable fingerprints "of value" were recovered from the crime scene, and that none of them matched Miller. The expert further testified that the prints were never compared with those of any other suspects.
The testimony of Simmons, the jailhouse lawyer that Gonzales claimed to have overheard taking with Miller, was presented at trial. Simmons testified that he never had any such conversation with Miller.
The testimony of Michele Rorie was also presented at trial. She testified that a couple of days before the crime, she had travelled to Palatka, Florida with Adrienne (a girlfriend of Vincent West). They were to join Miller and Vincent West, who were staying together at a Holiday Inn, in order to retrieve her car from impound. Miller had borrowed the car and Rorie had actually reported it stolen. When she discovered that Miller had been arrested for stealing the car, she explained to the police that he had permission to use it, and she mistakenly reported it stolen. Rorie and Adrienne arrived in Palatka at around 12 noon, or sometime in the afternoon, and went to pick her car up between 3.30pm and 4.30 pm but they were closed and did not and could not pick up the vehicle until Monday morning, during regular hours. (The tow yard was closed during the weekends). After retrieving her car, Rorie and Miller got something to eat, and headed back to Fort Lauderdale at around 8pm. They arrived in Fort Lauderdale at around 1.30am – 2am and went to bed. They were awoken between 7am and 8am with an incoming call from Miller’s mother. This was also stated in a deposition.
Despite the unbiased testimony of Rorie, which was also corroborated regarding having gotten her car out of impound and the incoming call in the morning; and the lack of forensic evidence linking Miller to the crime, he was convicted and sentenced to serve life in prison without parole.
AFTER THE TRIAL
Miller filed a motion for new trial, demonstrating that the conviction was against the weight of the evidence, and raising several evidentiary rulings made by the trial court. The trial court denied the motion.
Miller’s appeal lawyer argued issues on appeal, including the fact that the trial court erred when it denied his motion for mistrial, after the prosecutor improperly introduced prejudicial character evidence against him; the error and abuse of discretion by the trial court in refusing to permit the defense to introduce evidence that someone else committed the crime; other rulings by the trial court regarding instructions and evidentiary rulings, and the denial of the motion for new trial. The court of appeals affirmed the conviction, and the State Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
Miller then filed a state "Post Conviction Petition" raising issues relating to other issues, including improper comments by the prosecutor, and the suppression of favorable evidence by the prosecutor. The favorable evidence consisted of a notarized letter from Nelson Den Rio, a federal prisoner dated November 17, 2003 in which he described the fact that he knew Gonzales very well from working together in the CMS Department of the prison as a pipe fitter. Del Rio describes the way that Gonzales would often and repeatedly brag about his status as a police informant, and that Gonzales was very close to a particular police officer, who could, Gonzales said, help them get out of jail, by creating a story about Charles "Coop" Miller, to relay to the police, even though Gonzales had no idea who Miller was. Gonzales repeatedly tried to recruit Del Rio to participate in the scam, urging him to falsely state that he had heard Miller say that he "was getting an alibi, or needed one".
The letter was sent by Del Rio to the prosecutor's office, who on December 12, 2003 forwarded the letter to Miller’s trial lawyer who, in turn sent a copy to Miller on December 23, 2003.
Due to the fact that the Notarized "Del Rio Letter" was not sent to the prosecutor until after trial, the court ruled that it was not, technically a 'withholding favorable evidence claim" and dismissed it. Technically, the letter should have been presented to the court as "newly discovered evidence" but Miller, who was without a lawyer, had no idea how to do that.
Miller filed a motion for rehearing, and an appeal, all of which were denied. He sought federal habeas corpus relief, which was unsuccessful, as the federal court either credited the state court's rulings, or held the issues "procedurally defaulted" and refused to look at them.
On September 18, 2014 an eyewitness to the crime, Tyrone Johnson, executed a sworn Affidavit attesting to the fact that he saw the crime and knew who the shooter was. Johnson attested in the Affidavit that the shooter was a man named Detrick Thurston, and the reason he had not come forward was that he believed that Thurston was incarcerated at the time, so he did not think he could believe his own eyes.
Miller attempted to present this to the court in another Post Conviction petition, and the court denied it without a hearing, refusing to even consider the evidence.
During all of the appeals and even the federal court proceedings, the courts point to the testimony of the three jailhouse snitches, ignoring the remainder of the incontrovertible facts and evidence, an occurrence which occurs all too often in cases of actual innocence.
Wayne Ward and Charles Miller were not friends, they only knew of each other. Miller had no reason to wish him any harm and had absolutely nothing to do with the crime.
Please refer to the Jerrold Pough’s notarized letter states that Kenny Gardner was with him on the night and morning of the murder, out buying drugs and getting high. Kenny Gardner did not witness this murder.
After conducting an extensive and full case review of the entire case, along with the evidence the jury never got to see, we at Actual Innocent Prisoners have established that the evidence demonstrates that Charles Miller is actually innocent of any involvement in the death of Wayne Ward.