June 19, 2024

Crosley Green wears an ankle bracelet at all times. He goes to work and church but otherwise remains under house arrest in central Florida, convicted of a 1989 murder he says he didn’t commit.

Keith Harrison believes him, with all his being.

They first crossed paths nearly 15 years ago, when Harrison’s colleague at Crowell & Moring told him about Green, whose case they discovered through an American Bar Association program that helps death penalty defendants find lawyers.

Harrison was immediately interested; soon he was visiting Green on Florida’s death row. “I thought the evidence of his innocence was overwhelming,” he said.

Harrison, a Washington-based partner at Crowell, represents healthcare and pharmaceutical companies in disputes with the federal government and companies that suspect healthcare fraud.

Green’s case is his other passion. Many lawyers generously volunteer their time on pro-bono work. For Harrison, this one has been a year long journey. “It’s fair to say this is the longest case that we’ve had,” said Susan Hoffman, a partner at Crowell who supervises pro bono work.

Now 64, Harrison has flown to Florida more than 100 times in a decade and a half, visiting small towns, knocking on doors and staking out potential witnesses who might help prove what really happened in an orange grove there more than three decades ago.

Last month, he and his team at Crowell petitioned the US Supreme Court to overturn Green’s conviction, arguing that the state failed to disclose key trial evidence that might have helped clear Green.

“This is the only case that keeps me up at night,” Harrison said. “This is the only case I pray about.”

Wheels of Justice

On April 4, 1989, a young woman named Kim Hallock called emergency responders and said she and her ex-boyfriend, Charles “Chip” Flynn, had been kidnapped at gunpoint by a Black man. The crime occurred in Mims, a small community about 45 miles east of Orlando known as the town where a Ku Klux Klan firebombing killed civil rights activists Harry and Harriette Moore at their home in 1951.

Hallock told the police she was able to escape, flee to a friend’s house and call for help.

Officers arrived at the grove to find Flynn, 22, face down with his hands tied behind his back and a gunshot wound. He chose not to speak to the police, and died on the way to the hospital.

About two months later, Green, who had been out of prison for just a few months was identified, was arrested after Hallock him as the shooter from a photo lineup.

Despite no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene, Green was charged with first-degree murder, largely on the accusation by Hallock. In 1990, Green was convicted by an all-White jury and sentenced to death.

Harrison looked at the case in 2008 and was appalled, he said. It was based on just one eyewitness account, from Hallock. Other witnesses who testified that Green had confessed to the killing had since been recanted. One, Green’s own sister, said she told investigators what they wanted to hear because she was facing a steep prison sentence on drug charges and hoped to get a lenient deal.

In 2009, the Florida Supreme Court overturned Green’s death penalty, ruling that the jury had improperly been told about his juvenile criminal record. He was re-sentenced to life.

Harrison said he initially thought the case would be easy.

“I couldn’t have been more wrong. The wheels of justice grind slowly,” he said.

Crosley Green, center, celebrates with attorneys Keith Harrison and Jeane Thomas after he was released from prison under house arrest.

Photo courtesy of Crowell & Moring

After filing petitions in state and federal courts for several years, Harrison and his team won a major victory in 2018 when a US District judge concluded that prosecutors had failed to share with Green’s trial lawyers possible evidence that could have raised reasonable doubts: a prosecutor’s notes that the first officers on the scene had interviewed Hallock and suspected she was the one who shot her ex-boyfriend.

“She changed her story couple times,” the officers told the prosecutor, according to the notes.

The federal judge ruled that withholding that crucial evidence prevented Green from getting a fair trial, and that he should be released or get a new trial.

Nearly three years later, with the country in the grip of the pandemic, Harrison and his team won Green’s release from prison under house arrest. He’d been behind bars for more than three decades.

The state appealed and last March a divided panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the district court’s order. Among other things, the appellate judges questioned whether the prosecutor’s note recounting the officers’ opinions of Hallock would have been admissible at trial. They also said Green had not yet exhausted his appeal options at the state level.

If the Supreme Court doesn’t take the case, Green could end up in prison again.

Green, now 65, said he was flabbergasted by all the help he had received from Harrison.

“No matter what, he’s always the same. I get all my strength from teachers like him,” Green, who now works for a metal fabrication factory, said in an interview. “It was like something that I wanted, I wish I had in the beginning.”

The state attorney’s office in Brevard County, where Green was prosecuted, declined comment, saying that his conviction happened under a previous administration. It referred questions to the Florida Attorney General’s Office, which now oversees the case but didn’t respond to calls and emailed requests for comment.

Bloomberg Law could not reach Hallock for comment.

To the Mountaintop

In a previous life, Harrison worked as a prosecutor in New York City. But he has always been interested in civil rights issues. That was how he got attracted to the Green case.

“The only suspect they were looking for was a Black guy. And he was a convenient Black guy,” Harrison said about Green.

Harrison’s other pro-bono work has included a voting rights case in Alabama, and an asylum application involving a minister from the Democratic Republic of Congo who had been tortured because he was preaching about constitutional rights. After the minister was granted asylum, he invited Harrison to his daughter’s wedding.

But Harrison was obsessed over the Green case like no other.

In October, Harrison climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after almost a year of training. A former track athlete in high school and college, he carried a “Free Crosley” T-shirt to Uhuru Peak, the summit of the mountain.

Harrison said there were a lot of analogies between climbing Africa’s highest mountain and fighting for Green’s innocence. He likes to mention how a 1968 speech by Martin Luther King Jr. called “I’ve been to the mountaintop” has influenced him. “This case is like my climb. Incredibly hard, with peaks and valleys, but you can’t give up until you achieve the goal you set out to achieve,” he said.

Other colleagues at Crowell have rallied around him. Jeane Thomas, a partner that handles antitrust, privacy and cybersecurity litigation, has worked alongside Harrison on the case since 2008. Also assisting is Vincent Galluzo, who first worked on the case as a summer associate in 2009, and is a partner now, working on intellectual property.

If their petition to the Supreme Court fails, Green’s attorneys will likely ask the state of Florida for clemency or a pardon.

“Crosley and I are about the same age. That’s never been lost on me,” Harrison said. “We’ve kind of, in some way, grown old together.”