By Allisha Azlan
The Medill Justice Project
MIAMI, Oct 15 – Andre Gonzales, who spent 12 years in prison for a murder he said he did not commit, was freed from prison Tuesday.
“I’m feeling outrageous right now,” Gonzales, who also goes by Tony Brown, told The Medill Justice Project on the phone. “I’m just so happy, thrilled.”
Prosecutors dropped all charges against Gonzales a month after a Miami circuit court judge vacated his 2005 murder conviction and ordered a new trial.
The September order from Judge Miguel M de la O followed a November 2017 evidentiary hearing where a key eyewitness, Arnold “Maniac” Clark, testified that he witnessed the murder and that Gonzales, now 46, was not the killer. Clark first told his account to The Medill Justice Project in 2015 and said then that he would not testify at the original trial because he was fearful of retribution.
Twenty Northwestern University students working for MJP investigated Gonzales’ murder conviction, researching and conducting extensive interviews with people involved in the case. The project, part of the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, has investigated potentially wrongful convictions, probed criminal justice issues and conducted groundbreaking research since 1999.
“Let’s not forget now that Medill is the most important thing that happened for me,” said Gonzales. “Because Medill and the students did such an excellent investigation and it really helped.”
Philip Reizenstein, Gonzales’ attorney, called Gonzales’ release “one of the highlights” of his career.
“This is why you do public interest law, when you can help somebody and free [people] who’ve been wrongly convicted,” Reizenstein said.
“The State of Florida, in no way, believe that this defendant is innocent of the crime,” wrote Chiaka Ihekwaba, the assistant state attorney in an interoffice memo Tuesday. “However, in light of the changes in the evidence, we are unable to again prove Tony Brown’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as required by law.”
In 2005, Gonzales was convicted of second-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, armed robbery and attempted armed robbery after a shooting that took place outside of a nightclub in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Almost 10 years later, MJP identified and tracked down Clark, who said he witnessed the armed robbery and vouched he is certain authorities got the wrong man.
Abdul-Jalil Qadir, Gonzales’ brother, picked up his brother from Turner Guilford Knight correctional center Tuesday.
“He believed that this was going to happen,” Qadir said. “I think he was very confident that he was going to be freed one day.”