Florida Grandmother Seeks Clemency
Sep. 17, 1998
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Loretta Randley never tried to hide.
Convicted of killing her boyfriend in 1981, Ms. Randley went back home to Deerfield Beach while she appealed.
The years went by. There was no knock at the door. She kept her name _ and her life.
``She waited for the police to pick her up, but they never came,'' Ms. Randley's mother, Dorothy Edwards, said recently. ``Finally she said, `Mama, I'd better get my own place so I can take care of my grandchildren.'''
Alone and impoverished, Ms. Randley did just that, raising her five children and their kids with little financial help. She went to church on Sundays, baby-sat other children and enjoyed sitting on her front porch watching time pass.
Ms. Randley, now 58, even was in contact with law enforcement several times. Her daughter worked as a dispatcher for the local police. She once went in to the sheriff's office to sign up for ``Toys for Tots.'' Her minister was a Miami-Dade police officer.
Then everything changed. A tip led a Broward County sheriff's deputy to her door in May 1997, more than 16 years after being lost in a bureaucratic shuffle.
Ms. Randley's attorney, Stacey Dougan, planned to argue before the state's clemency board today that her client's unusual circumstances _ forgotten by law enforcement and living a law-abiding life for so long _ warrant releasing her now, 13 months before she is scheduled to get out of prison.
``She had essentially been on probation for 16 years, she never left the jurisdiction, never violated the law in any way,'' Ms. Dougan said Wednesday.
Ms. Dougan also planned to argue that Ms. Randley, a devoutly religious woman with 25 grandchildren, should be freed because she was sexually abused by her boyfriend _ evidence that never surfaced at her trial.
``I just couldn't go around talking about that,'' Ms. Randley said. ``I just couldn't.''
At her 1981 trial, Ms. Randley said she shot Hartman Delano Poitier because she feared for her life and the lives of her grandchildren. Poitier was in a drunken rage that night, she testified.
A jury convicted Ms. Randley of manslaughter and she was sentenced to eight years in prison. Former Circuit Judge Henry Latimer released her on bail pending her appeal.
When her appeal was denied in 1982, officials sent the notice to the wrong address. Nobody apparently ever told Ms. Randley, a semiliterate former beanfield worker, that she should go to prison.
Her former attorney, now Circuit Judge Thomas Lynch, has said he left the public defender's office just days after her trial and never saw his client again. When an arrest warrant for Ms. Randley was filed in 1984, a deputy who went out to Ms. Randley's correct address reported that it didn't exist.
While admitting a mix-up, prosecutors from the Broward State Attorney's Office have said Ms. Randley had a duty to turn herself in.
``Loretta Randley didn't know what happened in her case because she didn't want to know,'' said Joel Silvershein, the prosecutor assigned to the case. ``She had a responsibility and she failed to live up to it.''
In June, at a hearing on a motion to have Ms. Randley's eight-year prison sentence reduced, Ms. Dougan said there was new evidence that her client had been sexually abused. Her lawyer in 1981 never introduced such evidence.
``At that time, he never would have asked that question,'' said Ms. Dougan. ``If you were on the cutting edge back then, you might have explored it, but your chances of getting it admitted would have been slim to none.''
In the late 1980s, Florida courts began admitting testimony from women claiming they killed spouses or other men after long histories of abuse; in 1993, the Florida Supreme Court recognized the battered women's defense.
At the June hearing, the judge reduced Ms. Randley's sentence from eight years to four years. Because of time served in jail and good behavior, she is to be released in October 1999.
Members of Poitier's family were angry that Ms. Randley had served no prison time for the slaying.
``I thought it was unbelievable,'' said Jackie Poitier, Hartman Poitier's daughter. ``I want her to do the time she was sentenced to do.''
Poitier's family insisted he was neither an alcoholic nor abusive and that Ms. Randley shot him during an argument over money.
But Ms. Dougan has introduced evidence showing that Poitier's blood-alcohol level the night she shot him was 0.29 percent _ well over the state's legal driving limit of 0.08 percent.
Ms. Dougan said she was optimistic her client would be granted clemency.
``There's no way we can say that, as a society, we are safer with Loretta Randley behind bars,'' Ms. Dougan said.