Missing evidence may impact trial in Manatee

6:14 PM, Sep 29, 2010   |    comments
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Bradenton, Florida-Law enforcement usually keeps a close eye on evidence after all it can make or break a case. The Manatee County Sheriff's office is missing some evidence.

"Probably destroyed, probably destroyed," says Dave Bristow, spokesperson for the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.

That's what the Manatee County Sheriff's office believes happened to 2 kilos of cocaine deputies say they found in Jocelyn Francois vehicle in 1999. Also missing are 260 pounds of marijuana in a 1995 federal case.

"We have only a handful of cases being affected most of the cases are old," says Bristow.

Sheriff officials say the evidence was damaged in 2003 when a dehumidifier leaked soaking more than 3-thousand pieces of evidence due to mold the sheriff's office incinerated it.  Now Francois is ready for trial after being recaptured earlier this year but there's no physical evidence. "We're told by the state attorney's office they will proceed with cocaine case the cocaine after the arrest was tested positive have results from that," says Bristow.

"Jurors expect to see the evidence," says Sarasota Defense attorney Derek Byrd. Missing evidence, says Byrd, also interferes with a defendant's right to a fair trial.

"The defendant has the right to hire expert to independently test the evidence. If the evidence is lost, destroyed or nonexistent, how can the defendant test the evidence," says Byrd.

A graphic from the sheriff's office shows how evidence travels from the property room to a chemist to court and back. "A defense attorney like myself would have a field day cross examining property and evidence people where is this alleged cocaine and marijuana, No one saw it in the courtroom, and did you destroy it? Then there would be a side show as to them losing the evidence," says Byrd. He adds, "Probably end in an acquittal for the defendant."

At one time the Manatee County Sheriff's office had 7 locations for evidence rooms it's down to 3 and soon it will have just one centralized location at the Manatee County Sheriff's office.  "We will have one property and evidence room be climate controlled, everything be bar coded and on a computer," says Bristow.

As deputies move property and evidence to the new location deputies will continue searching for the missing evidence. Bristow says deputies will get rid of each piece of old evidence allowed under state law.

Sheriff officials say there's no evidence the drugs were intentionally taken.

Isabel Mascarenas

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