Tavares Calloway: Sentenced to Die after a Coerced Confession
In January 1997, five young Miami men were stripped, bound, and executed. The case went cold for 17 months until police interviewed Antonio Clark who implicated Tavares Calloway. On May 13, 1997, Tavares Calloway went to the Miami police after receiving a message that they’d like to discuss a bench warrant that had been issued after he drove on a suspended license. He was 19. He was not provided counsel, and “officers elected not to record the interview.” (This and all quotations are from Calloway’s 2017 Florida Supreme Court ruling; see link below.)
Tavares Calloway’s interview began at 3 pm. He refused water before speaking with officers, saying “he was fasting that day because he was a born-again Christian.” In addition to attending multiple services weekly and volunteering at his church, Tavares told officers that he studied the Bible with his grandmother each evening. When Detective Ervins Ford brought a Bible to the interview room, “Calloway became noticeably more comfortable and confident with Ford as Calloway began to recite passages from the Bible.”
Eight hours into the interrogation, Detective Juan Gonzalez “falsely informed Calloway that his fingerprints were found in Apartment 8 in 1997.” Four hours later, “Gonzalez told Calloway that his fingerprints were found on duct tape that was used to restrain the victims, which Gonzalez knew to be false.” Detective George Law “told Calloway that they knew he was at the crime scene because his fingerprints were found on the door and on duct tape recovered from the scene.” At trial, “Law admitted this was a ruse to pressure Calloway to confess. Neither Calloway's fingerprints nor his DNA were ever recovered from the apartment.”
At some point late in the night or early the next morning, Law entered the interrogation room with a “glazed, crazy” look.“ Law said he had been speaking with a dead man, Michael Gosha. Law told Calloway that Gosha had given him the name of his killer. At trial, Calloway said he thought Law might have had a “religious vision,” but he told Detective Law that if he’d “really spoken to Gosha, Gosha would have told him that Calloway was a good person who was not involved in the murders of either Gosha or the five men in 1997.”
After his claim of speaking with the dead failed to elicit a confession, Detective Law returned to the interrogation room, “looking calmer, and explained that the men who killed Gosha intended to target Calloway next. Law implied that Calloway and his family were under surveillance. However, Law said it would help Calloway if he made a false statement and to think about his family before declining this opportunity to help them.”
Tavares was close with his family. He’d tried to protect his mother from domestic violence throughout his life. His younger brother Reginald testified that Tavares encouraged him to “stay in school and served as a surrogate father figure.” The brothers lived with their mother, who struggled with addiction, and their grandparents. Their father was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia, but when the children were young, he beat them—and their mother—regularly, once trying to drown her in the bathtub. In addition to being a stable force in the lives of his younger brother and cousins, Tavares “was a good father figure to the children of his former girlfriend, Diane Odom.” Indeed, as jurors weighed non-statutory mitigating circumstances, they learned that Tavares is “considerate, generous, and concerned about his family.”
When Detective Law told him that his family was in danger, Tavares immediately called Diane Odom, saying “he had a deal with Detective Law that would resolve everything within three months.” He warned her that she was in danger, and “she temporarily moved out of her apartment immediately.” On the morning of May 13, following an interrogation conducted by 11 police officers, Tavares Calloway “agreed to provide a false confession to protect his family. He testified that he was under the impression that he would spend three months in jail so that the police could apprehend the real murderers.” Some 26 hours after first entering the station, Tavares reviewed and signed his transcribed statement.
Tavares Calloway was imprisoned for 12 years before his case went to trial. The state presented no physical evidence and admitted that of 64 latent fingerprints recovered, “none matched the known prints of Calloway.” An eyewitness “admitted that he was unable to identify Calloway in a photographic array during a police interview in 2008 or during trial in 2009.”
Tavares Calloway testified and was cross examined. An expert on coerced confessions, Dr. Richard Ofshe, offered “extensive testimony” that the “confession may have been the product of coercion and an illicit deal with law enforcement.” He testified that “Calloway's account indicated the presence of many sources of ‘contamination,’” since Tavares was “potentially aware of evidence from either media accounts or the officers themselves.” Dr. Ofshe said he believed the “quality of the interrogation was extremely poor throughout,” but the trial court prevented him from walking jurors through his methodology. Thus, Dr. Ofshe was unable to lead jurors through a comparison of “’objectively knowable facts’” (like questions slid under the interrogation room door by Sergeant Eunice Cooper) with Calloway’s confession. Importantly, jurors never knew that while Tavares sat in prison awaiting trial, police learned that the man he’d named as his get-away driver had, in fact, been in prison at the time of the crime.
Antonio Clark, who first implicated Calloway in the crime, was tried separately and sentenced to life without parole. By a vote of 7 to 5, jurors recommended that Tavares Calloway be executed. In Hurst v. Florida (2016), the US Supreme Court declared a 2013 Florida law unconstitutional because it didn’t require jurors to determine the factors necessary for imposing a punishment of death. In January 2017, the Florida Supreme Court ruled on Calloway’s case. It rejected his guilt phase claims, concluding that “sufficient evidence supported his convictions.” However, the Court ordered a new penalty phase for Tavares Calloway. Jurors will consider whether or not Tavares Calloway ought to be executed by the State of Florida. He is being held in solitary in the Pre-Trial Detention Center in Miami.
If the local Fox 13 coverage of the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling is any indication, Tavares Calloway is in real jeopardy of being returned to Death Row and killed. “They say the most cruel and heinous killers deserve the death penalty,” the story begins. “And that's what a jury handed down for inmate Tavares Calloway after deciding he killed five people back in 1997.” They quote attorney Anthony Rickman who described the case as “Very calculated, cold type of murder case,” then conclude: “But the Supreme Court just gave this killer a new lease on life. Because the jury's decision to give him a death sentence wasn't unanimous, the court has ruled, he gets a do-over.”
The coverage doesn’t mention the absence of physical evidence tying Mr. Calloway to the crime. It doesn’t expose the lies told by Detectives Law and Gonzalez to “pressure Calloway to confess” or the fact that police knew before trial that the man named in the confession as the get-away driver was in jail at the time of the crime.
Tavares Calloway has been incarcerated for more than 2 decades, and he’s spent most of that time in solitary. Denied the opportunity to work while in pre-trial detention and on Death Row, he has devoted himself to full-time, intensive study of the law, religion, and African-American history. Tavares is a member of the college-level Reading Justice Study Group. He’s a gifted writer, a thoughtful reader, and a deeply compassionate man. His letters to friends, family, and supporters begin, “Peace be unto you and yours.”
Mr. Calloway knows his case well and is well versed in the law, but his state-appointed counsel has no expertise in high-profile capital cases, and his repeated failure to make a full-bodied defense raises questions about his competence and his commitment to the case. He needs to hear from citizens who care about justice, and he needs us to share his story with others. Anyone interested in contacting Tavares Calloway can do so directly. Letters must be written on lined white notebook/pad paper. Your first and last names must be on the envelope, along with a work or home address.
The Reading Justice study group seeks volunteers to help its members purchase books. If you can help buy 1 or more paperbacks for Travis Calloway, please contact Dr. Piggott.
Tavares David Calloway v. State of Florida. No. SC10–2170. Decided Jan. 26, 2017.
“Death Row Inmate Will Get a Second Chance at Life.” Gloria Gomez. Fox 13 News. 1/30/2017. http://www.fox13news.com/news/local-news/death-row-inmate-will-get-second-chance-at-life
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