The Florida Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction of death row inmate John Robert Ballard (pictured) and ordered his acquittal in the 1999 murders of two of his acquaintances. The Court concluded that the evidence against Ballard was so weak that the trial judge should have dismissed the case immediately. The primary evidence presented against Ballard was a hair and a fingerprint, both of which he could have left during his many visits to the victims’ apartment. Bloody fingerprints and a 100 other hair samples were found associated with the crime scene, none of them belonging to Ballard, who has always maintained his innocence. One of the victims was a known drug dealer.

The state Attorney General’s office said that it would not seek a rehearing in the case. At Ballard’s trial, only 9 of the 12 jurors recommended a death sentence. The judge decided to sentence Ballard to death, commenting: “You have not only forfeited your right to live among us, but under the laws of the state of Florida, you have forfeited your right to live at all.” It is expected that Ballard will be released soon, after serving 3 years on death row.

(Associated Press, Feb. 23, 2006; Miami Herald, Feb. 24, 2006; Ballard v. Florida, No. SC03-1012, Feb. 23, 2006).

Once his acquittal is confirmed, Ballard will be the 123rd person exonerated and freed from death row in the country since 1973 and the 22nd such person in Florida. Florida leads the country in death row exonerations. See Innocence.