A Florida judge has vacated the decades-old murder conviction of a former neo-Nazi skinhead in the stabbing death of a 41-year-old homeless black man.
Citing new DNA evidence and witness testimony, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Lisa Campbell wrote in a 17-page order on Friday that the new evidence and testimony “would probably produce an acquittal at retrial” for Dean McKee.
McKee, who has always maintained his innocence, was convicted of stabbing Isaiah Walker on December 20, 1987. His older brother Scott identified him as the killer, according to McKee’s attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida.
But McKee’s attorneys claim that he was framed. “It is clear to any objective observer that Dean McKee was likely framed by his older brother, who took a sweetheart deal to provide false testimony implicating Dean in this murder,” attorney Seth Miller said in a statement. “After hearing from two experts, key witnesses to whom Scott McKee provided self-incriminating evidence, and reviewing the whole record, we are pleased that the judge agreed.”
McKee, now 46, will be released from custody at the Sumter Correctional Institution in Bushnell if prosecutors decline to refile charges, according to the Tampa Bay Times. The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office has said it would evaluate the outcome before making a final decision.
New DNA testing on biological material from Walker’s fingernails excluded Dean McKee as a contributor of the DNA, Miller said. In addition, two of Scott McKee’s ex-girlfriends also testified that Scott — and not Dean — had actually stabbed Walker.
Scott McKee pleaded no contest to attempted murder and testified against his brother before receiving a five-year sentence. He ended up serving less than a year, while his brother Dean was given a life sentence.
In 2007, Dean McKee filed a request for DNA testing in the case. In 2011, he learned that DNA found under the victim’s fingernails did not match his. In 2014, when called to testify at a post-conviction evidentiary hearing, Scott McKee refused to testify.
But his ex-girlfriend Michelle Cunningham said Scott McKee told her Dean had pulled him off Walker — and that Scott and his father had arranged for Dean to take the blame. Their rationale, she said, was that since Dean was a juvenile, they thought he would not face real prison time.
The original prosecutor in the case calls the new allegations a “conspiracy” to get Dean out of prison. But Dean McKee, who has reportedly been a model prisoner in the 29 years he’s been behind bars, says, “I knew this day would come.”
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Main photo: Dean McKee [Florida Dept. Of Corrections]