David Keaton, a member of the Quincy Five and the first prisoner exonerated from death row, passed away at age 63 in Quincy, Florida, last week.
Keaton was in poor health and had a history of heart problems, reports the
Keaton was one of five men wrongfully convicted of murdering an off-duty sheriff’s deputy during a 1970 Tallahassee grocery store robbery. The group became known as the Quincy Five—Keaton, Alphonso Figgers, Johnny Burns, Johnny Frederick, and David Charles Smith—all young, black, and innocent. According to the
the 1970 robbery involved three black men. A month after the robbery, Figgers and another man were arrested for a separate liquor store hold-up and police coerced them into not only confessing to the grocery store robbery but also implicating the rest of the Quincy Five in the crime. The victims of the grocery store robbery, four of whom were white, repeatedly identified the five men as the perpetrators, and while there was no other evidence tying the men to the crime, they were all convicted in 1971.
A few months later, another man was arrested on a separate murder charge and gave the names of three men he said actually robbed the grocery store, writes the
An investigation was conducted, which found fingerprint and ballistic evidence linking the accused men to the crime, and they were convicted. In May 1972, the charges were dropped against the Quincy Five.
In 2003, Keaton became one of the founding members of
Witness to Innocence
, a non-profit group that works to abolish the death penalty and to support people who have been exonerated from death row. He spent time addressing groups and lawmakers about the death penalty, drawing from his own experience and those of other innocent people who had been sentenced to death. The
writes that Kathy Spillman, the director of programs and outreach for the Philadelphia-based Witness to Innocence, said of Keaton:
“His life was very difficult. He was sentenced to Death Row as a teenager. And like all exonerees, he struggled with issues related to being on Death Row and integrating back into a society that does not provide support for these men and women. Yet he was stoic and very gentle. He was a poet and a singer and whenever he got the chance, he participated in activities against the death penalty so that nobody else had to go through what he did.”