Confession to a killing
The core of the case against Floyd Brown is the confession; no physical evidence ties him to the killing. The confession says Brown beat Katherine Lynch because she had no money to give him. Information is based on court documents, testimony and Brown's sister Frances Staton
10 flaws in the confession
3. Brown helped Lynch to her bathroom after the attack.
Unlikely. There was no blood in or near Lynch's bathroom.
4. Brown says he is Lynch's cousin.
Not true. Brown and Lynch are not related and had never met.
5. Brown describes watching TV with Lynch in her living room before the attack.
Not true. There was no TV in the living room.
1. Brown sees Lynch's neighbor and describes the car she's in as a blue Chevrolet.
Unlikely. The neighbor, even before Brown was arrested, told police she hadn't seen anyone. Brown also cannot tell makes of cars apart.
2. Brown makes references to time, including what time he woke up, what time he arrived at Lynch's, and making it back home in time to catch his bus.
Unlikely. Brown couldn't tell time and didn't have a concept of time.
6. Brown was going to do yard work for Lynch.
Not true. Not only had they not met, but another man was actually doing Lynch's yard work.
7. Brown says he hit Lynch on her right arm.
Unlikely. Although Lynch did receive injuries to her right arm during the attack, Brown does not know left from right.
References to skills Brown doesn't have
8. Brown twice says he checked Lynch's heart rate and breathing to see if she was alive.
Unlikely. Dorothea Dix doctors asked Brown shortly after his arrival in 1993 to explain how to tell if someone is alive or dead. He had no idea.
A scene that doesn't add up
9. There's no reference to cleaning blood off himself. Brown says he walked home after the assault and waited for his bus to take him to the vocational center.
Unlikely. Brown did not know to bathe unless he was told to. In 1993, Brown's house had no shower, and no washer or dryer, either.
Language and storytelling beyond Brown's mental abilities
10. "I have never in my experience with Floyd seen him in the least bit able to give any kind of coherent narrative," psychiatrist Moira Artigues told a judge. She's worked with Brown for years and says the confession "didn't ring true."
In Anson County, a largely rural place 55 miles southeast of Charlotte, Monday's court docket includes an old, never-tried murder case with an extraordinary array of problems.
All physical evidence, kept at the Anson County Sheriff's Office, is missing, court records say. That includes fingerprints, blood samples and the murder weapon.
The detectives who investigated the 1993 beating death later pleaded guilty to unrelated federal charges of soliciting thousands of dollars in bribes from suspects in other cases.
And the defendant, whose IQ is in the 50s, has spent the past 13 years in a state mental hospital because he was initially declared incompetent to stand trial.
Prosecutors have a confession from defendant Floyd Brown, even though experts have said he was incapable of the detailed statement investigators said he gave. And the hospital says Brown now understands his charges after more than a decade of treatment, and can be tried.
A judge is expected to decide Monday whether to dismiss the case or begin a trial. Tim Rogers, the prosecutor assigned to the case, declined to comment.
Mike Klinkosum, Brown's attorney, has asked the judge to drop the charges because of the missing evidence.
In a motion filed two weeks ago, Klinkosum said one of the detectives, Roland Hutchinson, possibly had a connection to a second suspect in the killing - and the investigation into that suspect stopped. The attorney is now trying to see if that link existed. T he detective denies he had any relationship with the second suspect.
On July 9, 1993, neighbors found 80-year-old Katherine Lynch beaten to death in her bedroom. Detectives believed the motive was robbery, court records say.
Court records say the two sheriff's detectives on the case, Roland Hutchinson and Robert Poplin Jr., had no suspect or eyewitnesses, but heard a description of someone rumored to have been telling people he killed Lynch. Specifics of the description aren't clear from the record.
The detectives decided Brown fit the description, and with at least one State Bureau of Investigation agent, visited him at a vocational center where Brown made plastic gardening containers. Brown willingly went with the investigators, court records say, and waived his rights, signing his last name on the waiver "OBWN," with an unintelligible letter between the O and B.
Court records say Brown gave the confession to an SBI agent, Mark Isley, but it's not clear who else, if anyone, was there. Isley could not be reached.
During questioning, Brown, then 29, confessed in detail, records say, and he was charged with capital murder.
Court records also say that another man was considered a suspect before Brown was charged, though the records don't say why the other man became one.
Hutchinson took palm prints from the man, and asked the state lab to compare his prints to prints on the suspected murder weapon, a walking stick. The state lab said the man's prints weren't readable and ordered them redone. But court records say they weren't redone.
Hutchinson, 68, told the Observer in a Thursday interview that the other detective, Poplin, and SBI agents investigated the case, not him. Hutchinson, who has been subpoenaed to testify, also said he's never read Brown's confession.
Brown, now 42, has been in Dorothea Dix hospital in Raleigh since his arrest. Records say he has a slight frame, 5 feet 4 and 115 pounds. Brown's attorney said the hospital spent a decade teaching him to understand the charges. Before the murder arrest, Brown had been convicted of shoplifting, misdemeanor larceny, misdemeanor assault and trespassing. Court records say one judge ordered Brown to stop appearing drunk in public.
With IQ scores typically in the low 50s, and 57 his highest, Brown may have the learning ability of a fourth-grader, experts on retardation say.
At a 2005 hearing on whether to allow the confession in court, experts testified there was no way he could have given the confession detectives said he did.
Court records say SBI agent Isley transcribed Brown's confession by hand during the interrogation, and Brown signed it.
After his arrest, staffers at Dorothea Dix found Brown incompetent for trial and wrote that it was unlikely he would ever improve.
In 2000, he told a staffer he was arrested a year ago, when it had been seven years. He also said a detective framed him, but he didn't know why, records say.
In 2003, a decade after his arrest, hospital staff said Brown was now able to understand the charges and could stand trial. In 2005, a judge ruled Brown's confession could be used.
Klinkosum, of the N.C. Capital Defender's Office, which defends indigent people charged with first- degree murder, took Brown's case in 2003 and began asking for the evidence.
According to court records filed by Klinkosum, test results of the evidence still exist - and they show that none of the hairs or prints at the scene match Brown.
Missing is physical evidence including fingerprint lifts, hairs, a phone and a window from Lynch's home, pieces of the floor taken for possible shoe prints, and clothing from Brown and Lynch. None of the items, when initially tested, linked Brown to the scene, the records say.
One of the reports, done at the state crime laboratory, said hairs at the scene belong to a Caucasian. Brown and Lynch are black. Another version of the report on the hairs removed the word "Caucasian" and replaced it with "Negroid." It is unclear why the change was made. The hairs were found on a walking stick beside Lynch's body, believed to be the murder weapon.
Records show prosecutors also tried to find the evidence, ordering the Sheriff's Office to turn over anything it had, but no evidence has been recovered.
Anson Sheriff Tommy Allen said an audit of the office's evidence room showed the evidence likely disappeared between 1994 and 2002. Allen was not sheriff then.
Klinkosum's court filings say Hutchinson and Poplin were in charge of the evidence that is now gone.
In 1995, when the detectives pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges in an unrelated case, records say the men attempted to solicit or accepted $14,366 in bribes from two dozen people seeking to avoid charges in various investigations.
Hutchinson said in the interview that he never handled or watched over evidence in the Lynch case, but that the other men did. He said his own criminal record has no role in the Brown investigation.
"That has nothing to do with the case," Hutchinson said. "I've done my punishment and it's behind me. I've been saved and forgiven." Poplin could not be reached for comment.
Klinkosum discussed the lost evidence and the detectives' criminal records in a motion to dismiss the case, filed last month.
He is also requesting records that he says might prove or disprove a connection between Hutchinson and the one-time murder suspect, through a possible link in Hutchinson's federal court file. In it, supporters wrote letters to the judge encouraging a minimal sentence.
One letter writer had the same name and middle initial as the man whose palm prints were taken in the Lynch investigation. The letter says Hutchinson treated him well during a domestic violence arrest. The suspect in the murder case also had a domestic violence arrest, according to Klinkosum's motion.
But Hutchinson said the men are two separate people.
Prosecutors can no longer pursue the death penalty if Brown is convicted, because a 2001 N.C. law banned executions of the mentally retarded.
Superior Court Judge Susan Taylor is scheduled to hear the motion to dismiss and other motions Monday. If she denies them, the murder trial will proceed.
Floyd Brown left the Anson County Courthouse on Tuesday in legal limbo.
The murder case against him is unlikely to ever go to trial. It isn't being dropped, either. Instead, Brown may remain in a state institution the rest of his life, without the charges ever being resolved.
At issue all along in the 13-year-old murder case has been Brown's mental competency. His IQ scores usually are in the low 50s.
When arrested in 1993 in the beating death of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch, Brown was sent to Dorothea Dix, the state mental hospital, after the court found him incompetent for trial. After 10 years of treatment, the hospital said in 2003 that Brown understood legal proceedings and was ready for court.
Not until Monday was the case set for trial, and on Tuesday came another twist: Brown was again declared incompetent.
The new problem arose after prosecutors offered Brown a plea to voluntary manslaughter with credit for time spent in the hospital, Brown attorney Mike Klinkosum, told Superior Court Judge SusanTaylor.
When he tried to discuss the plea deal with Brown, Klinkosum said, it was clear his client did not understand. That made Klinkosum question his client's competency, as a defendant must be able to direct his attorney in order to stand trial. It also put Klinkosum in a tough position.
Certain that Brown is innocent and the case against his client weak, Klinkosum said he had wanted to go ahead with the trial. But he did not think it was ethically appropriate for him to proceed when Brown couldn't tell him whether he wanted a plea deal or trial, Klinkosum told the judge.
"I can't in good faith put Floyd in harm's way," Klinkosum said.
The judge's decision means Brown will head back to a state mental hospital and has long-term implications.
Taylor and prosecutors could have dismissed the case against Brown because he is incompetent, but they said Tuesday they would not.
Yet, if Brown remains incompetent, which experts say he will, he will never be able to challenge in court what his supporters say is a case devoid of evidence.
"It's very unusual. Whether there is a remedy at this point is very unclear," said Staples Hughes, an attorney with the N.C. appellate office who is interested in mental health and the law. "T he defendant is truly caught in limbo."
The prosecutor's case has serious obstacles:
Almost every piece of physical evidence is missing, and when the items were tested in 1993, they could not be linked to Brown.
Experts have testified Brown is not capable of giving the detailed confession investigators said he did.
T he detectives who investigated the crime later pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges for soliciting bribes from suspects in unrelated cases.
A forensic psychiatrist who has examined Brown over several years testified Tuesday that Brown has the thinking of a 3 or 4 year old, and does not understand abstract ideas.
"He cannot weigh risks and benefits. He is simply not able to," said Dr. Moira Artigues. "He doesn't understand that saying he is guilty (accepting a plea deal) could help his situation," she said.
Artigues said Floyd believes he is in Dorothea Dix "as punishment for a crime he did not commit," and has always said he did not commit the crime.
Although Anson County assistant prosecutor Tim Rogers had been handling the case, District Attorney Michael Parker appeared in court Tuesday to say he believes Brown is guilty.
Parker said he did not think Brown was competent, "But I'm not willing to dismiss this case knowing the facts about this case." Parker said Brown was "too dangerous" to release.
Klinkosum said Tuesday he is planning his next move but wouldn't say what it will be. Rogers and Parker later declined comment.
Earlier Tuesday, before Brown was found incompetent, the judge denied a defense request to dismiss the case because of the lost evidence. Taylor said it wasn't lost in "bad faith," as the law requires in a dismissal.
Klinkosum attempted to show that the Sheriff's Office did not try to recover the evidence once authorities realized it was gone, years after the killing.
"What did you do when you discovered the evidence was missing?" Klinkosum asked Anson Sheriff Tommy Allen.
"I didn't do anything," Allen said. " We have a specific place for evidence. If it's not there, it's not there."
Rogers suggested deputies may have not have noticed the evidence was missing because Brown was not making progress in the hospital.
"Is it reasonable that a detective would be less diligent (in tracking evidence) if he was certain the defendant would never go to trial?" Rogers said.
"I think that's fairly reasonable," Allen said.
After the hearing, a dozen of Brown's family members and friends expressed frustration that Brown won't get to challenge the charges at trial, and bewilderment that the state can continue to hold him.
Brown's sister Frances Brown said she does not know what will happen next for her brother, if anything.
"Maybe if we had money, we could get someone to help," she said. "But we don't got it." "He's stuck in the system," she said, wiping away tears. "It's like no one cares. Stuck."
The N.C. Department of Justice is examining the case against Floyd Brown, an Anson County man who has been held on murder charges since 1993 without a trial, the department said Monday.
Brown, who has an I.Q. of 50, is not competent to stand trial and has spent 14 years in a state mental hospital, despite never being convicted. The case against Brown hangs on one piece of evidence: A confession that doctors and former teachers say Brown never could have given.
Brown's case was the subject of an Observer investigation earlier this year.
When asked specifically about allegations that the confession, taken by SBI agent Mark Isley in 1993, was fabricated and whether Attorney General Roy Cooper's office was investigating those claims, spokeswoman Noelle Talley said the office was "examining the issues in this case." T alley declined to elaborate.
The Observer investigation found more than a dozen instances in the typed confession that contain language Brown does not know, starting with the first sentence: "On Friday, July 9th of 1993, my mama woke me up at 6 a.m. in the morning." Brown does not know dates, cannot tell time, and does not speak in complete or grammatical sentences. Once authorities had the confession, they charged Brown with the murder of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch, beaten to death in her Wadesboro home.
Isley, who has worked for the State Bureau of Investigation since 1989, spent years working on cases in a district that included Anson. He now supervises the SBI's Medicaid special investigation unit and reports to the SBI's assistant director. Isley has not responded to requests from the Observer for comment.
Isley, testifying in previous court hearings on Brown's case, said the confession was dictated to him "verbatim." Brown's attorneys have called the confession fabricated, and submitted affidavits from Brown's former teachers and current doctors to bolster their claim.
"The person who could speak or write as well as the person who gave this statement would earn a high grade on the North Carolina state writing test," said one of Brown's special education teachers, Mary Helen Gaddy.
"It is hard for me to believe that Floyd could have given this statement," said another teacher, Shirley Lindsey, after citing words in the confession - like "mailboxes" - as too advanced for Brown to know.
One of Brown's doctors at Dorothea Dix mental hospital in Raleigh, forensic psychologist Mark Hazelrigg, said the confession not only didn't sound like Brown, but that "Mr. Brown could not be trained or coached to talk in the same manner as the alleged confession."
Brown's attorneys had tried to get their client's case dismissed in Anson, a rural county about 55 miles southeast of Charlotte, because of their claims about the confession. A judge there denied that request.
So two weeks ago, the attorneys filed a writ of habeas corpus in Durham County, asking for Brown's immediate release. State law allows a writ of habeas corpus to be filed in the county of the applicant's choice.
In the writ, Brown's attorneys argue that Brown is being held unconstitutionally. Brown's attorneys also detailed problems in the investigation, including lost evidence and bribe-taking sheriff's detectives, who later served federal prison time.
In his decision to hold a hearing Oct. 8 on the habeas claims, Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. noted that the allegation of a fake confession "appears to have gone un- rebutted by the prosecution."
Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker, who has the power to drop the case, has declined to comment.
Floyd Brown has a new home.
The Anson County man, mentally retarded, charged with murder and held without trial for 14 years, has been released from Dorothea Dix state mental hospital and placed in a group home, his attorney said Wednesday.
"He's safe and doing well," said Mike Klinkosum.
But the attorney declined to specify where his client has been placed, alluding to apparent efforts by a local prosecutor to disrupt Brown's earlier living arrangements.
A Richmond County group home had originally agreed to take Brown, but reneged on its offer, which had been in place for months.
That October decision came within a day of a visit by District Attorney Michael Parker, according to court records
Parker, who prosecutes cases in Anson, Richmond and Stanly counties, opposed Brown's release. He did not return requests for comment Wednesday.
Brown is from Anson County, about 50 miles southeast of Charlotte. Klinkosum said he isn't giving further details about Brown's new address because of "circumstances surrounding the other group home rejecting Floyd."
Brown was unable to stand trial because he was deemed incompetent. Brown's case was the subject of an Observer investigation in March.
In October, a Durham County judge reviewing the case - marked by allegations of a fake confession and missing evidence that didn't link Brown to the scene - ordered the murder charge dropped. He also ordered Brown freed from the hospital.
Brown, who his attorneys say needs a group home setting because of his disability, couldn't leave Dix after the Richmond County home backed out. Brown's attorneys said in court filings they were shocked by Parker's interference.
At the time, Parker said he believed Brown to be dangerous and that a group home would not provide enough security. Brown's attorneys and family had liked the Richmond County home because it was a short drive for Brown's family in Wadesboro.
With the charges against Brown dropped, the 1993 beating death of Katherine Lynch remains unsolved. Anson County Sheriff Tommy Allen told the Observer that while the case is technically open, his office is not pursuing it.
Almost all physical evidence, including the murder weapon, was lost. Two of the three officers who investigated the crime later pled guilty in federal court to taking bribes and falsifying evidence in unrelated cases. Numerous doctors have testified Brown is not capable of making the confession he was alleged to have given. Brown's clothing and shoes, taken by authorities and later lost, had no traces of blood.
Carolina Legal Assistance, a nonprofit disability rights center in Raleigh, called Wednesday for the release of Floyd Brown, the Anson County man with mental retardation who has been held 14 years without a trial.
The center said it is likely that Brown's retardation, not the quality of the murder case against him, led to his ongoing incarceration. Problems with the case, including police corruption, lost evidence and an alleged falsified confession, were the subject of an Observer investigation this year. The N.C. Department of Justice said it is reviewing the case.
Carolina Legal Assistance Board Chairman Greg McGrew sent a letter to Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker, urging him to drop Brown's case.
"Send a message to the disability advocacy community that you have an understanding of mental retardation and compassion for our most vulnerable citizens," McGrew wrote in the letter. Parker has declined comment.
Brown was arrested in 1993 and charged with the murder of Katherine Lynch, an 80-year-old retired schoolteacher found beaten to death with her walking stick. Because of his disability - Brown has an IQ of 50 - he was sent to a state mental hospital shortly after his arrest. He has remained at Dorothea Dix Hospital in Raleigh ever since, unable to challenge his charges.
The disability center's legal director, John Rittelmeyer, said Wednesday it will file an amicus brief in the case. The brief will provide details to the judge about the severity of Brown's disability, he said.
"There is no reasonable hope his condition will improve," Rittelmeyer said.
Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. is scheduled to hear Brown's attorneys' claims on Oct. 8 that he is being held illegally, and may rule to release Brown then. In a filing, the judge has noted the allegation of a fake confession "appears to have gone un-rebutted by the prosecution."
An Anson County judge wants defense attorneys for a man accused in a 1993 murder to show evidence missing in the case was lost by local authorities.
The judge's statement came at the end of a 3.5-hour hearing on missing evidence in the killing of Katherine Lynch, 80, of Wadesboro.
Floyd Brown, a local man with an I.Q. in the low 50s, was charged with her murder more than a decade ago. He was ruled incompetent to stand trial until recently. In 2003, after a review, state mental hospital staff decided Brown then understood the charges and could stand trial in largely rural county, 55 miles southeast of Charlotte.
Both the prosecutor and the defense attorney agree almost every piece of physical evidence in the case - including the murder weapon, clothing and fingerprints - has been missing for years.
Floyd's attorney, Mike Klinkosum, wants the case against Brown dismissed because he says the Anson County Sheriff's Office lost or destroyed the evidence. Current and former members of the sheriff's office testified Monday the evidence is missing, and that they never investigated why the evidence disappeared.
But prosecutor Tim Rogers says the evidence could have been lost in the mail when being sent back from the state crime lab to the sheriff's office.
The judge asked the defense to find any proof of the sheriff's office receiving the evidence in the mail.
The hearing continues today.
Even before Floyd Brown was granted release from a state mental hospital Monday, the prosecutor on his case appeared to be working to keep Brown from finding a new home.
Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker undermined the state's attempt to find Brown a place to stay upon his release from Dorothea Dix state hospital, Brown's attorneys say in court filings.
A caseworker and a social worker for Brown testified Monday that a Rockingham group home had agreed to take him. Brown, who suffers from mental retardation, was charged with murder 14 years ago, but never got a trial because he was ruled incompetent.
T he group-home plan had been in place for months, with hopes Brown might win release. But the facility revoked its offer last week - one day after a visit from Parker and an assistant.
Parker could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
On Tuesday, group-home owner Brenda Capel told the Observer that Parker "didn't say anything that made me change my mind. Given the full information about Floyd Brown, the team decided placement wasn't appropriate."
Monday in Durham County, a judge dropped the 1993 murder charge, and ordered Brown freed. Court records show that during Brown's 14-year detention, Parker denied all hospital requests for privileges, such as a trip to the state fair and lunch with his sister.
In court filings, Brown's attorneys said they were shocked that Parker, who had refused to drop charges against Brown, approached the group home.
Advocates for Brown, who has an IQ of 50, began searching in April for a home to accept him if he were freed. The home would need to offer constant supervision and be close to his Wadesboro home.
They found one: Divine Koncepts in Rockingham, 20 miles from Wadesboro. Brown's family was thrilled.
On Sept. 4, Parker called George Dennard, Brown's social worker at Dix, and asked which home would be taking Brown. Dennard testified that he told Parker.
Parker visited Divine Koncepts last week, records state. He lives in the next town over, and the group home is in his prosecutorial district of Anson, Richmond and Stanly counties.
Afterward, group-home owner Capel told Brown caseworker Treniss Capps that she would not take Brown.
Capps testified that Capel said the district attorney had told her Brown was more dangerous than the hospital had let on.
Capps said the home had Brown's entire medical history, including details of angry spells early on at Dix when he slammed doors and broke a radio. Doctors testified Monday that Brown has not had problems in years and is not dangerous.
When asked by the Observer what she thought about Capps' testimony that her facility had received all of Brown's history, Capel responded, "Whatever they said is fine."
Brown's caseworkers testified that they are now looking for a new home for Brown.
After the judge's ruling, Parker told the Observer that he still considered him dangerous.
Brown's case - marred by lost evidence, a likely falsified confession and the conviction of officers on unrelated corruption charges - has been the subject of a months-long Observer investigation. The beating death of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch remains unsolved, and Parker on Monday said he didn't intend to reopen it, though he needed to consult with the sheriff.
In August, the N.C. Department of Justice said it was reviewing the case. The agency has declined to give updates.
A Durham County Superior Court judge wants to hear attorneys' claims that an Anson County man is being held illegally and has set a hearing for Oct. 8.
In an order filed Friday, Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. said "appropriate grounds" exist for him to examine the case against Floyd Brown. Brown, whose abilities are limited by his lifelong retardation, has been awaiting trial on a murder charge for 14 years.
Hudson said the hearing will look into Brown's confinement in Raleigh's Dorothea Dix state mental hospital and whether the charges should be dismissed.
The judge's decision comes a day after an Observer story on Brown's attorneys' filing a writ of habeas corpus in his case. A writ of habeas corpus - a defense claim that a person is being held unconstitutionally - is often an incarcerated person's last shot at winning their freedom.
The hearing will be in Durham County because that is where Brown's lawyers filed the writ. State law allows writs to be filed in any county.
It's not uncommon for a judge to hold a hearing on a writ of habeas corpus, legal experts say, but it is rare that a defendant is released as a result.
Because he has an I.Q. of 50, meaning his mental abilities are like those of a kindergartner's, Brown has been unable to stand trial since his 1993 arrest for the beating death of 80- year-old Katherine Lynch. The law requires a defendant to be able to direct his attorney.
Unless a judge intervenes, the other person who can drop the charges against Brown is Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker. Parker has said he considers Brown dangerous.
Brown's attorneys had already filled motions arguing for release on several grounds. Physical evidence, including some that they say could help clear Brown, has been lost. Investigators on Brown's case later served federal prison time for fixing cases. Several doctors say Brown could not have given the detailed, sophisticated confession police claim he did.
Anson County judges denied all of those motions, saying those grounds were not enough to drop the murder case.
The Observer, in a March investigation, found more than a dozen instances in a confession - the only piece of evidence against Brown - that don't match the actual crime scene or contain language Brown does not know.
Floyd Brown wants to go home.
He misses the pork chops and ribs his sister Frances made for him back in Wadesboro.
Brown is 42 but has the mental abilities of a 5-year-old. He makes a sour face when talking about the food at Dorothea Dix mental hospital in Raleigh.
"It's bad," he said.
Brown has been at Dorothea Dix for more than 13 years, charged with killing 80-year-old Katherine Lynch. He isn't fighting a wrongful conviction. He's never had a trial. That's because his retardation means he isn't competent enough for one.
It's not clear whether he knows what "framed" really means, but he uses the word often. "Mike, I didn't kill that lady," he recently told his attorney.
"I know you didn't," Mike Klinkosum answered. Last fall, Klinkosum told a judge he believes Brown is innocent, and he tried to get the case dismissed.
Klinkosum and his co-counsel say they will try again, and expect to file court papers soon in hopes of getting Brown released. Otherwise, it's unlikely there will be resolution to his case: a case weakened by missing evidence and an implausible confession and investigated by two detectives who later were convicted of corruption.
Brown's life in Anson
Floyd Brown's freedom ended at age 29, in the summer of 1993.
Up to then, his life had not reached far beyond his small-town home in Anson County, where he lived in poverty as one of 11 siblings.
His teachers feared he would never be able to protect himself. They tried in vain to teach a 16- year-old Brown to read signs like stop, exit, hot.
One teacher noticed Brown persistently smelled bad, and asked some male students to show him how to use soap and the shower in the locker room.
As a young adult, Brown spent his days walking around Wadesboro. One of his favorite places to visit, his sister said, seemed to be the safest: the courthouse downtown, where Brown chatted with law enforcement officers.
Anson County officers had another reason for knowing Brown well. In his late teens and 20s, they picked him up 29 times for public drunkenness. Sometimes he was charged, but many times they let him go after he'd sobered up. Once, he was charged with a misdemeanor after he turned toward a police officer with a knife in his hand. A judge dismissed that case and ordered him to stop appearing drunk in public. He had never been charged with a felony.
The fatal attack
Katherine Lynch lived alone in a dilapidated house off a dirt road on the edge of Wadesboro. She was poor and had a quiet life, with no children.
On the morning of July 9, 1993, a neighbor called police when Lynch didn't answer her door. A deputy found Lynch's body in her bedroom. In the living room, blood soaked the couch and was splattered on the lampshades and walls. Under her bed, investigators found the murder weapon, Lynch's own walking stick. Two years before, she had been attacked in her home, beaten with a flashlight and left unconscious on her bed. (See "A previous attack," above.)
On the case were two Anson County sheriff's detectives, Roland "Bud" Hutchinson and Robert Poplin Jr.. Joining them was State Bureau of Investigation agent Mark Isley. At the time, the trio handled every serious criminal investigation in the county.
Investigators talk with Brown
Frances Staton's family called her for everything - rides to the laundromat, help with groceries.
On the night of July 15, 1993, the call was different.
Three investigators came to the family home, gave Brown a sandwich and then took him away, her father said. He asked his daughter to come over.
The investigators returned Brown later that night.
They told the family Brown might know something about a recent murder, Staton recalls. But, the investigators added, he wasn't in trouble. They left.
"We thought everything was fine," Staton said.
She didn't think her brother knew who killed Lynch, a woman they did not know. He didn't understand how to keep a secret. "If he knew anything, he would have told it," Staton said.
No public record mentions a visit that night, and the investigators have not responded to questions from the Observer.
Staton says Brown told his family what happened that night:
He described being taken to a house. He said he was told to touch things there, including a stick.
Investigators must have taken her brother to the murder scene, Staton remembers deciding.
"I'm thinking, `Are they supposed to do that?' " she said.
Staton figured a visit to the crime scene with Brown must be a routine part of investigative work. After all, the officers had said he wasn't in trouble.
The next afternoon, Staton heard that her brother was in jail. She wasn't too worried. She believed Brown was being held for more questioning.
"We thought maybe they would just let him go," she said.
She was wrong. Brown was charged with Lynch's murder. Two informants at a ramshackle house Brown frequented had told investigators a man who hung out at the courthouse talked about Lynch's killing.
SBI agent Isley took the confession over lunch that day. Isley later told a judge Brown gave the six-page statement verbatim, although psychiatrists said Brown has difficulty stringing sentences together. (See "10 Flaws in Confession," at top of page.)
"It was unbelievable," Staton said. "We couldn't believe it was happening. They were setting him up."
Panicked, Staton and her family went to see lawyers. They were stunned at the cost: $20,000 to $25,000 for defense in a murder case. No one in the family had that kind of money.
But in the next few weeks, the family relaxed. A public defender requested a mental health evaluation for Brown, and he was sent to Dorothea Dix Hospital.
Surely the doctors at Dorothea Dix would let her brother go after finding he was retarded and didn't kill anyone, Staton said.
"I didn't think he was going to be there very long," she said. "I didn't think it was going to take a year. A year didn't cross my mind."
That was August 1993.
Only five months into Brown's hospital confinement, two of the three investigators who'd worked his case were engaged in criminal behavior, although it stayed secret for more than three years.
Co-workers of Anson County detectives Hutchinson and Poplin said they did not think the allegations could be true. But they were.
In 1998, the two detectives pleaded guilty to federal racketeering and bribery charges, for fixing cases. A judge ordered each man to serve at least five months in prison and pay back the $14,366 they'd accepted. (See "Investigators pleaded guilty," at right.)
The detectives' crimes solidified Staton's belief that her brother had been set up.
"They were taking bribes and stuff, so you can believe they could do anything," Staton said.
Then, in 2002, Anson County's newly elected sheriff discovered during an audit that the physical evidence collected in the Lynch murder case was lost. It happened sometime in the past eight years, the sheriff said. (See "Missing Evidence," above.)
To Staton's disappointment, two corrupt cops and missing evidence didn't mean Brown would be released from Dorothea Dix. Her hope for justice sank.
A day in court
Last fall, Staton and a dozen relatives sat in the Anson County Courthouse brimming with excitement.
It was Sept. 25, 2006, the day they had waited 13 years for: a trial date. Doctors said Brown was ready for court. He'd learned the number of people who sat in a jury and could recite what a judge does.
Just as the trial was to start, the prosecutor offered a plea deal. If Brown took an Alford plea - meaning he'd be found guilty of the murder without having to admit guilt - he'd be freed.
Brown's lawyer laid out the deal to him, and everything began to crumble:
He couldn't understand the plea deal. That meant he wasn't competent. That meant no trial, no resolution. The prosecutor, saying he believes Brown is guilty and dangerous, refused to drop the charges. A judge ordered Brown back to Dorothea Dix.
In the courthouse hallway, a devastated Staton pushed tears off her cheeks. Her sisters, brothers and cousins huddled around her, confused about why the trial had been taken away.
She explained the best she could: Floyd is stuck.
She continues making the six-hour round trip to visit her brother at least once a month. She believes, somehow, his lawyers will find a way to free him. T he lawyers - Klinkosum and co-counsel Kelley DeAngelus - see Brown often, and share Staton's hope of winning his release.
"Floyd wants to be home," Staton said. "It's his right."
Floyd Brown, held for 14 years on murder and robbery charges, never got a trial. As of Monday, he does not need one.
Durham County Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson Jr. changed Brown's life with a single sentence, delivered at the end of a three-hour hearing.
"These charges are to be dismissed," Hudson said.
He ordered Brown, with an IQ of 50, freed from Dorothea Dix state mental hospital, where he has been held since 1993.
When Hudson said nothing more, Brown's family and supporters gasped, some laughing in disbelief. Brown's attorneys, Mike Klinkosum and Kelley DeAngelus, hugged Brown, tears running down their faces.
As Frances Staton, Brown's sister, dug through her purse for change - among Brown's first comments was a request for a snack - she, too, cried, recounting how for years, no one seemed to care that her brother was the victim of injustice.
Brown, 43, is from the Anson County town of Wadesboro, about 55 miles southeast of Charlotte. He has suffered from mental retardation since childhood.
Despite detectives later jailed for corruption, a likely falsified confession, and lost physical evidence, Brown's prosecutor refused to drop the charges.
Two judges in Anson County supported District Attorney Michael Parker.
"They acted like his life doesn't matter," Staton said. "Like he's not a human being."
Parker said after the hearing he believes Brown remains a danger.
In response to a question from the Observer, Parker added:
"I'm not reopening this murder investigation. I'll have to talk to the sheriff."
`This has got to stop'
Monday's hearing had been called at the request of Brown's attorneys, who argued that his detention violated his constitutional rights.
The attorneys chose to file their request in Durham County, as allowed by law. T hat meant Brown's case was reviewed by a judge outside Anson for the first time.
Hudson made his ruling shortly after a lunch break, but not before commenting on earlier decisions made in the case.
"There's some things that go on in Anson County, but I can't do anything about it," he said. "I know there's pressure to decide a certain way."
Hudson said he couldn't believe Brown could be left in the hospital for the rest of his life because he was not competent to stand trial and the prosecutor wouldn't free him.
"This has got to stop," he said.
Parker sat silently in the audience, watching. *
Officers paid Brown visit
In July 1993, Brown was living with his mother and working at a vocational center for people with disabilities when someone beat 80-year-old Katherine Lynch with her walking stick, fracturing her skull and dragging her body through her house.
Anson County detectives and State Bureau of Investigation agent Mark Isley had few leads.
But a tipster who did not witness the crime later gave a description - which Brown does not match - of a possible culprit.
One night, records show, three officers visited Brown at his house. Records don't say what happened during that meeting, but Brown's family said Brown told them the detectives had told him to touch a stick.
The next morning, the detectives charged Brown with murder. Isley, the SBI agent, said he had a two-page verbatim confession, the only piece of evidence linking Brown to the crime. Several of Brown's doctors and teachers would testify that the confession had words Brown doesn't know - like "heartbeat."
Monday, the attorneys played a tape of an interview last week between Brown and a doctor. Moira Artigues asked Brown to spell dog.
"Dog is D-O-G. Cat is C-A-T ," Brown said.
Artigues asked Brown if he knew how to spell "milk" or "pot." He didn't answer.
"Hat? How do you spell hat?" Artigues asked. "R-O-C-K-F-I-X-S-C-A-P-I-T -A-M," Brown said.
Two of the detectives who investigated the Lynch slaying later served federal prison time for accepting bribes from people they knew to be guilty in exchange for not filing charges. SBI agent Isley remains with the bureau, and has not returned calls for comment.
In August, after months of Observer stories investigating the case, the N.C. Department of Justice said it was reviewing allegations of wrongdoing.
`I figured it was time'
Brown walked out of the Durham County Courthouse with the bouncy gait he used walking the halls of Dorothea Dix.
"I doin' alright," he said, and giggled. Asked if he thought he'd ever be freed, he said, "I figured it was time sooner or later."
He'll be staying at the hospital for a few more days. His attorneys and family are finding him an adult care home near Wadesboro. There, he'll have the care and supervision he needs, family say, but also the freedom to come and go with loved ones.
Backed by Brown's beaming and red-eyed family, Klinkosum, voice trembling, called Hudson "a jurist of unwavering courage."
But he said there are no laws to keep what happened to Brown from happening to someone else. "That's something for the General Assembly to take up," Klinkosum said.
"There are likely more Floyd Browns out there."
In "Catch-22," Joseph Heller's 1961 novel, a World War II bombardier wants to be excused from flight duty because he's insane. To prove it, he needs a doctor's diagnosis. But there's a catch: Since no sane person would want to fly combat missions because they're so dangerous, the fact that he doesn't want to proves he's sane.
Novelist Heller might well have written the story that's playing out now in Anson County.
As the Observer's Emily S. Achenbaum reported last week, Floyd Brown was arrested in 1993 for the beating death of 80-year-old Katherine Lynch. But Mr. Brown, who on IQ tests typically scores in the 50s, was judged incompetent to stand trial and sent to Dorothea Dix, the state mental hospital.
In 2003, after a decade at Dix, it was determined that he was ready to stand trial.
But this year, as his trial date approached, it became clear there was a lot wrong with the case. Authorities had lost almost all the physical evidence. Though test results on some of the evidence exist, they don't implicate Mr. Brown. For example, none of prints or hairs found at the crime scene match his, though some of the prints were blurred and unreadable.
Mr. Brown dictated a confession to an investigator, authorities say, but from court records it's unclear whether anyone witnessed it. Every expert who has read the confession and is familiar with Mr. Brown has said he was mentally incapable of giving such a detailed statement.
In addition, the detectives who investigated the crime later pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges for soliciting bribes from suspects in other cases.
Mr. Brown's defense attorney, Mike Klinkosum, said he and prosecutors were discussing a deal: If Mr. Brown would plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter, he'd be given credit for time spent in the hospital and released.
That's where Catch-22 kicked in. Mr. Klinkosum said his client was unable to understand the possible deal, so he could neither accept it nor participate in a trial. A forensic psychiatrist who has examined him over several years testified Tuesday that Mr. Brown thinks at the level of a 3- or 4- year-old child and can't understand abstract ideas. The psychiatrist, Dr. Moira Artigues, said Mr. Brown believes he is in Dorothea Dix "as punishment for a crime he did not commit."
So the process was paralyzed. Mr. Brown went back to the hospital. He could stay until he dies. He shouldn't. District Attorney Michael Parker could consider Mr. Brown's mental condition and long hospitalization and the unlikelihood of conviction and drop the charges. After all, if prosecutors were willing to consider freeing him in a plea bargain, they must not be concerned that he's dangerous.
But it would take courage for Mr. Parker to make that practical and merciful judgment. After all, demanding a guilty plea lets everybody off the hook - for the mishandled evidence, the questionable confession, the inadequate investigation and the tacit acknowledgement that if Mr. Brown isn't guilty, the murderer has gone free.
Without a jury weighing Floyd Brown's guilt or innocence, the power to free him lies with only two groups:
The district attorney can drop the case, or a judge can dismiss the charges. Brown's attorneys have asked a judge before to dismiss the case, and they say they will try again.
Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker declined to comment to the Observer, saying ethics prohibit him from talking about a pending case. In October statements to The Anson Record, a weekly paper in Wadesboro, Parker described his intention to continue prosecution of Brown:
"I made the decision to proceed, even in light of the missing or lost evidence, and to proceed with the other evidence that was available to us," Parker said.
In North Carolina, 17 people have been in state mental hospitals for more than a decade awaiting murder trials.
Walter Junior Little was Katherine Lynch's neighbor. He was convicted of an assault on his wife in 1991. When Lynch was killed in 1993, Anson County detectives Roland "Bud" Hutchinson and Robert Poplin questioned Little, took his palm prints and called him a suspect in their report.
Four years later, when Hutchinson and Poplin were to be sentenced for racketeering, a letter of support was submitted to the court, signed by "Walter J. Little" and describing Hutchinson as helpful when responding to domestic violence calls at Little's home. Hutchinson told the Observer last fall that Lynch's neighbor and the letter writer are not the same person; Floyd Brown's lawyer has asked a judge for help determining whether that is so.
Attempts through public record searches and interviews to locate Little for comment were unsuccessful.
The detention of Floyd Brown, who has spent 14 years locked up despite not being convicted of a crime, has cost state taxpayers more than $2.3 million, according to state records requested by the Observer.
The state Department of Health and Human Services says the bill for holding Brown in Dorothea Dix mental hospital in 2006 alone was $689 a day - the same for any of the hospital's patients - or $251,485 for the year.
Doctors there have said it's unlikely Brown, who is retarded and has an IQ of 50, will ever have the mental capacity to go to court. That means the 43-year-old could stay in Dix for the rest of his life.
During Brown's stay, records show, Dix officials have asked Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker at least a half-dozen times to allow Brown to be moved to a less expensive group- care facility near his home.
Parker refused. His reasoning: If Brown is well enough to be transferred from Dix, he's well enough to stand trial.
"The district attorney has resisted any efforts to resolve the situation, apparently being quite content to leave Mr. Brown in his present setting ad infinitum," Dix psychiatrist Dr. Freerk Wouters noted in 1995.
The hospital's rates have tripled since 1993, when Brown was charged with killing 80-year-old Katherine Lynch of Wadesboro. The daily rate then was $215.
By comparison, the N.C. Department of Correction spends an average of $68.45 a day per inmate, or about $24,986 a year. A death-penalty inmate costs taxpayers about $29,000 a year, the state says.
The jail in Brown's home county of Anson, about 55 miles southeast of Charlotte, spends far less, $41.80 a day per inmate.
The cost of staying at Dix, in Raleigh, is so much higher because it's a hospital, not just a detention facility.
Records also indicate Parker has sought to limit Brown's privileges, despite documentation of his good behavior. Parker denied a doctor's request to take Brown to the state fair, and he objected to the hospital allowing Brown to have lunch off-grounds with his sister. Parker has declined to comment.
The state pays the bill for Brown's incarceration. Even so, some county leaders have strong opinions about the case. Anna Baucom, chairwoman of the Anson County Board of Commissioners, calls it "a mess" that has embarrassed the county.
"This has gone on entirely too long," she said. "It's very uncomfortable for all of us to know things can go so awry."
Detectives said Brown confessed to beating Lynch with her walking stick in 1993. Lynch was found dead in her home by a neighbor. Brown lived about a mile away. Detectives said a description of a suspect led them to Brown, even though he did not match the description.
The only Anson official with direct power over Brown's status is Parker, who has said in court that he thinks Brown is guilty and will not drop the case. That means Brown's best hope for release is a hearing in Durham on Oct. 8, when a judge will hear claims from Brown's attorneys that he is held unconstitutionally.
Brown's attorneys have argued that holding him violates his rights to due process. In legal filings, they detail other issues with the case: corrupt detectives who served federal prison time; lost evidence; and a confession they said was "falsified."
Last month, the N.C. Department of Justice said it was examining allegations of wrongdoing in the case. It has declined further comment.
State Sen. Robert Pittenger, R-Mecklenburg, said the big bill in Brown's case is an example of poor government management.
"There has to be some type of alternate facility that would be available for cases like this, that wouldn't cost $250,000 a year."