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Hillsborough State Attorney vows to create conviction integrity unit this year

TAMPA — Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said Friday he wants his office to have a conviction integrity unit in place before the end of the year.

The unit would examine select prosecutions to determine whether innocent people might have been sent to prison. Warren vowed to create such a unit during his 2016 campaign to become Hillsborough County’s top prosecutor.

On Friday, he offered some details in a presentation with Witness to Innocence, an anti-death penalty organization.

"Wrongful convictions are contrary to the very essence of our system," he said. "We make mistakes and it’s important to study those mistakes to do our jobs better."

The unit would include one attorney, an investigator and a support staffer. They would screen cases for what Warren called "factual-based, plausible claims of innocence."

They would pay particular attention to factors common to wrongful conviction cases, such as changed witness testimony and discredited forensic evidence.

Warren noted that prosecutors in several other cities throughout the United States have conviction integrity units.

The price tag for one in Hillsborough: $300,000.

Recently, the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville received funding from the state Legislature to create one. A similar request from Warren’s office was not approved.

Nevertheless, Warren said he intends to start the unit with the funds he already has.

Friday’s program featured three former death row inmates from other states whose convictions were overturned after new evidence surfaced.

The group spoke to the prosecutors in Warren’s office, along with representatives from local law enforcement agencies

Among them was Ray Krone, who spent a decade in prison for an Arizona murder, including three years on death row, before new DNA testing proved he was not guilty.

Krone said the cost of a conviction integrity unit was small compared with the money, time and energy spent when prisoners have to fight to prove their own innocence.

"It’s a very good investment," Krone said.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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