TALLAHASSEE — The only thing Cheydrick Britt regrets about finally having his innocence proven is that his father did not live long enough to see him exonerated.
Stanley Britt died in July, four months before DNA testing cleared his now 40-year-old son of a 2002 sexual battery charge.
“That was very hard,” said Cheydrick Britt, a Tampa native, in a telephone interview Friday. “He wanted to see all of this come to light. That was the hardest part of it all. The only time I was able to see him over the years was in the courtroom.”
Britt, who spent more than nine years in prison, now is the 14th person exonerated by DNA testing in Florida since 2000. Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe officially vacated the convictions last month.
Britt was represented by Bonita Springs lawyer Charles Murray and attorneys from the Innocence Project of Florida, a nonprofit legal organization.
“The thing about this case is, unlike many others, he was convicted while there was DNA testing (technology) available,” said Seth Miller, the project’s executive director.
Britt was convicted in May 2004 on sexual battery and molestation charges; investigators said he had sex with a 15-year-old. Tests showed his DNA was found on bedsheets in the home.
But years later, DNA testing on the girl’s underwear from the night of the incident showed an unidentified man’s DNA – not Britt’s.
“It’s unclear what happened, but a more thorough and diligent look may have prevented all this in the first place,” Miller said.
Britt said he had been in a relationship with the girl’s mother, had broken it off and believes he was falsely accused as payback.
“I forgive them now,” he said. “I do with all my heart. I can’t have any hard feelings against that family.”
His words are slightly harsher when he speaks of prosecutors: “I tried to explain the truth,” he said. “They didn’t want to hear the truth.”
According to Assistant State Attorney Kimberly Hindman, who did not prosecute the original case, the girl has never backed down from her original statement accusing Britt.
She also said the underwear was screened for DNA years ago but tests turned up nothing.
That’s why Hindman doesn’t call the case an exoneration.
“It’s a situation where we think something happened but we can’t prove it beyond a reasonable doubt,” she said. “We had (new) forensic evidence we had no explanation for, and we did not feel that ethically we could go forward.”
Her office agreed to post-conviction DNA testing in September 2012, records show, with the evidence going to a private lab in Ohio. The eventual results, delivered in April of this year, excluded Britt as a suspect.
Britt also was reunited with his daughter, now 20, after his release.
“Oh man, it was great,” he said. “Seeing my daughter was lovely. Seeing her, I just felt like the air I was breathing was fresher, you know?”
He said he’s living with his mother while he picks up the pieces of an interrupted life.
Britt has friends helping him start a valet trash pickup business, or doorstep garbage collection for multifamily properties.
He also has lawyers researching whether he can receive any compensation for the time he spent wrongly imprisoned.
“It was a hard thing to go through,” Britt said. “Finally, I proved my innocence. I was strong, though; I always stayed ‘prayed up.’