Florida drops case against 62-year-old in 28-year-old Pahokee murder


A 62-year-old Pahokee man is now free after prosecutors on Monday abruptly dropped charges against him at what was supposed to be the start of his first-degree murder trial in the 1989 stabbing death of a neighbor.

Clarence Butler Jr. walked out of the Palm Beach County jail around noon Tuesday, a day after prosecutors announced they were dropping the case against Butler in the murder of Simmie Harris.

Butler’s release comes nearly eight months after Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies arrested him in the death of Harris, a 70-year-old retiree who had only recently moved into an apartment complex at 800 McClure Road in Pahokee when he was killed on July 4, 1989.

Assistant State Attorney John Parnofliello, listed as a stand-in prosecutor for Lauren Godden as she finished up the murder retrial of Eddie Rutledge, had first asked Circuit Judge Cheryl Caracuzzo to delay the trial Monday, saying the state wasn’t ready for trial. After Caracuzzo denied the request, the state dropped the case against Butler.

Assistant Public Defender Elizabeth Ramsey invoked Butler’s right to a speedy trial earlier this month and over the past several weeks had challenged potential testimony about DNA evidence in the case and asked Caracuzzo to throw out all four statements Butler gave to investigators over the past 28 years based on claims that he wasn’t properly advised of his rights.

In one interview with Palm Beach County sheriff’s detectives, Butler repeatedly told them the didn’t remember whether he killed Harris, but also said he and Harris had gotten into a shoving match over a lawnmower.

“I kept pushing back, told him to get out of my face, leave me alone. I’m fixing to go,” Butler told detectives in a March 2017 interview, adding of Harris: “He talking about, ‘You want this $5 for the old raggedy [expletive] mower?’ And I told him, ‘No, you can keep ‘em. Shove ‘em up your watchacallit.’”

In another pair of interviews in 2015, which Ramsey quoted in her request to have the statements thrown out, Butler was noncommittal when detectives pressed him on whether he stabbed Harris.

“I probably did and I probably didn’t. That’s the best I can say,” Butler said in July 2015.

Deputies arrested Butler in March after a grand jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge.

Butler dropped out of school in the ninth grade after suffering severe head trauma that required him to have surgery, and at the time of Harris’ slaying he mowed lawns for a living, Ramsey wrote in a recent court document. Butler was the person who reported finding Harris’ body. He told investigators he found the body after he returned to Harris’ apartment to retrieve his lawn mower.



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