Crosley Green believes he’s free. He’s not.
There are serious doubts about his 1990 murder conviction, which a federal court vacated in 2018. Citing the overturned conviction and concerns about Covid-19, a judge has released Green from prison while Florida’s attorney general challenges the federal court’s decision.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals could rule against Green any day, sending him back to Calhoun Correctional Institution.
Green doesn’t dwell on it. He’s more concerned with the squirrels in his brother-in-law’s yard, which Green is forbidden to leave. If he goes to the mailbox outside a 30-minute window in the morning, his ankle monitor goes off, alerting authorities.
To Green, this is freedom. He revels in having breakfast, watching the news, taking his coffee outside, lighting a cigarette and feeding the squirrels some almonds, bread or whatever he can find around the Titusville home. He feels a kinship with his furball friends.
“When I see them at peace, I can realize what it really feels like,” Green told CNN. “That’s a wonderful thing, man, to get up and be able to walk outside and not have to look over your shoulder or have anybody tell you, ‘You can’t be out there. You can’t do this. You can’t do that.’ That’s freedom, man. That’s more freedom than you could ever ask for.”
Pressed on whether he realizes what true freedom entails, he replied, “There’s a lot of other freedom out there, but listen, this little bit of freedom I got right here is a whole lot compared to no freedom at all.”
The 11th Circuit has been mulling Green’s case since March 2020, when it heard oral arguments in the state’s appeal to uphold his conviction. Two years earlier, US District Judge Roy Dalton ruled the original prosecutor had withheld evidence from Green’s defense – what’s known as a Brady violation – overturning his conviction, meaning the state could either retry Green or release him.
The state’s appeal kept Green behind bars for 33 more months. Defense lawyers requested his release out of concern for his health amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and in April, Dalton obliged, noting the 63-year-old had been a model prisoner and posed no danger. The judge also mentioned the tossed conviction.
“The public has a strong interest in the release of a prisoner whom the Court has found to be incarcerated in violation of the Constitution,” Dalton wrote.
Green says he’s no murderer. He’s maintained as much since Chip Flynn was killed in April 1989. Had Green struck a plea deal, he might’ve served a maximum of 22 years, but he insisted he didn’t do it. He’s now served almost 32 years, 18 of them on death row.
Oxtails and ice cream
To say Green has been enjoying life since April 7 is underselling it. He has a huge family – with dozens of nieces, nephews and grandchildren – and can’t get enough of the youngsters, he said. He loves being around family, friends and “supporters that come over and sit with me.” He feels good when he can rake the yard or help around the house, said Green, who has three sons.
“I just want to get used to being a father again or a friend again or a good neighbor again. Those are the first things,” he said.
Green likes to eat, too, especially soul food and Jamaican grub, and when his sister in Palm Bay visits on Fridays, he has a special request.
“I try to have her bring me a plate of them oxtails down here – oxtails with cabbage, rice and red beans,” he said. “I’ve been eating pretty good.”
Nothing, however, can compare to his favorite treat.
“I got a pint of strawberry ice cream; I’m just waiting to get into it after I get off the phone,” he told a reporter around 10:15 in the morning.
Still, he knows there are things a truly free man can do that he cannot. Before his incarceration, he enjoyed horses. He’d like to hop in the saddle again, as well as “relearn” how to ride motorcycles, another favorite pastime.
Green also wants to take his grandchildren camping and watch them bond, while getting to know them and showing them “I can be someone they can look up to, they can come to, they can talk to, they can find out whatever they want to find out,” he said.
His top priority, should the justice system see fit to free him, is to visit his sister, Tina, who died in 2017. Her grave lies a few miles away in Mims, where Green was born. Discussing her passing is the only time during a 45-minute interview his cheery demeanor turns dour.
“That’s first and foremost, if I ever get the time to spend time out there, that’s what I want to do,” he said. “I lost so much since I’ve been down that I still hurt from it. When I think about it, it hurts. To be honest with you, I’m hurting now, just by mentioning it.”
Asked what he’d like to tell Tina, he said, “How much I miss her, how much I wish she could’ve hanged on a little longer. Just a little longer.”
‘They’ve got the wrong guy in jail’
Prosecutor Christopher White in 1990 alleged an armed Green confronted Flynn at a park in Mims, prompting his ex-girlfriend, Kim Hallock, to remove Flynn’s handgun from the glove compartment and hide it under clothes on the bench seat of Flynn’s truck. Hallock described the assailant only as “a Black guy” with a Jheri-curl hairstyle and later picked Green out of a photo lineup.
After stealing $185 from Flynn’s wallet, Green drove the 22-year-old, his hands bound with a shoelace, and Hallock to a citrus grove, the woman told a Brevard County detective hours after the shooting.
Once there, Hallock said, Green pulled her out of the truck. She ran. Green caught her, the 19-year-old told an investigator, “and he was next to me with one arm around me and the gun at my face.” Flynn leaned out of the truck, she said, and with his hands still tied behind his back, opened fire.
Flynn dove out of the truck and Hallock jumped in and locked the doors, she told police. She heard “about five or six gunshots” before driving away, she said. An all-White jury heard the star witness’ testimony, along with the rest of the evidence, and sentenced Green to die.
Florida media, along with CBS News and its newsmagazine, “48 Hours,” have covered the unraveling case against Green for more than two decades. Chicago private investigator Paul Ciolino told reporters in 1999 he had unearthed evidence that points to Green’s innocence.
“They’ve got the wrong guy in jail,” he said at the time.
Attorneys Keith Harrison and Jeane Thomas of Crowell & Moring, an international law firm that’s fought pro bono for Green since 2008, concur. They cite a litany of problems with the evidence.
Four witnesses have recanted their testimony, they told CNN. In addition to the alibi witness who testified at trial, they’ve found nine more who say Green was doing drugs at a party in Mims, 2 miles from the grove, when the killing occurred, Harrison said.
Among other issues the defense has raised: Green’s fingerprints weren’t found at the scene; Green doesn’t know how to drive a stick shift like the one in Flynn’s truck; a canine officer used a questionable method to track shoe prints at the scene; the shoe prints found did not match Green’s lone pair of Reeboks; and the photo lineup presented to Hallock positioned Green’s picture, darker and smaller than five others, at the top center “bull’s-eye” spot, said Harrison, a former prosecutor.
“Nothing adds up. Nothing fits together,” he said. “There’s a lot of facts in this case, and most of the facts point to Crosley’s innocence.”
Lawyers home in on star witness’ story
There are issues with Hallock’s statements as well, Green’s lawyers said. She testified Green tied Flynn’s hands and a gun discharged in the process, but she initially told an investigator that Green ordered her to bind them, court records indicate. Despite her claim of hearing multiple gunshots, there was only one bullet found – the one that killed Flynn, which was the same caliber as his own handgun, evidence shows. She also said the assailant wore a Jheri curl, while Green’s hair was buzzed, the defense lawyers said.
Hallock drove past a hospital, her parent’s house and a payphone before calling 911 from the home of one of Flynn’s friends, court records show.
“We find it noteworthy that when first responders arrived, Chip was conscious and never mentioned a third person,” Thomas said, pointing to a police report that said Flynn told officers only that he wanted to go home. He died waiting for an ambulance.
CNN’s attempts to reach Hallock were unsuccessful.
The first responders Thomas mentions, Diane Clarke and Mark Rixey, are key to Green’s case – and the Brady violation finding. White, the prosecutor, took notes from a discussion with the officers, during which they said Hallock had told a deputy that she, not Green, tied Flynn’s hands, that she never asked about Flynn’s condition, they hadn’t found any shell casings and Hallock wouldn’t meet investigators at the scene. Clarke and Rixey questioned why Flynn wouldn’t say who shot him, according to court records.
“Mark & Diane suspect girl did it. She changed her story couple times,” White jotted down.
The prosecutor allegedly never turned the notes over to the defense, which the federal court found to be a Brady violation. Rixey told CBS he felt White was “dismissive” when he and Clarke shared their suspicions.
“It is difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense and the development of defense strategy than the fact that the initial responding officers evaluated the totality of the evidence as suggesting that the investigation should be directed toward someone other than Petitioner,” Judge Dalton ruled.
Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit, which originally tried Green, referred questions to the attorney general’s office. White retired from the circuit in 2011. Attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Prosecutor defends his witness
After the court order vacating Green’s conviction, the 18th Circuit released a statement saying the attorney general had a “legitimate concern” the federal judge’s decision differed from lower court rulings, and “clarification by the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals as to the accuracy of this ruling is being sought as a necessary next step.”
The state argued to the 11th Circuit that Clarke and Rixey never spoke to Hallock and never visited other crime scenes. The prosecution called Green’s claim “completely without merit,” telling the court there were procedural issues, numerous courts had upheld Green’s conviction and the original defense lawyer did have White’s notes, which were “hearsay” and not exculpatory.
“(Hallock’s) actions that night have been scrutinized and criticized by Green for years, but he has never explained exactly how it was that she was able to tie up Chip Flynn and shoot him,” read the attorney general’s 2018 motion requesting a stay.
Harrison argued in court the defense did not receive the notes, which might’ve led to evidence that could’ve cleared Green. The defense in 1990 had no idea Clarke and Rixey were “challenging the thoroughness and good faith of the investigation,” he said. He closed, attacking the original prosecutor’s assertion that the notion Hallock killed Flynn was “ludicrous and grasping at perhaps no straws at all.”
“Well, the reason that that argument could be made is because these notes were suppressed,” Harrison told the court. It isn’t clear when the 11th Circuit will rule.
White, who has always stood by the verdict, defended Hallock’s behavior during an interview with CBS in 2015, three years before the Brady violation finding.
“You’re awfully, awfully concerned that this woman, who had been through – if you believe her – all that she had, didn’t act as rationally as you would based on your hindsight looking back (at) this without staring down the barrel of a gun and without being dragged out into a grove and thrown around like she was,” he told a reporter. “Now that is the problem I have with all these second guessings of what she did and how she did it.”
He called Flynn “very brave” and “very heroic.” As for how and why Flynn fired a gun with his hands behind his back, White said, “Why he did what he did and whether he shot at them or tried to just shoot to scare him, I don’t know.”
Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office declined an interview request. The state’s top prosecutor opposed Green’s release, saying that Green was safer in prison.
“Green is much less likely to be exposed to Covid-19 at Calhoun Correctional Institution where he is incarcerated (especially since there are no active cases at Calhoun Correctional Institution) than the State of Florida at large if he were released. Green has failed to demonstrate special reasons to justify his immediate release,” the motion said.
Convict, Bible show Green the way
Though Green is magnanimous today, that wasn’t always the case, he told CNN. When he first arrived on death row, he was angry and still doing drugs – his “bad side” on full display until a fellow inmate also slated for execution directed him to the Bible.
“Even though he was a Muslim, he told me to pick up the Book, so that’s what I did,” Green said. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would’ve changed so quickly because I have respect for people who try to help me.”
The inmate, Leo Jones, had read about Green in the newspaper and urged Green to visit the law library. His support encouraged Green to “quit messing around in 1993” and focus on proving his innocence.
“I haven’t had so much as a joint to smoke or any kind of drugs,” Green said. “I didn’t even drink the vodka and stuff they made there. From ’93 to now, I still don’t do those things.”
Jones died in Florida’s electric chair in 1998, his conviction spawning questions, much like Green’s. Green left death row in 2009 after his legal team won him a new sentence, but he’d spend another dozen years in prison.
Once in general population, he joined a group of inmates who mentored other prisoners, telling them, “You have to want to become more than what you’re feeling at the time.”
“If you don’t see a way out of prison life, you just ain’t going to make it, point blank. First thing you have to do is get through prison life. If you can get through prison life, you can get through anything,” he said. “If you don’t have patience in prison, you can go insane.”
The patience he imparted to others serves him now, he said. He sees his time confined to his brother-in-law’s yard as a transition period before heading out into the world. Supporters have donated thousands toward his living expenses.
For 32 years, Green watched the world evolve through news reports, he said. He worries about “all this gunplay and all this hatred” and what it means for his nephews, nieces and grandkids.
“We had hatred back then, too, but it just done got well out of hand now,” he said. “That’s why I want to spend time with family and let them know about stuff like that, about how I came up.”
He bears no bitterness for those who put him behind bars, he said. It’s a “great honor” to be alive, and he looks forward to helping his lawyers prove his innocence, if given the chance, he said. Much like his faith in God, his confidence in the judicial system is unshaken.
“Man made this system, so I’m looking for man to see this system through the right way,” he said. “My life now is not nothing near what my life was years ago. It’s going to stay positive, and the only way it’s going to stay positive is for me to keep carrying on doing the things I’m doing now, talk the way I talk now, show love to each and everyone who comes by me or sees me.”
Green’s innocent, he said, so he’s not worried about what others think. He plans to keep looking for something better in life, for himself and others. Perhaps one day he can help wrongly convicted prisoners and teach them the power of trusting God’s promises, he said.
But to be clear, his generosity of spirit has limits when it comes to sharing ice cream with his beloved family.
“Well, they’re going to have to go get their own,” he said.