MIAMI – A Miami man was freed Tuesday after spending 12 years in prison for a murder committed outside a nightclub in 2005, prosecutors said.
The Miami-Dade County state attorney's office dropped the charges against Andre Gonzalez, a month after a judge ordered a new trial in the case. Journalism students from Medill Justice Project at Northwestern University collected new evidence in the case, which helped set Gonzalez free.
"I've been fighting for my life for so many years, you know," Gonzalez told Local 10 News. "I was accused of a bad crime that I didn't commit."
Police said Gonzalez, who also went by the name Tony Brown, tried to rob Nigel Whatley and Michael Morris near Players nightclub at Northwest Seventh Avenue and Northwest 79th Street on Oct. 1, 2005. Whatley fought back and was wounded in the struggle. Police said Gonzalez then shot Morris and Whatley several more times as he fled the scene.
Whatley was killed, but Morris survived. Police said they found Gonzalez's DNA on a hat found at the scene. In 2010, a jury convicted Gonzalez of second-degree murder and other charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.
"We had clear evidence from day one that I did not commit this crime," Gonzalez said. "But apparently they pushed and pushed and pushed, and they got a win the first time."
However, in 2015, students with the Medill Justice Project interviewed Arnold Clark who told them the gunman was not Gonzalez, but a DJ who worked at the nightclub. The students wrote a lengthy article about the case called Code of Silence.
"The Medill Justice Project receives hundreds of letters and tips every year from attorneys, inmates and their families," Beth Bennett, an associate dean of journalism at Northwestern University, said. "We look at all requests and then carefully select cases where there are questionable circumstances around the conviction. The Andre Gonzalez case is exemplary because what the students found was so revealing."
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O ruled that Clark's testimony left "plenty of room for doubt" about the case and ordered a new trial.
Prosecutors maintain Gonzalez is guilty, but they decided not to move forward with the case.
"The state of Florida, in no way, believes that this defendant is innocent of the crime," prosecutors said in a close-out memorandum. "However, in light of the changes in the evidence, we are unable to again prove Tony Brown's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt as required by law. Therefore, the state of
Florida must nolle prosse the case."