Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Let's Get Chappell Case Right, Bush Says; the Governor Said He Means No Disrespect to Shorstein, Understand His Criticism

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Let's Get Chappell Case Right, Bush Says; the Governor Said He Means No Disrespect to Shorstein, Understand His Criticism

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE -- The 42-year-old case of Johnnie Mae Chappell is not yet cold enough to close, Gov. Jeb Bush said Wednesday in explaining his decision to appoint a special prosecutor to re-examine the racial slaying in Jacksonville.

In the governor's first comments on his decision this week to have another prosecutor re-investigate the 1964 shooting, Bush said his advisers had recommended he overrule a Florida Department of Law Enforcement report that essentially said the case could not be successfully prosecuted.

State Attorney Harry Shorstein of Jacksonville also had reviewed the case and concluded that further investigation was not warranted.

On Monday, the governor picked State Attorney Bill Cervone of Gainesville to reopen the case. Shorstein sharply criticized Bush's decision by calling it "outrageous" and "unjustified."

"I was told there was enough concern that having a fresh look at this was appropriate," Bush said Wednesday. "It came from my legal office, which was briefed by FDLE. In these cold cases, it's appropriate to make sure that whoever was around at the time got it right.

"It may be that there's not enough evidence," the governor said. "There's certainly doubt about the murder, there may not be enough evidence given the length of time between now and when the crime was committed to prosecute. That's the determination of the attorney [Cervone]. But it's appropriate to have a fresh set of eyes look at this, given the kind of case it was."

Bush, a Republican, said he understands Shorstein's criticism and that his decision "was no sign of disrespect for him . . . I admire him."

Shorstein, a Democrat, said Wednesday the FDLE report was clear and complete and that Bush's action violates tradition. It also sets a precedent by which future prosecutorial decisions could be politicized, Shorstein suggested, since politicians could simply remove and replace state attorneys if they disagree with their legal strategy in a particular case. …

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