Cary Keno Not Guilty, "Completely Exonerated"

May 15, 1999
Cary Keno was a victim of mistaken identity: a young child’s unreliable testimony, an accuser who "made it all up", and unknown fingerprints on a mysterious memo.  On Thursday, a jury swiftly acquitted the “squeaky-clean” Keno of extortion.

“It was obvious to us that Cary Keno didn’t do it,” noted Juror Number 3. “He is completely exonerated of any wrongdoing; the evidence of his innocence is overwhelming,” the juror added. 

In a curious tale involving a secret letter and an election, Keno had been falsely accused of threatening to publicize rumored misconduct by Tim Smith. In ’97, Smith was a candidate for the Fort Lauderdale City Commission, a post Keno previously held for two terms.

An anonymous, typewritten letter was left at Smith's doorstep on Jan. 11, 1997, advising Smith to give up his campaign. The letter was never published however, and Smith stayed in the race, eventually edging out the other candidates.

There were numerous accusations made against Smith, a landlord and owner of a landscaping company. Among the details in the bombshell letter: that Smith illegally claimed a homestead exemption on a house he owns, exposed himself to a tourist during Spring Break in 1983 and stocked rental apartments with stolen appliances.

Smith denied the accusations.  Keno said he had nothing to do with the letter.

“Cary Keno had chosen not to run for reelection; he had no motive and nothing to gain from Smith’s downfall,” one juror was later heard commenting.

The shadowy figure of the case, Juliano Jeyamo, was a neighbor of Smith’s with a long-held grudge and an "axe to grind.” Jeyamo gave his peculiar account of an incident involving a property dispute he had with Smith some years back, that led to “chasing around with a pickaxe”. Jeyamo said he disseminated information that appeared in the letter about Smith as a way to get his revenge.  “I made it all up”, Jeyamo testified. “After I put out that information, it took on a life of it’s own.” Jeyamo said, “I was testing him.”

In the course of their investigation, FDLE officials built their case around an unreliable 8-year old witness, Benito Sepulveda.  The boy was a neighbor of Smith's who said he was playing outside his home around the time of the alleged incident on Jan. 11.

While hiding behind a bush from “quite a distance”, Benito said he saw someone at Smith's house that day and was later asked to pick Keno out of a photo lineup set up by investigators.  “The boy was prompted and then congratulated for choosing Cary Keno,” claimed Jamie Benjamin, one of Keno’s attorneys.

Benjamin said that a rival candidate, Sam Iannocone, was at Smith’s house that day. Benjamin implicated
Iannocone in the letter-writing scheme, but noted that investigators never included Iannocone's face in the photo lineup."

Benito said he saw a car pull up that was white with two doors and funny wheels,” Keno’s attorney said. “Iannocone drives a car just like the one seen by the boy - - b
ut Cary Keno drives a black, four-door BMW car with regular wheels.”

Benito also described the man he saw at Smith's house as having curly black hair and wearing glasses. “But that description fits Iannocone, not Cary Keno,” Benjamin said, pointing to his client, “Look at Mr. Keno … he has straight, brown hair and does not wear glasses.” Keno’s attorney then noted that Iannacone has curly black hair, and wears glasses, as described by the boy.

Daniel Aaronson, another Keno attorney, displayed the photo lineup in court, telling the six-member jury, “Only Cary Keno is wearing a suit and tie in these photos, and his face is more clearly defined than the other men in the lineup - - a photo so different from the others that it jumps right out at you.” Aaronson further argued that Keno's photo was “strategically placed right in the middle and had a different background from the others” surmising that, “it’s simple child’s play to single out Keno’s picture just by chance or by suggestion.” Aaronson noted that Iannacone was a challenger to Smith, was trying to defeat Smith in the city election and had a strong motive, but that Iannacone’s photo was left out of the lineup “either by oversight or by design.”
However, the moment of truth arrived when the young child was able to see Keno face-to-face for the first time, sitting in the front row of the courtroom.  When asked to identify Keno, Benito looked over and admitted that Keno was not the man he saw who dropped off the letter.

At this pivotal moment as the shaky case seemed to crumble, courtroom observers appeared stunned by the dramatic turn of events in Keno’s favor.

After the jury adjourned for deliberations, it took them mere minutes to unanimously clear Keno of the single charge, the speediest jury decision in recent memory. One juror summed it up, “Clearly, Cary Keno was the real victim here.”

Earlier in the day, Keno’s attorneys had also highlighted the fact that there were unidentified fingerprints “left by the real culprit” on the letter, and that investigators had conducted sophisticated crime lab analysis and discovered that Keno's fingerprints were not on the letter. "The fact that Keno’s fingerprints aren't there means he's not guilty; he’s “squeaky-clean," Aaronson said. “To have forged ahead in a rush to judgment has been a miscarriage of justice.  Some unknown person left their incriminating fingerprints on that letter - - match those prints and you’ll will find your perpetrator,” Aaronson concluded.

Following the verdict, Keno embraced his attorneys, hugged family members and thanked his many supporters who packed the courtroom.  Keno then put his head on his hands in what appeared to be a prayer of thanks.  "I was falsely accused, it's not very pleasant. But now I’ve been vindicated. Praise be to the Lord, Jesus Christ.”

Asked how he felt after his acquittal, Keno said, “Young children can make honest mistakes and can be easily influenced; that boy is to be held blameless.  But as for Mr. Jeyamo, that man who admitted he made it all up … that was a despicable and dastardly deed.  His careless actions have damaged some reputations, and as a Christian man I forgive, but may God have mercy on him.”


Sources: New Times, Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald

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