He was freed after 32 years in prison. Hours remain before Florida sends him back.
TITUSVILLE, Fla. — Almost all day, Crosley Green had remained upbeat.
Even as his final hours of freedom ticked away Sunday, the 65-year-old called his return to prison a “vacation” and reassured his teary-eyed fiancee that their wedding would still happen one day. He ate strawberry ice cream at midnight and vowed hours later, as he began a schedule packed with media interviews and visits from family and friends, to have his best day yet.
But when Green stood behind the lectern at the small church he’d attended weekly since his release, he stifled a cry and turned away. He wiped his eyes with a tissue handed to him by the 7-year-old nephew who followed him everywhere. Then he soldiered on — just as he always did.
“I’m okay,” he said. “I can do this; let me show y’all. Be strong with me. I’m in God’s hands.”
The Floridian had spent 32 years in prison after being convicted in the 1989 killing of 21-year-old Charles “Chip” Flynn, whose ex-girlfriend said “a Black guy” kidnapped the two of them and shot Flynn. In 2021, a federal judge ordered Green’s release after ruling that the prosecutor had withheld handwritten notes revealing detectives initially suspected someone else: the ex-girlfriend. Green, who always denied involvement in the killing, walked out of prison gray-haired, his children long since grown.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) appealed, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the conviction, saying the withheld evidence wouldn’t have been admissible in court. Just under two years after he was allowed out on house arrest, Green was ordered by a judge to turn himself in to the state Department of Corrections.
He’s scheduled to do so late Monday afternoon, the court-imposed deadline. Barring clemency or parole — two long-shot options his attorneys are still pursuing — he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
“I’ve never thought the system was perfect,” said Keith Harrison of Washington-based Crowell & Moring, who has represented Green pro bono since 2008. “I don’t think, though, I realized just how tough it is to correct the wrong.”
But while Green’s supporters rallied around him Sunday — joining him in prayer at church, attending a luncheon at a riverfront hotel and circulating a petition calling for him to be freed — a couple 10 miles away was adamant that the jury got it right all those years ago.
Kim Hallock Landers, the ex-girlfriend Flynn was with during the last hours of his life, said in some of her first public comments in years that she was “exhausted” after decades of re-litigating the case and having blame cast upon her.
“I’m tired of being beat down by the media,” she said at her home in Titusville. “I’m sick of it. I testified to the truth. [Green] needs to go back to where he belongs.”
She added: “I’ve been told I’m the one that did it. And I did not kill anybody.”
Jeff Landers, who described Green as a “coldblooded killer,” said his wife still wakes up screaming, reliving the night Flynn died.
According to the account the then-19-year-old woman gave police, she and Flynn spent the early morning hours of April 4, 1989, smoking marijuana and discussing their relationship while sitting in his Chevy pickup truck in Holder Park. Suddenly, while Flynn was relieving himself outside, a stranger appeared wielding a handgun.
Hallock said she grabbed Flynn’s gun from the glove box and hid it under a pair of jeans. Meanwhile, the man ordered Flynn to his knees and demanded money, then tied his hands behind his back and forced him into the pickup. Still pointing the gun, he drove the couple to an orange grove.
As their assailant was yanking her out of the truck, Hallock said, she broke free. Flynn, hands still tied, got hold of the hidden gun. He fell to the ground while exiting the truck, then tried firing at the man. Seeing a chance to escape, Hallock jumped into the Chevy. She heard gunshots as she sped away, not stopping until she reached a friend’s house three miles away and called 911.
After a half-hour of searching, Brevard County deputies came upon the crime scene. Flynn lay bloodied and facedown in the grove, his hands tied, a revolver five feet away.
“Get me out of here. I want to go home” was Flynn’s only response when the deputies asked what had happened. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was dead, his killer unknown.
Investigators soon zeroed in on Green. Then 31, he had served time in prison after a 1977 armed robbery in New York. He’d taken on a fatherly role in his family after his parents’ deaths; everyone called him “Papa.”
A police dog picked up the scent of shoe prints in Holder Park and tracked it to a house where Green sometimes stayed, authorities said. Two tipsters reported that he resembled a police sketch. When Hallock picked Green out of a lineup of six Black men, he was arrested.
At trial, three people who have since recanted testified that Green had confessed to the shooting. The all-white jury convicted Green of murder. A judge sentenced him to death.
“This is a case of a racial hoax: a situation where something bad happened, somebody said a Black guy did it, and they just went looking for a Black guy,” Harrison said.
From behind bars, Green challenged his conviction and sentence. In 2009, after 19 years on death row, he was resentenced to life in prison.
He took his fight to the federal level five years later, petitioning the U.S. Middle District of Florida to overturn his conviction on the grounds that his constitutional rights were violated. Green’s attorneys argued that prosecutor Chris White’s handwritten notes from a conversation with the initial on-scene investigatorscould have led to a different verdict.
“Mark & Diane suspect girl did it, she changed her story couple times … she 1st said she tied his hands behind his back,” the notes read.
In 2018, Judge Roy Dalton Jr. of the Middle District of Florida ruled that the noteswere “clearly material,” adding that it was “difficult to conceive of information more material to the defense.” He ordered the state to release or retry Green.
Moody’s appeal kept him behind bars until 2021, when Dalton ordered that Green be let out on house arrest amid the coronavirus pandemic. Under a night sky, Green was released from prison and into the embraces of his family.
Their relief would be short-lived. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit put Green’s conviction back into effect in April last year, and when the U.S. Supreme Court in February declined to hear the case, Green was out of appeals. He learned last month that he would have to return to custody.
“I asked God, ‘How long this time?’ ” he said. “How long would it be for this time?”
The past two years have been Green’s closest brush with freedom in more than three decades. While on house arrest at his brother-in-law’s place, an ankle monitor tracked his every move, ensuring that he didn’t wander beyond approved locations: his full-time job in manufacturing, the grocery store, church.
Most of the time, Green couldn’t go beyond the mailbox, but his large circle of family and friends could still drop by; he grew close with the youngest generation of Greens, including the nephew everyone said looked just like him.
And he found “one of the things I prayed for if I ever got out: to meet someone I could share my life with.” Mutual acquaintances set him up with Katherine Spikes, a self-described “workaholic” who wasn’t looking for anyone until she met Green.
The second time he called, they talked for the duration of her drive across the country to see family. On their first date, he asked her to pull her car into the driveway so he could open the door. Later, he picked out a ring over the phone.
Spikes said Sunday that she was trying to look at her fiance’s return to prison the same way he was: a vacation with an unknown end date. But it wasn’t easy.
“I worry about 5 o’clock, because that’s the time he calls me,” she said, starting to cry. “We figure out what we’re going to eat for dinner, if ‘Monday Night Raw’ is coming on or ‘Smackdown.’ So it’s a lot I have adjusted myself to, because I love him so much.”
Green’s attorneys insist they won’t stop fighting until he’s free, with Harrison saying that “if you’re never going to give up, then any hurdle that you run into is just simply that. It’s just a hurdle.”
For now, Green said he will walk back into prison with “no tears in my eyes,” convinced that he can get through it again. And that, despite all the odds against him, it won’t be forever.
“I know one thing,” he said. “I believe I’m going to be free again. I got to believe that the good Lord is behind me and that I’m going to walk out those doors again.”
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