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Last NameFirst NamePictureDC NumberAgencyCase Summary
PittsFreddie 009491 Case Summary

Last Action

DateCourtCase NumberLast Action
9/11/1975  Released

Current Attorney


Last Updated

2008-01-09 11:43:13.0

Case Summary
Direct Links

The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly

PITTS, Freddie L. (B/M)                 LEE, Wilbert(B/M)

DC# 009491                                       DC# 009492

DOB:  03/09/41                                  DOB:  05/20/35


Original Trial Information:   


Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, Gulf County, Case # 519, 520

Sentencing Judge: The Honorable W.L. Fitzpatrick

Trial Attorney: W. Fred Turner, Assistant Public Defender

Attorney, Direct Appeal: W. Fred Turner, Assistant PublicDefender

Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Phillip A. Hubbart


Retrial Information:


Fourteenth Judicial Circuit, Jackson County, Case # 3-72-1,3-72-2

Retrial, Sentencing Judge: The Honorable D.R. Smith

Retrial, Trial Attorneys: Irwin Block, private attorney, forPitts

                                        Phillip A. Hubbart,Assistant Public Defender, for Lee

Retrial, Collateral Attorneys: Phillip A. Hubbart, Irwin J.Block, Maurice Rosen,

                                               JackGreenberg, Michael Meltsner, James A. Nabrit, III



Date of Offense:         07/31/63

Date of Sentence:       08/28/63

Date of Retrial:           03/15/72


Circumstances of the Offense:


On August 1, 1963, at approximately 4:30 a.m., the Gulf County Sheriff’s office received a report that the MoJo Service Station in Port St. Joe, Florida, was open and the money, the two attendants, Jesse Burkett and GroverFloyd, a paycheck cashed by Freddie L. Pitts, and a .38 caliber Smith andWesson pistol were missing. The police found the soft drink machine open, butthe money was not gone. The scene revealed no sign of struggle. Preliminaryinvestigation revealed that the disappearance of the attendants occurred afterone of the attendants received a telephone call at approximately 2:30 a.m. Two females who were on their way to go fishing found the bodies of the twoattendants on 08/03/63 around 8:30 in the morning. The bodies were in thelocation where the murder took place.


Willie Mae Lee, Wilbert Lee, Freddie Lee Pitts, WilbertLee’s wife, and Roland Lee Jones pulled up to the MoJo service station aroundmidnight on July 31, 1963. Lee made a phone call and the remainder of the grouphad a dispute with the attendants because they refused to let the group use therestrooms. The six left the station and went back to Wilbert Lee’s home andwere joined by three soldiers and another woman for a few drinks. Atapproximately 2:00 a.m., after the group had consumed some beer and moonshine,Willie Mae Lee drove Freddie Lee Pitts in his car to get some vodka. Only aftergetting into the car did Ms. Lee realize that Wilbert Lee was lying down in theback of the car. She protested, but Pitts drove to the MoJo service station.


The following sequence of events is a compilation of theconfessions made by Lee and Pitts as well as the testimony of Ms. Willie MaeLee.


Pitts and Lee robbed the gas station and abducted and killedthe two attendants. Pitts and Lee had the .38-caliber Smith and Wesson revolverthat had been taken from the service station on the first visit, which had beenaround midnight. The younger attendant had been struck in the head with therevolver and the older attendant was forced to tie the wounded man’s handsbehind his back. Pitts and Lee then robbed the station. They then put the twovictims in the front seat of the car. One of the defendants drove while theother defendant sat in the back seat with the gun pointed at one of thevictim’s head. Ms. Lee was also in the back seat. They drove approximately 12miles down White City Road to a secluded wooded spot. The defendant holding thepistol armed the other defendant with a car jack. The defendants forced thevictims to climb through an iron gate and then marched them into the woods neara canal. Both of the victims were savagely attacked with the tire iron. Theyounger victim, who had his hands tied, begged for the release of the othervictim because he was older and had a family.  His pleas were denied, and hewas shot and then his hands were untied. Ms. Lee testified that she heard twoshots and then the two defendants returned to the car and drove away with Ms.Lee in the car.


According to Ms. Lee, she was very frightened and took nopart in the crime. She also testified that the two defendants drove her homeand told her that if she told anyone about the events that she would never seeher daughter again.


The Sheriff’s Department initially considered thedisappearance of the two attendants to be due to them getting drunk andwandering off with the money. A polygraph officer arrived at Port St. Joearound noon on 08/02/63 to perform exploratory tests in a missing persons’case. Pitts and Lee, along with others who had been at the service station onthe night of 07/31/63, were questioned. Because of factual differences in theirstatements, many of those who were questioned were advised of their rights andasked to take lie detector tests. Lee was tested first and the resultsindicated deception. Pitts was tested next. He stated that he and Lee didreturn to the service station, and they had robbed the attendants and then theyhad driven away leaving the attendants alive. This information was the firstindication law enforcement had about the robbery. Lamberson Smith, one of theindividuals who had been drinking with Pitts and Lee on the night in question,was tested next. He stated that Pitts, Lee, and Willie Mae Lee left Lee’s housearound 2:00 a.m. and returned approximately two to three hours later. His testreflected no deception. Pitts and Lee were detained while the other individualswere tested. They were transported to the Bay County Jail in Panama Citybecause state officials had condemned the Gulf County Jail. They were admittedto the Bay County Jail at 10:30 p.m. Two women and one man entered writtenstatements that it was Pitts, Smith, and Willie Mae Lee who left the home andLee was in bed with his wife. Willie Mae Lee stated, when questioned and givena polygraph test, that she had been an unwilling witness to the crime anddescribed the crime in full detail, but stated that the culprits had been Pittsand Smith. Willie Mae Lee had been placed in a cell with Ella Mae Lee who, sheclaimed, had forced her to lie.  Lee was released and allowed to go home withhis wife at this time.


During the weekend, a minor male spoke with Bay CountyDeputy Kittrell and stated that he had slept in the bed with Lee’s wife. Lee’swife, Ella Mae Lee, admitted during her test that her husband left the house withPitts and Willie Mae Lee. This statement was contrary to Ella Mae’s originalstory in which she had stated that her husband had been at home in bed withher.


On 08/05/63, Willie Mae Lee was given another polygraphtest. At this time she changed her story concerning Smith being one of theassailants. Both Smith and Pitts were also tested again. Lee and his wife wererearrested on 08/06/63.


Circuit Court Judge Fitzpatrick appointed Attorney Gaskin torepresent Pitts and Lee at the arraignment only, which was held before CountyJudge Husband. The arraignment occurred on 08/07/63 and the defendants pled not guilty. Gaskin testified that, at the time he represented thedefendants, they did not appear to have been mistreated at all. County Judge Husband testified that he saw no evidence of mistreatment at the arraignment.Judge Fitzpatrick testified that he asked the defendants into his chamber andinquired as to their treatment and both Pitts and Lee stated that they had notbeen mistreated in any way. The judge went on to inquire as to whether the twohad an attorney, which they did not. He asked them if they had a preference,which they did not. The judge appointed Fred Turner. After the arraignment, theofficers brought Lee and Willie Mae Lee together.  After speaking with WillieMae, Lee orally confessed to the crime. Pitts was then united with the othertwo, and he then orally confessed as well. On 08/08/63 at 3:00 p.m., Pitts signed a written statement giving details of the crime, but stated that Lee andWillie Mae committed the crime, and he remained in the car. At 7:00 p.m. the same day, Willie Mae signed a full written statement and at 1:30 a.m. the next day Lee signed a written confession.


The night after being appointed, Turner visited the defendantsin jail and informed them of the appointment. He asked if they had beenmistreated in any way, and they had told him no. He returned to see the men thenext day. He requested copies of the statements that Pitts and Lee had made tothe police. He testified that the first statements made by the defendantsstated that they had no knowledge of the crime. Turner recorded the sessions.Turner read Willie Mae’s statement to them, and Pitts reacted by stating hewould like to see her face-to-face. The deputy brought Ms. Lee into the room,as Ms. Lee had asked to remain in jail for protection. Pitts confronted Ms.Lee, but Ms. Lee reiterated her previous statement. Lee finally agreed that itwas the truth, and told Pitts that they had better tell their lawyer the truthif they wanted his help. They discussed the fact that the gun had not beenfound, and Pitts told Turner that he had gone back to the base, had run out onthe sand dunes and had thrown the gun as far as he could.


Turner attempted to get a plea to a lesser charge for hisclient, but was unable to do so. The judge promised Turner a mercy trial[1]if the defendants pled guilty. He relayed this information to his clients, andthey decided to plead guilty. Turner testified that he did not attempt topersuade his clients about how to plea. The previous indictments were quashedand new indictments were handed down by the Grand Jury.


Pitts, Smith and three other men who were at Lee’s house onthe night of 07/31/63 were in the army. Criminal Investigation Division (CID)officers were allowed to see Pitts in the jail on 08/08/63. Pitts told the officers that he had confessed because he had been beaten. CID officers testifiedthat Pitts looked “very tired, like he was in pain.” They said he complainedthat his jaw was swollen. He asked them to feel the bumps on his head and tosee if they could tell what was wrong with his eyes, which were bloodshot. TheCID officers did not report the alleged beatings to the jail officials at thattime.


Individuals were questioned as to whether Pitts and/or Leehad made a request for a lawyer prior to one being appointed for them. SheriffDaffin testified that the two had requested that he contact Timothy Youngblood,the head of the local NAACP, on their behalf. The sheriff stated that hecontacted Youngblood, who stated that he was not a lawyer and that he hadpreviously checked on the two defendants. Turner testified that he had seenboth of the defendants in the dining area of the jail prior to his appointment.They also asked him to contact Youngblood, and Turner stated that he did.


Pitts and Lee were arraigned on 08/14/63. The defendants entered pleas of guilty before Judge Fitzpatrick. Judge Fitzpatrick again inquiredas to whether the defendants had been mistreated and again they answered thatthey had not. They indicated to the judge that they were satisfied with theirattorney’s performance.


The mercy trial was held on 08/28/63. Attorney Marion Knight was present at the trial and asked the defendants why they were pleadingguilty. Both of the defendants’ responses indicated that they had not beenbeaten or coerced. They stated that they wanted the whole thing over. Knightthen asked Turner why they had pled guilty and Turner responded that they hadconfessed to everyone who would listen. The defendants freely testified at themercy trial. They stated nothing about being mistreated.


On 10/29/63, FBI agents interviewed both Pitts and Lee. Itwas at this time that they stated that they had been beaten and subsequentlyconfessed. Then, and in ensuing statements, Pitts claimed that he had beentaken for a ride after his first polygraph test, and it was during the ridethat he was beaten. He stated that he was knocked unconscious on severaloccasions. Lee stated that he was beaten and that law enforcement officersthreatened to shave his wife’s head and execute her if he did not talk. 

New evidence was introduced in the Rule 1.850 Petition filedon 12/19/67. The petition alleged that Curtis Adams, Jr. (Boo) had committedthe crime. Adams had basically grown up in Port St. Joe. He knew the owner ofThe Mo Jo Service Station and was also friends with the attendants. Adams wasconvicted of armed robbery in Panama City in 1956. He was paroled in 1962 andmoved back to Port St. Joe. In early August of 1962, Adams and his girlfriendquit their jobs and moved to Broward County. Adams was in need of money and, onthe night of August 16, 1963, he robbed a service station, took the attendantinto the woods and killed him. The manner in which the crime was perpetratedwas very similar to the method in which the Mo Jo killings were committed.Adams and his girlfriend returned to Port St. Joe approximately three or fourmonths later to visit relatives. During this time, Adams made a trip to Fort Lauderdale where he robbed an Avon Package Store and one to Perry where he robbed asupermarket.  In April 1964, he was arrested for robbing a finance company in Key West. Adams’ mother was very sick at the time, and Adams feared that she would pass awaybefore he could see her again; therefore, he requested permission to place acall to law enforcement officers in Gulf County. He told the officers of Gulf County that if they would allow him to return that he would give them information onthe Mo Jo Service Station murders. The sheriff declined the offer. In 1966, Adams was interrogated and admitted to killing the two attendants at the Mo Jo ServiceStation.


Adams testified at the petition hearing. He stated that hedid not commit the murders, but did admit that, sometime during the night of 07/30/63 or 08/01/63, he stopped at the Mo Jo Service Station. He went into the bathroom,and while there he heard someone inside the store yell, “Don’t anybody move orI’ll shoot.” He stated that he looked out of the door and saw Pitts and anotherman taking the two attendants away. He stated that he confessed to the crimebecause 16 black men threatened him, hung him from the bars and beat him intodoing so while he was incarcerated in the Broward County Jail. He alsotestified that he knew both Pitts and Lee from the streets and from beingincarcerated with them, but stated that he had never talked to them. When askedif he had any concerns about being sent to the electric chair for somethingthat he did not do, he responded, “I never worried about dying. Everybody’sdays are numbered, so it don’t matter what you do or what; you’re not going toprolong it or you’re not going to rush it.”


Adams’ girlfriend, Mary Jean Adkins, was interviewed by lawenforcement. She recounted events that Adams had related to her concerning theMo Jo killings and that it had bothered him for a time. She changed her storywhen she was given a polygraph test and then reverted to the original storyafter the test.


All of the events that were related by Ms. Adkins and Adamsparalleled the information Pitts and Lee provided at the mercy trial.


Additional Information:


Freddie L. Pitts had no prior record before the aboveincident.


Between 1953 and the above incident, Wilbert Lee had been arrestedfour times for Vagrancy, three times for gambling offenses, and five times forMalicious Mischief or Disorderly Conduct. He was also convicted of one DUI,three weapons offenses, one Burglary, and one Aggravated Assault.


Trial Summary:


08/16/63          The defendants were indicted with twocounts of First-Degree Murder.

08/17/63          Defendants pled guilty

08/28/63          The mercy trial was held. A majority of a jury of 12 did not recommend mercyfor each of the two counts against the two defendants. Both defendants weresentenced to death.


Retrial Summary:


09/15/71          Thetrial court dismissed the original 1963 Grand Jury indictments because they hadbeen indicted by a Grand Jury from which members of the black race weresystematically excluded.

10/20/71          AGrand Jury in Gulf County re-indicted the defendants on the originalFirst-Degree Murder charges.

12/15/71          The trial court dismissed the aboveindictments on the grounds that the

Grand Jury was illegallyconstituted based on the fact that one of the jurors had been previouslyconvicted of a felony and had not had his civil rights restored. The venue wastransferred to Jackson County, Florida.

01/04/72          TheJackson County Grand Jury indicted the defendants on the original First-DegreeMurder charges.

03/15/72          Thedefendants were found guilty. A majority of the jury did not recommend mercy.Both defendants were sentenced to death.


Appeal Summary:


Florida State Supreme Court, Direct Appeal

FSC# 32981 and 33022

166 So. 2d 131


10/03/63          Appeal filed

05/29/64          FSC affirmed the conviction and sentence.

07/02/64          Rehearing denied

07/02/64          Mandate issued


United States Supreme Court, Petition for Writ of Certiorari

USSC # 535

380 U.S. 917


03/01/65          Petition denied


Circuit Court, Rule 1.850 Petition

CC # 519 and 520


04/29/69          Motion denied


District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District,Appeal of 1.850 Denial

DCA # H-203 and H-204

188 So. 2d 872


12/09/65          Appeal filed

07/21/66          DCA affirmed the trial’s court denial ofthe postconviction relief.

08/22/66          Rehearing denied

08/22/66          Mandate issued


United States Supreme Court, Petition for Writ of Certiorari

USSC # 996

386 U.S. 983


03/27/67          Petition denied


Circuit Court, Rule 1.850 Petition

CC # 519 and 520


05/13/69          Motion granted


District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District,Appeal of 1.850 Denial

DCA # L-462


06/02/69          Appeal filed

12/03/70          DCA reversed the trial court’s ordergranting postconviction of relief


Florida Supreme Court, Petition for Writ of Certiorari

FSC # 40618

247 So. 2d 53


12/30/70          Petition filed

04/21/71          FSC reversed the DCA’s order and remandedthe case to DCA to remand

to CC for retrial.

05/07/71          Mandate issued


District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District,Appeal of 1.850 Denial

DCA # L-462

249 So. 2d 47


04/21/71          On remand from the FSC

06/04/71          DCA issued a revised opinion remanding thecase for retrial


District Court of Appeals, First District, Appeal of Judgment and Sentence

DCA # T-146, T-147

307 So. 2d 473


05/13/73          Appeal filed

02/03/75          DCA affirmed judgment and sentence.




09/11/75          GovernorAskew and the cabinet, acting as the executive clemency board, granted thedefendants a full pardon by a vote of four to three.


Case Information:


Pitts and Lee filed a Direct Appeal with the Florida SupremeCourt on 10/03/63. Each filed separate appeals that were consolidated. One ofthe issues raised in the appeals was a challenge of the judge’s actions indetermining the defendants sentence, which combined the fact that thedefendants pled guilty to an indictment that did not specify the degree of theoffense with which they were charged and the fact that the judge utilized theunprecedented procedure of impaneling a jury of twelve to answer the questionof whether mercy should be given. The Florida Supreme Court found that themethod utilized by the judge did not constitute a reversible error and affirmedthe sentence of death on 05/29/64. The rehearing was denied and the mandate wasissued on 07/02/64.


Pitts and Lee then filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorariwith the United States Supreme Court. The petition was denied on 03/01/65.


Pitts and Lee then filed a petition based on Rule 1.850 withthe Circuit Court on the grounds that the composition of the grand and petitjuries was unconstitutional. The petition was denied. Subsequently, Pitts andLee filed an appeal of this denial in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, First District, on 12/09/65. The District Court of Appeals of Florida, FirstDistrict, affirmed the circuit court’s denial on 07/21/66. The rehearing was denied and the mandate was issued on 08/22/66. Pitts and Lee then filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which wasdenied on 03/27/67.


Pitts and Lee filed another petition based on the 1.850 rulewith the Circuit Court on 12/19/67. The petition was granted on 05/13/69 because the trial judge found for the petitioners on the issues of innocence andthe State knowingly or negligently withheld evidence favorable to thedefendants. The judge found for the State on all of the other issued raised inthe petition; specifically, that the confessions were not coerced but that theguilty pleas may have been. The State filed an appeal with the District Courtof Appeal of Florida, First District, and the appellees filed a cross-appeal on 06/02/69.  The District Court of Appeals found that the trial judge erred as amatter of law with respect to the burden of proof applicable in collateralproceeding, but stated that, if the conclusions made by the judge hold up whenthe correct measure of proof is utilized, and then his findings should beaffirmed. The District Court of Appeal made the following rulings: (a) thetrial court erred in finding that the guilty pleas reasonably may have been theresult of fear, (b) the trial court was correct in finding that there was noevidence displaying incompetency of counsel, (c) The evidence supposedlywithheld was immaterial because the defendants chose to plead guilty and wentto trial only on the issue of punishment, and (d) that the trial court erred infinding for the appellees on the issue of innocence. The District Court ofAppeal of Florida reinstated the original judgments of guilty and the originalsentences of death on 12/03/70.


Pitts and Lee filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with theFlorida Supreme Court on 12/30/70. The Florida Supreme Court vacated theDistrict Court of Appeals opinion “without any determination on the questionsof law” on 04/21/71. This decision was due to the fact that the AttorneyGeneral had filed a “motion in confession of error,” thereby requesting thatthe case be returned to the trial court for purposes of a new trial. Themandate was issued on 05/07/71. On 06/04/71, the District Court of Appeals published a revised opinion remanding the case to the trial court for a retrial.The District Court of Appeals, First District, issued a mandate on 06/04/71.


On 09/15/71, the trial court dismissed the original 1963Grand Jury indictments because black individuals had been systematicallyexcluded from the Grand Jury. On 10/20/71, a Grand Jury in Gulf County re-indicted Pitts and Lee with two counts of First-Degree Murder each. On 12/15/71, the trial court dismissed these indictments because the Grand Jury had beenillegally constituted because one of the jurors had previously been convictedof a felony and had not yet had his civil rights restored. Due to all of theabove activity, the venue for the case was changed to Jackson County, Florida.On 01/04/72, the Grand Jury of Jackson County indicted both defendants with twocounts of First-Degree Murder. On 03/15/72, both defendants were found guilty. A majority of the jury did not recommend mercy, and the defendants weresentenced to death on the same day.


On 08/26/72, the Florida Supreme Court issued an opinion, Inre Bernard R. Baker, which was based on the United States Supreme Courtdecision of Furman v. Georgia. This opinion voided the sentences all ofthe persons who had been sentenced to death in the state of Florida, whichincluded both Pitts and Lee. On the date of the Bernard opinion, both Pitts’and Lee’s sentences of death were commuted to life sentences.


Pitts and Lee filed an appeal of judgment and sentence inthe District Court of Appeals, First District, on 05/13/73. Some of the issues that were raised in the appeal were that the Grand Jury was unconstitutionallycomposed because black individuals were systematically excluded from the listfrom which it was drawn, the defendant’s right to a fair trial was deniedbecause of the media coverage of the case in Jackson County, Florida, forseveral years prior to the trial, and the trial judge’s refusal to permitpersons to testify about Adams’ alleged confessions. The District Court ofAppeal found no error in regard to the above-mentioned issues, in addition tothe remaining issues. Pitts’ and Lee’s judgments and sentences were confirmedon 02/03/75.


On 09/11/75, Pitts and Lee were granted a full pardon citingsubstantial doubt about either man’s guilt by the Clemency Board, whichconsisted of Governor Askew and the cabinet. On 05/01/98, House Bill Number 3035 was approved. This bill awarded Freddie Lee Pitts and Wilbert Lee $500,00each for compensation.


Prosecution/Law enforcement Statement:


Former Assistant AttorneyGeneral, Ray Marky, said that the summary of the Pitts and Lee case is quitegood and added the following comments:


Deputy Whitetestified at the 3.850 hearing held before Circuit Judge Holly that Pitts afterconfessing to the crime agreed to take him to the area where the bodies wereleft after being shot.  They proceeded to the area where there were a bunch offire roads out in the woods and Pitts kept driving them down the wrong paths. When they got fed up with the search and started heading back to the jail theypassed a road and Pitts said that was the one but the deputy said they were notgoing to keep going down useless trails.


The next day awoman fishing in one of the canals called and said that there were some deadbodies near one of the canals where they were fishing. Wayne White said thatwhen he went out the bodies were indeed down the road that Pitts last said waswhere they were.  The significance of this testimony cannot be overstatedbecause at the time no one could have known where the bodies were other thanthe perpetrators of the crime.


In the mid 80sa select committee of the House of Representatives conducted a full hearinginto the Pitts and Lee case and Dexter Douglas represented the House inpresenting witnesses who had testified at the trial held in Marianna, FL.  After a lengthy hearing the Committee voted against granting Pitts and Lee anycompensation for the alleged wrongful conviction.


It is myopinion after having participated in the case for almost 15 years that Pittsand Lee were not innocent; that the jury properly found them guilty of firstdegree murder based on the testimony of Willie Mae Lee, who testified at trialand at the House hearing but who Askew didn't bother to talk with prior toconcluding they were innocent; that the pardon was granted solely for politicalreasons


The Pitts andLee case and the disposition of it was a perversion of justice.




Defense Statement:


04/08/02          Letter sent to Irwin Block requestingcomment.


05/24/02          Telephone called placed Irwin Block andleft a message. No comment has

to date.


Current Status:


According to NCIC reports, neither Pitts nor Lee have hadany subsequent arrests.



Report Date:   04/02/02          NMP



[1]A procedure where the judge impaneled a jury of 12 men to render a verdict onwhether or not mercy should be recommended resulting in the reduction of thesentence from life to death.