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Last NameFirst NamePictureDC NumberAgencyCase Summary
TibbsDelbert 046450 Case Summary

Last Action

DateCourtCase NumberLast Action
9/3/1982  Released

Current Attorney


Last Updated

2008-01-09 11:43:13.0

Case Summary
Direct Links

The Commission on Capital Cases has complied this report using a varietyof sources

TIBBS, Delbert (B/M)

AKA:  Delbert Johnson

DC # 046450  

DOB:  06/19/39        


Twentieth Judicial Circuit, Lee County, Case # 74-254 CF

Sentencing Judge:  The Honorable Thomas W. Shands

Attorney, Criminal Trial:  George W. Howard, Esq.   

Attorney, Direct Appeal:  George W. Howard, Esq.


Date of Offense:         02/03/74

Date of Sentence:       03/24/75   


Circumstances of Offense:


Delbert Tibbs was convicted and sentenced to death for the 02/03/74 rape of Cynthia Nadeau and the murder of Terry Milroy.


At trial, Cynthia Nadeau recalled the following informationconcerning the alleged crime:  On the evening of 02/03/74, Cynthia Nadeau and Terry Milroy were hitchhiking from St. Petersburg to Marathon, Florida.  A man driving a green truck picked up the pair in Fort Myers.  The truckreportedly had a rounded hood, black vinyl seats, no door handle, and an oillight that sporadically blinked on and off.  The driver then pulled off roadinto a field and stopped the truck.  The driver exited the truck and asked Milroyfor some help.  After a short time, Nadeau got out of the truck and saw thedriver holding a gun on Milroy.  The driver ordered Nadeau to undress and thenhe shot Milroy.  The assailant walked over to the place where Milroy laypleading for his life and shot him again.  Nadeau was raped and then ordered toredress.  The two got back into the truck and, upon reaching the highway,Nadeau was forced to get out and walk in front of the truck.  At that point,Nadeau was able to run and successfully escape her captor.


Delbert Tibbs was convicted of the rape and murder basedsolely on the testimony of Cynthia Nadeau, which was never corroborated.  Attrial, Gibbs, a jail cellmate, testified that Delbert Tibbs confessed to themurder of Terry Milroy.  Gibbs was given a polygraph test, which indicated thathe was telling the truth.  Subsequently, the Florida Supreme Court ruled thatGibbs’ testimony was not credible.  Tibbs was sentenced to life imprisonmentfor the rape of Cynthia Nadeau and to death for the murder of Terry Milroy.




Trial Summary:


03/27/74          Defendant indicted on the following:

                                    Count I:           Rape

                                    Count II:         First-DegreeMurder

                                    Count III:        FelonyMurder

12/14/74          The jury found the defendant guilty of Rape and First-Degree Murder, ascharged in the indictment.

12/14/74          Upon advisory sentencing, the jury voted by majority for the deathpenalty.

03/24/75          The defendant was sentenced as followed:

                                    CountI:           Rape – Life Imprisonment

                                    CountII:         First-Degree Murder – Death

07/28/76          Upon Direct Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Tibbs’convictions, vacated his death sentence, and remanded for a retrial.

09/03/82          The State dropped the charges against Tibbs.


Appellate Summary:


Florida Supreme Court, Direct Appeal

FSC # 47,258

337 So. 2d 788


04/23/75          Appeal filed.

07/28/76          FSC reversed Tibbs’ convictions, vacated his death sentence, andremanded for a retrial.

09/28/76          Rehearing denied.


Case Information:


Tibbs filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court on 04/23/75.  Tibbs’ main argument was that there was insufficient evidence to place him atthe scene of the rape and the murder at the time that they occurred.  Tibbsasserted that the uncorroborated testimony of Cynthia Nadeau was insufficientto establish his identity as the assailant beyond all reasonable doubt.


The Florida Supreme Court noted a Florida law, whichdictates that no corroborative evidence is required in a rape case where thevictim can testify directly to the crime and identify the perpetrator.  Thesame law, however, requires extreme scrutiny of the victim’s testimony if sheis the only witness for the prosecution.  As such, the Florida Supreme Courtcarefully examined the testimony of Cynthia Nadeau and found the followingweaknesses in Tibbs’ convictions.  First, no other evidence, besides Nadeau’stestimony, placed Tibbs anywhere near Fort Myers at the time of the crimes.  Infact, there was evidence to the contrary.  Tibbs presence had been establishedin Daytona Beach on February 2nd and 3rd.  He was alsoknown to have been in Leesburg on February 6th and in Ocala on February 7th.  Second, the perpetrator’s green truck was never found,even with all the details Nadeau provided the police one hour after theattack.  A car and helicopter search of the area never produced a matcheither.  Third, Tibbs was never found with a gun or car keys in his possession,nor was a gun ever found.  Fourth, police stopped Tibbs on three separateoccasions based on Nadeau’s description of the perpetrator.  He cooperated withpolice all three times and there was never any evidence to cast doubt on hiscredibility.  Fifth, since the crime happened at night and Nadeau had beensmoking marijuana all day, her ability to accurately identify her attacker wasseriously diminished.


Based on all the aforementioned information, the FloridaSupreme Court opined, “Rather then risk the very real possibility that Tibbshad nothing to do with these crimes, we reverse his conviction and remand for anew trial.”  As such, Tibbs’ convictions were reversed, his death sentencevacated, and his case remanded for retrial.


Facing retrial, Tibbs filed a motion to dismiss theindictment against him.  The trial court granted the motion, concluding that toretry Tibbs would be in violation of the double jeopardy clause of the FifthAmendment.


The State filed an appeal of the trial court’s decision inthe Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District.  The high court agreed withthe State that to retry Tibbs would not be double jeopardy, as the convictionreversal was based on the weight, not the insufficiency of the evidence againsthim.  As such, they reversed the decision and remanded for retrial. 


Tibbs then appealed the decision of the Court of Appeals tothe Florida Supreme Court.  He asked the court to rule that their previousreversal of his convictions was based on evidentiary insufficiency, notevidentiary weight.  The Florida Supreme Court noted that Tibbs’ convictionswere based solely on the testimony of Cynthia Nadeau.  If it were not for severalinfirmities, the testimony alone would have been sufficient for conviction. Since there was doubt about Nadeau’s credibility, however, Tibbs’ convictionwas reversed and remanded for retrial.


Tibbs then filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari in theUnited States Supreme Court, which was granted on 11/02/81.  Tibbs argued that to retry him would, in fact, be a violation of double jeopardy.  The UnitedStates Supreme Court noted that a reversal based on weight, rather than thesufficiency of the evidence would allow the state to initiate a newprosecution.  On 06/07/82, The United States Supreme Court affirmed thedecision of the Florida Court of Appeals, Second District.


On 09/03/82, the State dropped the charges against Tibbs.







Law Enforcement/ Prosecution Statements:


A letter requesting comment was sent to the Lee CountySheriff’s Department on 05/01/02.  On 05/06/02, Lt. Allen of the Lee County Sheriff’s Department responded indicating that both the investigators who workedon Tibb’s case have since passed away.


State Attorney Joseph Alessandro commented:


By the time of theretrial, witness/victim Cynthia Nadeau had progressed from a marijuana smokerto a crack user and I could not put her up on the stand, so I declined toprosecute.  Tibbs, in my opinion, was never an innocent man wrongfullyaccused.  He was a lucky human being.  He was guilty, he was lucky and now heis free.   His 1974 conviction was not a miscarriage of justice.


AssistantState Attorney Dean Plattner also stated:


            Ican definitely tell you that no one else was ever prosecuted for thiscrime.  To the best of my knowledge, there was never any evidence whichever pointed to anyone else as a suspect.  The eyewitness said it wasTibbs, but apparently became unavailable or incapable of giving testimonybefore a retrial could occur after the lengthy appeal process.


RaymondMarky of the Attorney General’s Office commented:


Tibbs' alibi that he was in Daytona Beach continuouslyduring the time the crime was committed was impeached by the receipt from aSalvation Army that Tibbs stayed in Orlando the night prior to themurder.  The record also demonstrated that the victim's testimony wascorroborated by an inmate who was in a cell with Tibbs who testified the latterconfessed to him.


The Tibbs case had racial overtones toit.  Several South Florida politicians had written letters to the AttorneyGeneral wanting us to confess error in the case because Tibbs was a prominentblack minister from Chicago.  It had generated complaints from Blackorganizations before that was standard operating procedure.


As an aside, I will never forgetreading the record particularly the testimony of Nadeau's testimony whichcarried with it it's own credibility.  Defense counsel suggested that shewas lying because her own boyfriend had raped her and she was just blamingTibbs.  She responded, "you have to be kidding, I've been raped somany times by men that I feel like a pin cushion.  If this was only a rapecase I wouldn't even be here -- but he murdered my boy friend."  Icalled the prosecutor and asked if that testimony was as powerful as it soundedand he told me that all of the jurors looked at Tibbs and as far as he wasconcerned the case was over at that point.


The Tibbs case was the most outrageousexample of judicial corruption I ever experienced in the 25 years that I spentin the Attorney General's Office as a criminal appellate attorney and I lostall respect for the judges who participated in the majority opinion.  Iwould love to know the behind the scenes story on this one but like JoeD'Alessandro Tibbs was not innocent of the rape and murder -- he was theunworthy recipient of intellectually dishonest judicial officers.


Defense Statements:


Defense Attorney GeorgeW. Howard is no longer a member of the Florida Bar and could not be reached forcomment.


Current Status:


According to NCIC, Delbert Tibbs has had no arrests subsequent torelease.



Report Date:   05/01/02          ew

Approved:       05/07/02          ws

Updated:         05/29/02          ew