MIAMI (CBS4) – A West Palm Beach man who says he has spent nearly a decade in prison after being wrongly accused of selling drugs to an undercover officer could be one step closer to finally being released.
Both federal prosecutors and the defense attorney for 45-year-old Elroy Phillips have signed off on an agreement to vacate Phillips’s conviction in 2003 for selling crack cocaine to the former officer during a joint local, state and federal drug sting in West Palm Beach.
While Phillips’s daughter, Shatroyia Phillips of Miami, had hoped to see her father walk out of the federal courthouse in Miami as a free man on Wednesday, that did not happen.
Federal Judge Joan Lenard told both sides that she was “not sold” on letting Phillips leave jail right now.
“I have to have a factual basis for release,” Lenard said during a hearing. “I am not sold on his release.”
Judge Lenard gave Prosecutors and defense attorney Michael Zelman until May 31st to come up with she called a “joint stipulated” agreement with more details and evidence.
She said she could make a decision before that date if the agreement was submitted at an earlier date.
Zelman told Judge Lenard that the case against unfolded on April 6th, 2001 when former West Palm Beach officer Michael Gent claimed that Phillips had sold “$50 worth of crack cocaine” to an undercover officer.
“We are prepared now to go forward with evidence to show that Gent committed perjury,” said Zelman. Zelman said Gent was convicted of bribery in 2007 for shaking down an illegal massage parlor “that was a house of prostitution.”
Zelman told the court that Gent lost his Florida law enforcement license and had to perform community service. The New Times Broward-Palm Beach reported that Gent now lives in Arizona.
Judge Lenard expressed concern about the relevance of testimony and evidence against Gent that happened after Phillips was convicted.
Phillips and his daughter Shatroyia smiled as they saw each other in court.
Outside the courthouse, she told CBS4’s Peter D’Oench, “I’m just disappointed that my Dad isn’t coming home. I mean he will be coming home eventually. It’s just a matter of when.”
“I believe that he is innocent,” she told D’Oench. “He shouldn’t have been incarcerated this long and kept in prison all this time. All along he told me he was innocent.”
D’Oench asked her what it would mean to see her father released.
“It would mean a lot to me,” she said. “We are very close.”
“Are you angry?” D’Oench asked her.
“Yes,” she said.
“He’s been gone a very long time,” she said. “Now it’s up to the Judge to make a decision on when he can finally get out.”
Shatroyia said her father has a lot of plans.
“While in prison,” she said, “he became a paralegal. He could follow that or there are a number of other things he could do.”
“And we have a lot of plans for him,” she said.
The New Times Broward-Palm Beach contributed to this report