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HOLLYWOOD (CBSMiami) – Twane Dobard remembers the moment that he knew his life was about to change. It was January 27, 2014. Dobard says his roommate told him that his name and face were plastered on the news and he was being called a person of interest in the stabbing death of a Canadian tourist.

“When I seen my face, my heart dropped,” Dobard said. “I’m like, ‘What happened.'”

Dobard said he knew nothing of the crime and nothing of the victim, Domenico Perruccio. But he turned himself in to Hollywood Police fearing for his safety and hoping to clear his name.

What happened next in an interrogation room was captured on surveillance video at the Hollywood Police Department. Dobard met with lead Detective Keith Wadsworth and was told about the murder.

“I have no knowledge of it,” Dobard told the detective during the interview. “I’m not being sarcastic. I honestly don’t know what the (expletive) going on. I wouldn’t take a life anyway.”

And Dobard, a convicted felon, knew then that his past might hold the key to his freedom in the future.

“You got prints on the knife?” Dobard asked Detective Keith Wadsworth.

“Yeah,” the detective replied. “Are your prints in the system?”

“Are my prints in the system?” Dobard said. “Hell yeah.”

“So, you ain’t got nothing to worry about,” Wadsworth said.

“I ain’t worried,” Dobard said.

But it wasn’t his fingerprints that would help Dobard. It was his DNA. But for the time being, officers would soon lead Dobard off to jail where he would be charged with murder and have that charge hanging over his head for the next 10 months.

THE CRIME

In the early morning of January 26, 2014, Hollywood Police say tourist Domenico Perruccio approached an admitted prostitute, Wendy Agosto, near Jefferson Street and South Federal Highway. Agosto told police when Perruccio walked away to get a room for them, Dobard, who she calls Gonzo, wandered by. Agosto, who suffered a stroke, told Detective Wadsworth after the murder that Gonzo attacked Perruccio and robbed him and used the stolen money to buy drugs.

“Gonzo got him and grabbed him,” Agosto told Wadsworth during her interview at the Hollywood Police Department. “He was taking whatever was in the guy’s pockets.”

Agosto swore that her story was the truth.

“And you’re 100% sure that this is the guy you saw attack the Canadian guy?” Wadsworth asked Agosto.

“Oh, that is,” Agosto said. “He did.”

Dobard admits that on the night of the murder he was smoking crack but says he had nothing to do with the crime.

“I was very far down the street like a mile and a half but I seen the crime scene unit out there,” he said. “I never knew what happened. It didn’t concern me.”

CBS4 News asked Dobard about Agosto’s allegations.

“She saw you with money and crack after the murder,” a reporter asked Dobard.

“Never,” he replied.

“(She says) You told her you needed a place to stay to lay low,” the reporter asked.

“Never,” he replied. “I hadn’t seen her within a month.”

With a suspect named, investigators gathered evidence at the crime scene, focusing on the murder weapon — a knife and sent it to the Broward Sheriff’s Office Crime Lab for DNA testing. What they discovered about the knife would throw their case into chaos. In the meantime, Dobard sat in jail and wondered what his family thought of him.

“Every time I go into court I’m in shackles,” he said. “I’m labeled as a murderer.”

THE DNA

Behind the scenes, Dobard’s attorneys say a paper trail on the murder weapon was growing but was hidden from them. CBS4 News got copies of the Crime Lab DNA reports from the Broward State Attorney’s Office. They reveal a timeline that leads to questions about why the DNA evidence was not turned over to prosecutors and Dobard’s attorney’s more quickly.

In March, just a few weeks after the murder, Dobard’s attorneys say the DNA results on the knife handle did not come back to Dobard. In April, after testing the DNA through the State of Florida’s DNA Investigative Support Database, the crime lab wrote to Hollywood Police saying that another person’s DNA was on the knife handle, a man named Phillip Grant. The crime lab requested that Hollywood Police submit Grant’s DNA to test and “complete the forensic analysis in this case.” But Dobard’s attorneys say that was not done for months.

Also in April, the BSO Crime Lab verified that Dobard was “excluded as a possible contributor” on the knife. Yet Dobard remained locked up in the Broward County Jail, charged with murder.

In May, Phillip Grant sat in an interrogation room with Detective Wadsworth to give his DNA and answer a few questions.

During the interview with Wadsworth, the detective said “I have an eyewitness that says Gonzo did the homicide the crime by himself but I’m trying to understand is how something he had in his possession might have your DNA on it.”

Wadsworth questioned Grant about his DNA being on an item found at the crime scene — without specifically mentioning the knife — and wanted to know if Grant and Dobard — or Gonzo — spent time together.

Wadsworth asked, “Is it possible that you guys were hanging around together, he was over your house or he was someplace that you were that he could have taken something of yours that had your DNA on it? That’s the question.”

Grant replied, “I haven’t been with Gonzo.”

Even though Wadsworth took Grant’s DNA at the May interrogation, Dobard’s attorneys say an evidence submission form shows that Wadsworth did not send in Grant’s DNA to be tested until October — 5 months after Wadsworth got Grant’s DNA. All the while Twane Dobard sat in jail on a murder rap and he and his attorneys say they were never told of the DNA results that would have exonerated him.

“They were withholding information from us,” Dobard said.

Then in November, DNA tests confirmed that Grant’s DNA was on the handle of the knife. Two days later, prosecutors dropped the murder charge against Dobard.

“They always say that the truth shall set you free,” Dobard said. “And the truth set me free.”

Dobard’s attorney, Michael Orlando, says he tried unsuccessfully for months to learn what the DNA tests showed but Detective Wadsworth did not turn over the results to him, the court or prosecutors.

“That’s quite a bit of time for somebody to be sitting in jail on a murder charge not being aware of the DNA,” said Orlando, who works for the Office of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel in Fort Lauderdale.

Dobard’s attorneys filed a formal complaint with the Hollywood Police Department against Detective Wadsworth.

“I wanted the department to know what happened and to be able to look into this and to put this detective into a position to have to explain himself,” said Melissa Minsk-Donoho, Chief Assistant Regional Counsel.

STATE ATTORNEY RESPONSE

The Broward State Attorney’s Office released a memo in this case in May. It says that after the DNA revealed that Dobard was not the killer, detectives brought Agosto back in for an interview. The prosecutor wrote wrote, “(S)he seemed agitated and nervous about giving a statement. She was not making sense and was difficult to understand. She finally acknowledged that she knew the person whose DNA was on the knife. She recognized him as also being there on the night of the murder.”

Agosto told police that Grant, whose DNA was on the knife, “looked like ‘Gonzo.'”

The end result — prosecutors could not move forward with the case. “Due to the issues with the DNA and the only eye-witness to the case now having serous credibility issues the state could not go forward in good faith with the prosecution because there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction,” wrote prosecutor Adriana Alcalde-Padron.

POSTSCRIPT

Twane Dobard admits that he’s no saint. He’s got a long rap sheet and says he was smoking crack the night Perruccio was murdered. But he believes his criminal past only made it easier for police to accuse him of the crime.

“From what I was doing the community and the media, everyone probably thought I did it, cuz I was just hopeless,” Dobard said.

He says he’s gotten his life together, is working and is clean and sober. He actually says there was a silver lining to his time behind bars.

“I knew God had a bigger plan,” Dobard says. “I think it was time out to get myself together.”

But he believes the Hollywood Police took 9 months of his life away for a crime he didn’t commit.

“It’s not right,” he said. “It’s not fair just that my life can be taken.”

CBS4 News tried on multiple occasions to speak with the Hollywood Police detective involved in this case and the Hollywood Police Chief. Our requests were denied. A Police Spokesperson said there is an open internal affairs investigation in the case and no one from the department will speak while the IA is ongoing.

However, Jeff Marano, the President of the Broward County Police Benevolent Association, spoke to CBS4 News regarding the investigation. He claims that Detective Wadsworth handled the case appropriately and said that DNA does not always tell the full story.

“Just because his DNA was not on the weapon does not mean that he did not kill that person,” Marano said. “DNA is not an absolute.”

Marano also said that once investigators learned about the DNA discrepancy prosecutors were informed. He added that Dobard’s arrest was based on eyewitness testimony, not DNA.

“The eyewitness was very solid at the time,” Marano said. “It went through the process of a warrant signed by a judge, presented to the grand jury. So this not a willy-nilly, one arrest and you’re incarcerated. This went through a long process.”

Phillip Grant is currently in prison in Florida City on unrelated charges.

The family of Domenico Perruccio did not want to speak publicly about the case or the developments in the case. No one has been arrested for his murder. Prosecutors wrote in the close-out memo on the case, “(T)he Hollywood Police department continues to investigate this case and further DNA testing is being conducted.”

Carey Codd

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