By GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Ever since he was exonerated of rape and released from 24 years in prison, Alan Jerome Crotzer has been an outspoken advocate for those wrongfully held in Florida's prisons.
On Tuesday, the 51-year-old was back in jail on a charge of attempted murder, accused of firing eight shots and wounding the driver of a car next to him on a well-known street in Tallahassee that leads directly to the state Capitol.
The allegation stunned those who have known Crotzer since he was released from prison in 2006.
"I don't know how to describe the reaction as anything but truly shocking, and based upon my experience over the course of the past several years, it is completely out of character," said Mark Schlakman, chairman of the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Florida. "In many respects by my personal experience with him, he's an extraordinary individual."
Crotzer was arrested on Monday night and was being held in a Leon County jail without bond.
His attorney, Thomas Powell, says he has not yet had time to discuss the charges with Crotzer, but he planned to file a plea of not guilty.
Powell, who met Crotzer a year ago when he handled his divorce, called the allegations "bizarre" and "inconsistent with the Alan Crotzer I have known for the past year."
Tallahassee police say the shooting victim, Antoine Davis, told them Crotzer threatened him a couple of months ago after they had an argument over a CD he sold Davis' girlfriend. On Sunday night while leaving a Best Buy store, Davis said he saw the car that belonged to Crotzer's girlfriend. While driving away he said he saw a second car owned by Crotzer entering the parking lot.
Davis said he tried to make a U-turn right after leaving the store, but the car followed him. He alleged Crotzer fired at him while both cars were going about 40 miles per hour. Davis said he did not know Crotzer's name but police found Crotzer based on the description of his car. They said that Davis picked him out of a photo lineup.
"That's him, that's the guy who shot me," Davis told police, adding later that "he was trying to kill me."
Crotzer spent more than 24 years in prison after being convicted in 1982 of robbing a Tampa family and kidnapping and raping a 38-year-old woman and a 12-year-old girl at gunpoint.
Crotzer said he was nowhere near the scene and witnesses corroborated that, but he had a previous robbery conviction when he was 17 and a witness picked him out of a lineup. He was sentenced to 130 years in prison.
Years later, another man convicted in the robbery told police that Crotzer wasn't with them that night and revealed the real rapist. DNA testing along with the other evidence then convinced prosecutors that Crotzer wasn't involved. He was released in 2006.
In 2008, then-Gov. Charlie Crist pardoned Crotzer for stealing beer in 1979 when he was 18 and bringing marijuana into prison in 1991. Crotzer said he had turned his life around.
"I'm not that monster they try to make me be. I am a new person," he told The Associated Press in October 2008.
Crotzer is on the board of directors of the Innocence Project of Florida and has made public appearances speaking out on those who are wrongfully convicted by the state.
Schlakman said Crotzer is a powerful and compelling speaker, adding that he "has not evidenced any deep-seated bitterness based upon what he endured by way of his wrongful conviction."
The Florida Legislature in 2008 approved a bill that paid Crotzer $1.25 million for his time spent in prison. Crotzer and the state signed an agreement that guaranteed him a $6,700 a month payment for 20 years as well as a $250,000 lump sum.
The measure was a top priority of then-Senate President Ken Pruitt, but other top legislators supported the measure including then-House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Associated Press Writer Bill Kaczor contributed to this story.
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