The last time they saw each other was 29 years ago.
Anthony Caravella was 15 and mentally challenged, and he had a crush on his friend, Dawn Simone, who was a year older. They had been arrested together at her house — the cops said they were picking him up on a stolen bicycle charge and they arrested her because she'd lied and said Caravella wasn't there.
At the Miramar Police Department, Caravella apologized repeatedly, told her not to worry, he'd get her out of trouble. He kissed her.
Caravella spent most of the next 26 years in prison. Simone never anticipated he would confess to a rape and murder he didn't do. The cops fingerprinted her, then smeared the black ink on her face. She remembers they later told her “never to talk to Anthony again, to stay away from him.”
On Friday — 29 years later — Dawn Simone Herron came to federal court in Fort Lauderdale to speak on Caravella's behalf.
“He told me he was going to give them a statement so I wouldn't get in trouble,” she testified.
“He told me that he was sorry he got me in trouble and he was going to fix everything and get me out of trouble.” She said he reassured her that she didn't need to worry about what he was going to tell the cops, he hadn't done anything bad and he'd be all right.
Now 46, a registered nurse and a mom who lives in Sunrise, it was the first time Simone Herron had ever been called to testify in any legal proceedings concerning Caravella. Caravella's lawyer called her as a witness in his civil suit against the city of Miramar, the Broward Sheriff's Office, and four retired detectives — William Mantesta, George Pierson, Bill Guess and Tony Fantigrassi — who are accused of maliciously framing him for the murder and coercing him into confessing.
Caravella was released from serving life in prison in September 2009 when DNA testing excluded him as the source of any physical evidence found on the victim, Ada Cox Jankowski, a 58-year-old woman who was raped, stabbed dozens of times and fatally strangled on the grounds of Miramar Elementary School in the early hours of Nov. 5, 1983.
Simone Herron was 16 at the time. She remembered hanging out with Caravella at her childhood home in Miramar when the police came looking for him on the evening of Dec. 28, 1983. She said he wasn't there. They came back later, mad, she said, because they'd found out she lied.
Miramar police officers “kinda stormed in” to the house and into the garage, where Caravella was hiding. She heard a lot of banging, yelling, screaming and a ladder falling, but she couldn't see what was happening, she testified.
At the police department, she heard more “yelling, banging and screaming” when Caravella was out of her sight. The only physical violence she witnessed was when one officer pushed Caravella and he stumbled.
Simone Herron was fingerprinted, she said: “Detective Pierson said, ‘Think about what you did' because I lied. He pushed my hand to my face and I remember having smears [of fingerprint ink] on my face.”
Her mother had followed them to the department and Simone Herron was released.
Simone Herron said she had never been in trouble before, or since.
At some later time, she couldn't remember exactly when, two officers — she thinks Mantesta and Pierson — picked her up: “They told me Anthony wanted to see me and if they let him see me, he would give a statement.”
They let her talk alone with Caravella at the department.
“He told me he was going to give them a statement so I wouldn't get in trouble ... He kept repeating, ‘I'll get you out of trouble.' “
Nobody called Simone Herron to testify at Caravella's criminal trial in 1984. Al Smith, an investigator for the Broward Public Defender's Office, tracked her down in 2005.
Defense lawyers for Miramar tried to stop Simone Herron from testifying about some conversations, but U.S. District Judge James Cohn ruled the evidence was relevant because it showed Caravella's state of mind.
“We're talking about a 15-year-old, there's evidence he was mentally challenged. I think how he responded in different situations in that period of time ... I think it has probative value,” the judge ruled.
The eight jurors seemed to hang on Simone Simone Herron's every word, several scribbled notes and stared at her and Caravella during this bittersweet reunion.
Simone Herron was unwavering in her testimony despite aggressive questioning by Matthew Mandel, one of the lawyers representing Miramar and the three retired city detectives. She didn't cry, but the emotion in her voice was evident.
After Simone Herron was finished testifying, she walked out of the courtroom and Caravella followed her. They talked alone for just a few minutes while he inhaled deeply on a cigarette. Then they hugged for a long time.
“He just said he did all that for me,” Simone Herron told a reporter later. “I wish I would've known so I could have done something then ... I didn't realize there was anything I could do. When you look back as an adult, you see things you could have done, but I just didn't know what I could do.”
She was visibly shaken by the changes that more than 25 years in prison wrought on the cute, teenage boy she once knew: “He's lost most of his life.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun