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Sentenced To Death With Her Husband For A Crime They Didn’t Commit, She Lost Her Husband, But Found Inner Freedom | Sunny Jacobs

Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs and Jesse Joseph Tafero, the father of the younger of her two children, were tried separately, convicted, and sentenced to death by the same judge for the 1976 murders of two law enforcement officers at a rest stop off of Interstate 95 in Broward County, Florida, USA.

According to the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Bluhm Legal Clinic, Sunny, her husband, their 10-month-old daughter, Jacobs’ 9-year-old son, and Walter Norman Rhodes, a friend of her husband’s, were sleeping in a car that was approached by a Florida Highway Patrol trooper on routine patrol, accompanied a vacationing Canadian constable friend, on February 20, 1976.

Chaos erupted after the on-duty patrol officer heard that Rhodes had a criminal record on the police radio. Gunfire ensued and the two police officers were killed. The group sped off in the patrol car driven by Rhodes. At a nearby apartment complex, Rhodes commandeered a car and kidnapped the man in it. They were later captured when Rhodes lost control of the car in an attempt to evade a police roadblock.

Jacobs and Tafero maintained from the beginning that Rhodes had shot the officers, and that they had no choice but to go along with him after the shooting.

Both Sunny’s husband and his friend had gunpowder residue on their hands, a fact that was consistent with Tafero’s claim that Rhodes handed him the gun after shooting the officers. There was no gunpowder residue on Jacobs’ hands.

The convictions of Jacobs and Tafero rested primarily on the testimony of Rhodes, who was allowed to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. In Jacobs’ case, the prosecution also presented the testimony of a jailhouse informant, Brenda Isham, who claimed Jacobs had confessed.

The trials were surrounded by massive publicity, which was overwhelmingly prejudicial. All prospective jurors acknowledged knowing about the case, and neither jury was sequestered. The jury in the Jacobs case recommended a life sentence, but Judge M. Daniel Futch, Jr. imposed death, as he had done earlier in the Tafero case. Futch, known as “Maximum Dan,” was a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper who kept a miniature replica of an electric chair on his desk.

A 28 year old mother, Sunny Jacobs, was charged with first-degree murder of two police officers and kidnapping, and sentenced to death in the electric chair for the murders and life for the kidnapping, together with her husband. At the time of sentencing, their daughter was 10 months old and their son was 9 years old. Listening to her story, I couldn’t help but feel her deep sense of helplessness when she was incarcerated and denied access to her little children, something that no mother would ever want to experience.

Sunny’s husband, Jesse Tafero, was executed on May 4, 1990, and her daughter tried to take her own life when she found out how brutal the death of her father had been. She was about 15 years old when she heard that during her father’s execution, the electric chair had malfunctioned and her father was burnt to death. This created a deeper hole in Sunny’s heart and she wished for the freedom to be there for her children, because she felt that maybe she could make a difference.

Spending days in darkness, waiting for her own life to be taken away, Sunny said she realised that she still had a choice to decide how she would spend her time. While she felt the most hopeless, she decided that she didn’t have to see life the way others saw it. She realised that while she still lived, she was still in charge of her life; that her life still belonged to her and that she could still decide how she wanted to live it.

It was during that time that she realised that there is a freedom in life that you can give yourself on the inside, even when you have no control over your outside circumstances. She turned her cell into her sanctuary, spending time doing yoga, meditation and prayer. She chose to believe in hope rather than hopelessness. Instead of focusing on seeing herself as a prisoner and a victim waiting for her life to taken, she decided to focus on her spiritual work and built her inner being.

She managed to find inner freedom while her outer freedom had been taken away. This sent me into deep reflection over what really is important in life. It puzzled me how someone so violated, hurt, misunderstood and disempowered managed to find a peace and freedom that she had never known before in such dire circumstances. Her story challenged me to re-look at my own attitude towards life in my circumstances. With the little injustices we experience and the negative circumstances that come our way, we are quick to turn negative and refuse to allow for the possibility of the positive.

She refused to live in misery, anger and fear, because she believed that freedom is a gift that only you can give yourself. She teaches us that inner peace is not gained from outward conditions and prosperity, because in her lowest moment, stripped of everything, waiting for her death she found true freedom. She determined that freedom is a gift that you give yourself, and you can free yourself form your past and your circumstances and change how you think and behave within those circumstances, even without the circumstances changing.

Eventually, with the help of friends and volunteering lawyers who always believed in her innocence, her sentence was changed from death to life, and eventually she was released after 16 years in prison on October 9, 1992. It took a series of appeals and court reappearances. Brenda Isham, the jailhouse informant who had helped send Jacobs to death row a decade earlier, admitted that she had committed perjury at the trial and that Jacobs, in fact, had not confessed. Isham said that, before she agreed to testify, detectives had warned her that she might “make an enemy” of the Broward County State Attorney if she refused to testify against Jacobs.

Watch the video feature on her story by Goalcast below…

About The Author

Desmond Mapfumo is a Mindset Coach, Startup Builder and Consultant. He is the Founder and Contributing Editor For Inspiration Media Publications. Inspiration Media is member of the Rebirth Group, which he also founded and leads as the Chief Executive Officer.

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