First of all, I implore everyone to be safe, to be kind to one another, and to think about the safety of others as we get through this painful pandemic. We are in difficult times but as a nation, we will get through it.
This blog is about the need to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry who spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Rodney began his prison sentence on March 24th, 1997 and concluded his 20 year prison sentence on March 13, 2017. Before serving one day in prison he was a hardworking, law abiding citizen and in the three years since he was released from prison, he remains a hardworking, law abiding citizen. He can’t get those 20 years back that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office stole from him, but District Attorney Ashley Rich can 1) apologize to Rodney K. Stanberry on behalf of the office, 2) work to exonerate him and 3) implement reforms such as establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit to address wrongful convictions. While she was not the district attorney when then Assistant DA Buzz Jordan prosecuted Rodney, as the leader of the office who has been asked to address Rodney’s case for many years now, she can do right by his case before she seeks an additional term in 2022.
On March 2, 2020 Rodney posted the following on his Facebook page:
For those that REALLY know me, know that 28 years ago, my 25 year long Nightmare began. Through Family and Friends I not only survived, but I maintained my morals and values, and returned to society as a contributor and family man as I was the day I drove MYSELF to the prison gates, with a sole letter saying my 2 year appeal was denied, and to turn myself in to start my sentence. @SURVIVOR! Artemesia Stanberry/ Marc Powe and many many more thank you so so much!
Rodney was arrested in March 1992, convicted in 1995, and began serving his prison sentence in March 1997. So while he spent 20 years in prison, he had to experience what it was like to be falsely accused and arrested since 1992. No amount of evidence, not even a confession by an actual guilty party would prevent the prosecutor from pursuing a wrongful conviction and no amount of evidence would prevent the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from ensuring that Rodney served every moment of his 20 year sentence.
March 2nd , 1992 is when a nightmare began for two families. An innocent mother and wife was brutally attacked and shot and an innocent man served 20 years of his life in prison for these crimes (robbery, burglary and attempted murder) that he did not commit. Rodney received a lot of comments and likes on the above post ranging from individuals who were incarcerated with him expressing how much he supported and motivated them while incarcerated, friends from the past, friends from today, and family members, all of whom remained by his side. What you will learn just from reading their responses to his post is the type of person Rodney was before his incarceration during his incarceration and to the present day. Rodney rarely, if ever, missed a day of work prior to the days before he surrendered to the state on March 24th 1997, after being arrested in 1992, and convicted in 1995, and his prison sentence in 1997 following the loss of an appeal. Keep in mind that his company kept him employed throughout this ordeal as they knew he was working when the brutal crimes took place. The company had no incentive to protect, nor lie for Rodney and his supervisor not only testified in court that Rodney was at work, but also went before the parole board during one of three of Rodney’s parole hearings to help to secure his release. As Rodney was a hardworking, law abiding citizen before he was incarcerated, once he was released after serving every day of his 20 year sentence, what was immediately on his mind was 1) to stage a protest at the Mobile Municipal Government building where the Mobile District Attorney’s Office is located to highlight his wrongful conviction and 2) to find a job. He was not content with not working because that is what he was doing when Assistant District Attorney Buzz Jordan opted to pursue an innocent man. Fortunately he was able to find a job and to continue to demonstrate the type of person Rodney is, his new coworkers, after he was out of prison for less than a year, celebrated his first birthday after he was released from prison with him. Rodney was not and is not a criminal; everyone who has met him understands this. It is criminal that the system failed him.
I’ve written this before but one of the many painful moments was when prosecutor Buzz Jordan interviewed Rodney at his job without reading him his Miranda Rights; it dawned on Rodney that Jordan and the officer accompanying Jordan, though Jordan did all of the talking, was treating him as a suspect with the line of questions asked. Rodney essentially told them that they are acting like he is a suspect when it has already been established that he was not at the victim’s home (pg 49- http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Jordan20bfi1.161162558.pdf) Jordan and his pursuit of a wrongful conviction won the day and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from Chris Galanos, John Tyson, Jr. to current DA Ashley Rich worked to keep him in prison. This is not justice for the victim as no one wins, except for prosecutors enhancing their careers, when the wrong and innocent person is convicted. Rodney spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He walked out of prison on March 13, 2017 and was interviewed within an hour of his exit from prison by Bill Riales who wrote an investigative piece about Rodney’s case. We are three years from his release and Rodney 1) continues to be a hardworking , law abiding citizen and 2) continues to have a conviction on his record. It is time for the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to acknowledge Rodney’s wrongful conviction, work to get his record expunged and implement reforms in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s reelection, should she run for a third term, is in 2022 and whether she, or one of her protégé’s run for the seat, Rodney’s case needs to be front and center should she not act to do the right thing.
Just Mercy-The Book, The Movie, The Lived Experience
Many of you may have either read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption a book written by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, or have seen the movie. The movie Just Mercy highlights one of the major cases in his book, the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillan, who was put on death row before he even had a trial, who was convicted even though he was not at the scene of the crime. I wrote this blog after reading the book and was very emotional after watching the movie. Rodney also saw the movie (and read the book) and here are his thoughts about. He sent this to me on March 23rd, 2020 at 10:20pm
Rodney Stanberry: “How I felt watching Just Mercy? Wow, the book does the movie no justice. The part that took my breath was the part where they were waiting on word from the Alabama Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the Circuit court for retrial. Even though I read the book twice, watching this scene sent shivers down my spine. The fact that I wrote Mr. McMillan. In which he wrote me a short letter, telling me TO HOLD ON AND NEVER GIVE UP. Waiting for the DA to tell the court that he did not have an objective to the case being dismissed caused me to shake uncontrollably, as if it was me myself.”
No one can truly understand what it is like to be wrongfully convicted unless one has actually experienced it, which is the case with Rodney and McMillan. The latter was exonerated, but it is not too late to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry. In future posts I will highlight some cases where district attorney offices that have established a Conviction Integrity Unity have worked to overturn a conviction, even after an individual had served out his term. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich needs to do this for Rodney’s case. As we are experiencing this global pandemic, we continue to understand how short and fragile life is. Rodney had 20 years of his life stolen from him, more if you included the day in 1992 when he was accused and arrested for crimes he did not commit. His mother did not live to see him a free man, fortunately his now 86 year old father did. And the victim, who is also no longer alive, never received true justice as justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted.
In conclusion, I watch Westerns from time to time. I am not sure which one it was, perhaps The Virginian as that is a show that is often airing. There were cattle rustlers in an up and coming town. There did not seem to be a real way to hold them accountable and the sheriff seemed to turn the other eye to the lawbreaking. A line uttered by one of the cattle rustlers when talking to a partner was that they need to thank the sheriff. Why, his partner asked, he hasn’t done anything. Exactly, was the response. The judge in the town tasked the main character to go after the cattle rustlers and to make it be known that it will not be tolerated because if the cattle rustlers continue their behavior, then it will lead to continued lawlessness. The main character and his posse, a group of law abiding townsmen, went after the cattle rustlers. They found them. One of them was a close friend of the main character. The friend thought he would be allowed to go free because of the relationship. It did not work out that way, he met the ultimate penalty. The explanation is that friend or not, if I let him get away with it, then lawlessness will win. The main character sent a message that he is pursuing justice against thieves and his friend was a thief, he made the choice and he has to suffer the consequence (on a personal note, I did think the consequence was a bit harsh, but that for another debate). Anyway, when District Attorneys are presented with evidence that prosecutors working in their offices past and present engaged in prosecutorial conduct that led to the conviction of an innocent man, the response should not be to uphold the conviction at all cost; rather, it should be to pursue justice even if against a comrade, so to speak. Otherwise, prosecutorial conduct will continue with impunity. If a prosecutor knows he can get away with convicting the innocent because he is “friends” with other prosecutors and because convictions are gold, it makes the gold rush worth it. The more gold, the wealthier, even if risks and shortcuts are taken. The more convictions, the more likely one is to climb the career ladder and this makes the convictions worth it, even if risks and shortcuts are taken, even if the innocent are convicted. This, of course, devalues what the public views as justice.
A Travesty of Justice Can’t Be Taken Back, But Justice Can Still Be Pursued
What happened to Rodney K. Stanberry is truly a travesty of justice. Prosecutor Buzz Jordan had a confession from the actual culprit but he dismissed it because it did not fit his theory, Jordan said under oath at Rodney’s Rule 32 Post conviction hearing that he went to visited Rikers Island Prison in New York where he visited someone the state says was Rodney’s accomplice but he did not take notes because he claims he was on vacation, Jordan had evidence that Rodney was at work and could not have been able to be at the victim’s home, and I can go on. Jordan will say that he relied on the testimony of the victim, but he knows that she said she did not know who shot her and that Rodney was identified when the police put pictures provided by Rodney to help the police identify one of the guilty culprits in front of the victim as she was recovering from a coma and said which one of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house. Buzz Jordan could have pursued justice and the truth, instead, he took a hardworking, law abiding individual from a two parent household off the streets for 20 years. Rodney deserves justice and it is never too late to do the right thing. When the guilty know they can easily go free because the prosecutor opts to pursue the innocent, it does not generate a sense of justice and fairness within the system. And it should not generate a sense of safety and comfort among the public. When the innocent are incarcerated, the guilty remain free.
You can call the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to request, respectfully, that she works to overturn Rodney K. Stanberry’s conviction and to institute a Conviction Integrity Unit to address wrongful convictions. The number for the office is (251) 574- 8400 the email address is email@example.com. Please always be respectful.
When They Saw Him: The Case of Rodney K. Stanberry
There is a lot of discussion around Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series entitled When They See Us. The series is about the Central Park 5, now also known as the Exonerated 5 as they were exonerated, but not before their teen years were stolen from them; not before they experienced a grave injustice at the hands of prosecutors and the judicial system; and not before they got a true understanding of what it means to be guilty before being proven innocent, which is the opposite of what we are taught about our judicial system. These individuals did not have a chance once they were accused. The case of the Central Park 5 is well known, but from what I understand, Ava Duvernay’s series provides one with a no holds barred insight into the all too real reality of how easy it is to get a wrongful conviction, especially if the individuals are among a group often considered to be public enemy number one. And when one adds to the mix the race of the crime victim, even more gets added to the mix as many African American males have been lynched by the mere accusation of committing a violent sexual crime. I can get into the study of lynching by Ida B. Wells, but I won’t do so in this blog. While the entire case is disturbing, it is even more disturbing to know that only two of the five young teens knew one another, meaning that they were rounded up and placed in police custody where they were coerced into confessing for crimes they neither knew about, nor committed. And what happened to Corey Wise, who accompanied his friend to the police station, is a true American travesty on top of a travesty.
I have not yet watched the series as it is so difficult to watch documentaries on wrongful convictions as my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, lived with that nightmare for 20 years of his life- twenty five years when one includes the day of the accusation, his trial and appeal before beginning his prison sentence on March 24th, 1997. One can imagine how difficult it can be for one to watch the docu-series; I read that even some of the actors portraying the Central Park 5 experienced emotional pain during the taping of the film. I also read a piece about how watching DuVernay’s series on the Central Park 5 is for Black people is akin to watching a horror film and many simply can’t handle doing so. In response to this, Ava DuVernay stated the following:
10 June at 08:57 ·
”I know there are folks that have chosen not to watch, feeling that it’s too traumatic, and others who have chosen to educate themselves in order to arm themselves…to know what their rights are…It’s been a war against us for over 400 years. To say, ’I don’t want to see it,’ is something I’d invite people to re-examine.” -Ava DuVernay #WhenTheySeeUs https://www.facebook.com/essence/
I get that, but while many tend to become aware, agitated and angry for a short period time after being exposed to the anatomy of a conviction, recall the Making of a Murderer as another example, my cousin has had to experience this nightmare since he was 23 years of age, he just turned 50 on April 27th, 2019. He spent his 20s being accused, tried and convicted of a crime for which he was falsely accused, his entire 30s in prison as well as all but two and a half years of his 40s and we are still trying to get true justice and acknowledgement from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office that they convicted an innocent man.
This blog is for the purpose to reintroduce you to the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, who, as mentioned, spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. This will be the first of three blogs about his case that I will complete over the course of the next several weeks. The next one will be an open letter to District Attorney Ashley Rich (Mobile, Alabama) and the third one will be a longer blog outlining some of the issues she discussed on a recent appearance on a local (Mobile, AL) radio show. This is June, Father’s Day is this month and Independence Day is July 4th, as you know. How many Father’s Days did Rodney spend in prison? TWENTY. How many Father’s Days did Rodney’s father spend with his son in prison? TWENTY. Before I go on, I am going to ask that you contact Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s Office to ask that she establishes a Conviction Integrity Unit so that cases such as Rodney’s can be reviewed by a variety of individuals, including members of the district attorney’s office. The contact info for the Mobile DA’s Office is (251) 574-8400, Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-5000 – firstname.lastname@example.org, and/or Mike Morgan – Chief Investigator – 251-574-6681 – email@example.com https://www.mobileda.org/list-of-teams/.
I will spend more time in an upcoming blog discussing Conviction Integrity Units, one of which was recently established by a district attorney in Monroe County, New York. Here is a quote from an article about it: “At the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, we aim for justice, not incarcerating as many people as possible,” Monroe County District Attorney Sandra Doorley said in a statement. “Convicting innocent people is a horrifying concept, and a Conviction Integrity Unit can help with a fair and just Criminal Justice System here in Monroe County.” https://13wham.com/news/local/monroe-co-das-office-to-investigate-claims-of-innocence-with-conviction-integrity-unit This should be the mentality of Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich. I look forward to seeing her post these sentiments on her webpage as she is establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. This wishful thinking can and should become a reality. Anyway, while I understand that this blog is fairly long, please keep in mind that you can go to www.freerodneystanberry.com and www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog to learn more about Rodney’s case.
When They Saw Him
I wish to begin this section of the blog by stating that a brutal crime took place against an innocent woman. She, nor anyone, deserves to be attacked (you can read more here). A brutal crime took place in the Central Park 5 case and in many cases where there are wrongful convictions. But this should not give district attorney’s a license to convict at all cost, whether one is guilty or innocent, they must follow the “rule of law.’ District Attorney’s should not be in the business of suppressing, hiding, destroying and ignoring evidence of innocence as the victim does not get true justice when the innocent are convicted. And when the innocent are convicted, the actual guilty culprits remain free. How is this justice?
On March 2nd, 1992, on the last day of Mardi Gras, two individuals entered the victim’s home, brutally shooting her. One of those individuals, Terrell Moore, confessed to committing the crime– admitting that it was he and another individual. He confessed BEFORE RODNEY’s TRIAL and this wasn’t a Central Park type of confession where the young men were subjected to a very difficult interrogation, without parents present, without attorneys, without sleep, and with the assumption that they were guilty and thus a confession will be made by hook or by crook, as I recall. No, the person who confessed in Rodney’s case had as his attorney one of the best and most well-known attorneys in Mobile. The prosecutor gave him immunity if he told the truth. He told the truth, but it did not fit the prosecutor’s theory. The prosecutor, Joe Carl “Buzz” Jordan even asked Moore if he were offered lunch meat in return for his confession! No, Mr. Jordan, he was offered something more valuable by YOU- tell the truth and you will be ok. He told the truth, you decided to not believe him, so you got it suppressed on the day of Rodney’s trial!!! You gave him a get out of jail free card so that you could pursue an innocent man, Mr. Jordan, that is on YOU. Again, the reader can read the confession here. Why did the person confess? Because he knew he was guilty and that the police and DA would know it as well. Little did he know that they just did not care about the truth, which means they did not care about justice, which means that they had no qualms about letting the guilty go free while pursuing the innocent and will have to ask why that is the case. Anyway, Moore made this confession more than two years BEFORE Rodney’s trial. The prosecutor got it suppressed on the day of Rodney’s trial.
What about the actual shooter as the person who confessed included who actually shot the victim. Well, the prosecutor wanted to pretend that he did not exist. Yes, you heard me. You can read more here (What they Wish to Wish Away). The truth becomes a casualty of war in the convict at all cost mentality of district attorney’s. Far too many will do anything and everything to get a conviction so let the innocent beware, Ok, so Rodney was at work. His co-workers testified in court that he was at work, documentation place him at work, he would have literally have had to be superman to be two places at once.
The Making of a Wrongful Conviction
On March 3rd, the day after the crimes took place, Rodney, a hardworking, law abiding citizen, took the rare day off to go to the Prichard Police Department to provide them with as much information as possible to help the police to apprehend the individuals from New York- the individuals who came to Mobile to visit Rodney during Mardi Gras. Because Rodney worked throughout their visit, another individual from Mobile entertained the individuals. Rodney also warned the victim’s husband to not sell the folks from New York weapons as he feared they would take them back to New York to commit a crime. His warning was not heeded. As a means of an explanation, Rodney liked to hunt and he wanted to show off a deer that was at the home of the victim and her husband. While seeing the deer, the individuals from New York also saw guns and started asking about them. This is why Rodney warned about selling guns to the individuals (again, you can read more here-). Rodney’s friends did not like his interference, but Rodney did what any law abiding person would do who feared that weapons would be used to commit crimes. Needless to say, this did not endear him with his friends and, unfortunately, some weapons were sold to them but they wanted more, hence the Mardi Gras Day robbery and shooting. Rodney, a law abiding citizen, had no problem being as helpful as possible to help apprehend the people he knew. Before going to the Prichard Police, he tried to track down the two individuals from New York AND he called the police department in New York to let them know what happened and that the individuals would be on a Greyhound bus and that they should be apprehended. Rodney even went to an electronics store (RS initials) to purchase a recording device and then secretly recorded the individuals involved asking them why they did this and they apologized and, again, exonerated Rodney, Rodney turned that recording over to the police and it, too, was “lost” while in the hands of law enforcement. Rodney essentially tried to play crime fighter and for that, he was “believed” to be guilty because he was being too helpful. Rodney broke the friend code because a brutal crime had been committed, but it was viewed in a negative lens by law enforcement who ask citizens to speak up about crimes. Recall that Rodney went to the Prichard Police department on March 3rd, taking a day off work. He deemed to be too helpful by a Prichard Police Officer, the same one who took the photos provided by Rodney and placed them in front of the victim and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house.
Rodney provided photos to the police that included one of the individuals involved in the crime. The police placed that photo in front of the victim while she was in the hospital recovering from a brutal gunshot womb and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house so she pointed to Rodney and this continued the ball rolling- the Prichard Police Department and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office should have known better to use this as a “photo-line-up” but they did and this became one of a series of extremely unfortunate mishaps perpetuated by the police and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to make a wrongful arrest and conviction.
Once the victim pointed to Rodney in the photo that HE provided because, again, he was trying to help the police, regardless of his relationship with the person that the person who confessed to being one of the only two people at the victim’s home was the shooter, it someone became it was Rodney and his White girlfriend. Again, Rodney’s girlfriend was White and the two of them would be at her house frequently, so that is what the victim would have honestly remembered. This isn’t the victim’s fault. It is the fault of prosecutor Joe Carl Buzz Jordan who went to his girlfriend’s place of employment where he discovered that she, too, was at work when the crimes took place. She also was with Rodney when he visited the hospital the night of the shooting (Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith asked him this during an interview that took place at Rodney’s job- pg 47 (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Jordan20bfi1.161162558.pdf
So the prosecutor would have evidence that Rodney AND his girlfriend were at work, but he continued to pursue Rodney for when he saw Rodney, one can speculate, he saw someone who came from New York, dated whoever he wished, was gainfully employed, owned his own truck, came from a two-parent, middle class household, whose sister was a college student- shall I go on? Why can I speculate what the prosecutor saw when he saw Rodney? During the interview that took place at Rodney’s place of employment, an interview in which he was not mirandized some of the of questioning was about his girlfriends, his parents’ home ownership, his family’s move from New York. When they saw Rodney, they saw someone who was out of place and that made him a criminal as opposed to the people who actually perpetuated the crime, again NO ONE WAS ARRESTED NOR PROSECUTED for these crimes EXCEPT FOR RODNEY! The prosecutor tried to push forward a murder for hire scheme as a motive for the crimes, but, again, that fell by the wayside, though the prosecutor tried to indirectly bring it up during trial to convince the jury that even though Rodney had a stable job, had the same guns he was accused of stealing, had an alibi, that maybe, just maybe he and the husband were involved. Again, this theory mattered little to the prosecutor as when Rodney was convicted; he moved on. Case closed, nothing more to see here, folks. The judge included this alleged murder for hire scheme in his ruling against Rodney’s Rule 32 appeal as well http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20131001162535.273150859.pdf see pages 4-6 ) This order by Judge McRae reads like it was written by the prosecutor’s office. The judge wrote that while prosecutor Jordan was at Rikers Prison in New York (an interview that the prosecutor claimed he did take notes because he was on vacation- this claim is on record via the same Rule 32 hearing that the judge presided over and ruled on, yet he includes in his order denyin Rodney’s appeal that the person at Rikers told Jordan to investigate the husband. Yes, folks, this is a part of the anatomy of a wrongful conviction, perpetuated by the prosecutor, sanctioned by the judge and others in the system). Rodney was his man and it was Rodney and Rodney only that he was going to make an example out of, I mean prosecute.
“**A Black Redneck**
The title is a quote from a longer article (Time Served or Justice Denied in Alabama by Bill Riales). I do not like using certain words so forgive me if you find this to be offensive. But to continue with this, here is a quote from an investigative piece about Rodney’s case:
“**A Black Redneck** When Rodney was 17, his father moved the family from New York to the community of Axis. The elder Stanberry feared the emerging street culture of New York City and the effect it might have on his son. Rodney reveled in the move, taking up hunting and fishing. A selfdescribed “black redneck,” he loved guns and shooting and quickly became familiar with a South Alabama way of life. After having trouble with his infatuation with a white girl and finding work as a sanitation truck driver, he settled down to enjoy life. Then he met Mike Finley, a kindred spirit. They enjoyed guns, ate dinner on Sundays, went shooting as much as they could, and owned many of the same types of weapons. Valerie knew him as part of the family. Mike and Valerie lived in a small house at the end of a cui de sac in Whistler. Rodney says it was simple happenstance that caused his former New York friend Rene (pronounced Rennie) Whitecloud Barbosa to call. Barbosa was looking to come south from New York and he had a friend he was bringing along – Angel Melendez. Melendez, known as “Wish” was also connected to Rodneys past life in New York. Stanberry had gotten Melendez’s sister pregnant and had a child with her as a teenager. Now, Barbosa and Melendez were headed to Mobile, for a Mardi Gras visit with their old friend.” http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/timeservedlagniappe_1.7453308.pdf
So, yes, Rodney knew the individual who was the actual shooter- Terrell Moore includes in his confession who shot the victim. An innocent phone call where Rodney was actually trying to reconnect with a young son he left behind as a teen age father inadvertently led to two of his friends coming to Mobile to experience Mardi Gras. They were his childhood friends from when he lived in New York. He had no idea that a brutal crime would be committed while they were in town. And he had no qualms about doing everything he could to help the police to locate them as they were attempting to return to New York. He was upset that they would come to his town, to visit him and to commit a crime. That wasn’t who he was and he was not going to abide by a no snitching code as he wanted justice. Again, the person who confessed, who accompanied the actual shooter to the victim’s house was not a friend of Rodney, they barely knew one another. I don’t want to get too deep into the weeds, but I invite you to read more about this in this blog. So Rodney went to the Prichard Police to provide with names, photos, anything they needed. He was not aware of the person who confessed, but that individual thought the police were going to arrest him because an on the ground witness saw him and could identify him. Little did he know that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would give him a free pass to be involved in a brutal crime. So listen to me, the person who confessed had a record, he had a spotty work record, even during Rodney’s Rule 32 (post conviction) appeal when the person who confessed was again going to do the right thing, Assistant DA Martha Tierney reminds him that he has a record and if he says what she thinks he will say, then it was lights out. So when they saw Moore (the person who confessed), they saw a man who fit a stereotype but the stereotype Rodney fit was much greater- an uppity Black man from New York, dating who he wants to date, gainfully employed, two parent household, sister in college, and maintaining his innocence, well, that is a bigger issue than anything. The arrogance of maintaining your innocence for a crime not committed. How dare he! Throughout my 20 plus years of fighting for Rodney’s freedom and exoneration, I rarely emphasized these side issues, but others did, and some, based on stereotypes of certain people in Alabama, tried to bait me to stress the racial angle. But I rarely did because Rodney’s innocence and the lack of evidence the prosecutor used to convict him speaks louder than anything. But what did they see when they saw him? What were their impressions that remained even after it became evident that he was not at the victim’s house when her house was burglarized and when she was brutally shot.
He was Innocent Then, He is Innocent Now and his conviction should matter to DA Ashley Rich
On our website, www.freerodneystanberry.com I have a link entitled “Why He is Innocent.” I am convinced that the powers that be in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from the time Rodney was arrested to the present time knows he was not and could have been at the victim’s house. But they allowed a faulty “photo-line-up” to kick off a wrongful conviction- they knew that both Rodney and his girlfriend were at work, they had a confession from Terrell Moore and evidence to corroborate that confession, the Prichard Police “lost” evidence that would further place the person who confessed at the scene, Prosecutor Buzz Jordan traveled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York before Rodney’s trial to interview the person they claim was the shooter but claims that he did not take notes because he was on vacation (if he heard what he wanted to hear and that was that Rodney was involved, do you really think he would have claimed to have not taken notes because he was on vacation?), Rodney’s supervisor and co-workers testified that he was at work, in other words, he really would have been two places at the same time. The person who confessed was not Rodney’s friend. He was introduced to Rodney’s friends by another individual because Rodney could not entertain his friends while at work- again, Rodney never missed a day of work. He was making a very good salary for a young, Black man in Mobile, Alabama making more than 300.00 a week working for a stable company. So he was not going to take off work to be with his friends because that isn’t what he did. He worked hard and he played hard and when they saw him, they had to take him down a notch. But in the process, they took down some of our faith in the system. In the process, they did not extend justice to victim. In the process, they cheated taxpayers out of their money by convicting an innocent man and keeping him in prison for 20 years. In the process, they let someone who was involved in brutal crime know that we do not care to convict you, we want him. When they saw Rodney, when they saw his background… well, you get point.
Freed But Not Exonerated
Rodney began serving his prison sentence in March of 1997. The crimes for which he was accused (attempted murder, robbery and burglary. Rodney worked until days before he went to prison in 1997. The crimes took place in 1992, his trial in 1995, and after losing an appeal, went to prison. He remained at the SAME place of employment throughout this time. His supervisor continued to testify on Rodney’s behalf. You can hear him on a radio interview from 2009 courtesy of the Dr. Wilmer Leon Show here and an interview from 2006 here.
This was a major company in Alabama. Do you think they would have kept in their employment someone who had been accused of committing such a brutal crime on company time had they believed he was guilty? When Rodney’s place of employment saw him, they saw him as who he was, a hard working, law abiding citizen who was working when this crime was committed. Why could not prosecutor Jordan see this in light of evidence of innocence (I enclosed a video featuring both Jordan and Moore). I once wrote a blog entitled Rodney passed a polygraph test can they, which is how the people responsible for upholding the rule of law, pursuing justice, and abiding by the truth did the opposite in Rodney’s case. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich now owns Rodney’s case. While she was elected in 2010 to serve as the Mobile District Attorney, she served in the office for 16 years or so prior to that. Since the day she became DA, he was aware of Rodney’s case. We had a very successful call in to her office. It was so successful thanks to those who are justice minded people that her Chief Investigator, Mike Morgan, called some folks and asked why were they interested about and calling regarding Rodney’s case! He was even quoted in this article by Kirstin Savali entitled “Black Community Rallies to Reopen the Case of Rodney K. Stanberry.” Mobile DA Rich knows about this case, she was asked about it during her campaign, and if you were to call her office tomorrow, you would see that there is knowledge about his case. Although Rodney is now free, he has not been exonerated. Just as we have seen District attorney offices work to free individuals who served years in prison via Conviction Integrity Units, she can do the same.
Until District Attorney Ashley Rich seriously looks reviews Rodney’s case And allows independent third party to do so, as is the purpose of establishing Conviction Integrity Units) she owns the tactics of Buzz Jordan in getting a wrongful conviction- going to visit a suspect and claiming not to take notes should be among the egregious tactics he used to get a wrongful conviction, his dismissal of an actual confession should shock her. Rodney was convicted solely on victim eyewitness misidentification. She knows how that came about, does she know that when the victim pointed to Rodney via picture he provided while recovering from a coma that it became Rodney and his White girlfriend (for if in response to a question of who could have been at your house, it would have been both of them, which is why Buzz Jordan when to her job to interview her. By the way, in recent years his girlfriend at the time has tried to reach out Mobile DA Ashley Rich’s office but, again, the truth matters less than the conviction). No one was convicted of these crimes except for Rodney even as the prosecutor, who suppressed a confession AND pretended that the person who actually shot the victim did not exist told the jury that he was going to bring the person at Rikers prison to Mobile for a trial. He never did. He never intended to. He focused SOLELY on Rodney and Rodney’s conviction. Why? What did he see when he saw Rodney? What did he see when he saw and heard Terell Moore’s confession (Moore made the confession IN FRONT OF PROSECUTOR BUZZ JORDAN TWO YEARS BEFORE RODNEY’s TRIAL? More importantly, what does Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich see and condone in the conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry?
Again, I am asking that you contact the Mobile District Attorney’s Office , that you share this with friends and acquaintances in the media, and if you know Ava DuVernay, share it with her. As I recall, she has Alabama connections. An innocent man spent 20 years in prison. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office should acknowledge this, apologies publicly and institute reforms to help to prevent this from happening in the future.
Here is a a 50+ page interview that took place in April of 1992 where Buzz Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith are “interviewing” Rodney at his place of employment. It is very saw to read the end of the interview as Rodney who is trying to be helpful realizes that he is a suspect. Soon after the April 1992 interview with Buzz Jordan and Lebarron Smith (police), Rodney was arrested and charged with crimes he did not commit. This 23 year old man who was making $300 dollars a week at a major company with no incentive to steal the very weapons he either had or could purchase. You can see the point when Rodney realizes that the prosecutor is focusing on him even as he knows that he was at work when the crimes took place. The complete interview can be read here: And speaking of the rule of law, even Judge Ferrell McRae chastised Jordan for not properly mirandizing Rodney during this interview. Rodney thought he was being a cooperative law abiding citizen not knowing that Jordan saw him as a suspect- beginning on page 109 of the trial transcript, Det. Lebarron Smith admits that Rodney was their chief suspect when they conducted the interview on April 7th at his place of work but did not bother reading him his Miranda rights. Rule of Law? Yeah, oh. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/mcrae1.161162953.pdf Anyway, Rodney, thinking like an innocent man, is surprised that it is he that they are focusing on.
Title: Time Served: Justice Still Denied, the wrongful conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry
John Thompson spent 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Fourteen of those years were spent on death row. The prosecutor in his case withheld exculpatory evidence that would likely have prevented him from spending so many years in prison. Had it not been for an investigator hired by his attorney, he would still be on death row or either executed by now (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/opinion/10thompson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). When he first arrived on death row at Angola Prison in Louisiana, he was placed in the cell of someone who had just been executed. He was arrested in front of his family, including young children. When his appeals were exhausted, he told his attorneys that although he is innocent, the fight is over. But then he remembered that his son was to graduate from high school; Thompson did not want to be executed before his son’s graduation. His son found out his execution date from a teacher who had read about the case and used Thompson, who she apparently thought was guilty, as a lesson to not do bad things. Imagine that-his son is sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher talk about his father’s upcoming execution. The teacher did not know that Thompson was the father of the student; she was offering a cautionary tale. But you know what cautionary tale she and others will not offer? The cautionary tale of prosecutors who knowingly withhold evidence that send innocent people to prison spending time in prison themselves. The system doesn’t work that way, the system lets prosecutors off the hook, even when they act like criminals.
The prosecutor in Michael Morton’s case served less than ten days in prison for his role in the wrongful conviction but that was after Michael Morton spent over 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit- he was accused of murdering his wife. The prosecutor in his case went on to become a judge- he had a fruitful career. Mike Nifong of the Duke Lacrosse case was disbarred for ethical violations stemming from his handling of the Duke Lacrosse case but these are exceptions to the rule for as John Thompson wrote in an editorial about his case where the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a jury’s verdict to give Thompson 1 million dollars for each year spent on death row : “I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.” https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/opinion/10thompson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Prosecutors have too much immunity and while they ruin lives in the pursuit of what they view as justice, they are rarely held accountable, rarely apologize, and seem to rationalize it as the cost of doing business.
42 Years In Prison- Innocent and Incarcerated
By now you have heard about the uncle and nephew who were just released from prison after spending 42 years in prison. Yes, 42 years in prison. Even though evidence did not show that Clifford Williams, Jr. and Hubert Nathan Myers committed the crimes for which they were accused, they were convicted of murder and attempted murder in a two day trial. An individual believed to have committed the crimes confessed years later before dying in prison, but not even that confession could not prevent these men from spending decades in prison. Were it not for the State Attorney’s Office in Florida establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit in 2017 and reviewing their case, these men would have died in prison. Williams and Myers petitioned the unit to review their case. According to an article posted on CNN:
“Among the findings: Another man reportedly confessed to people that he committed the murders and felt bad Williams and Myers were imprisoned for it, the Conviction Integrity Review investigation report said. That man died in 1994.
The new unit’s review led to the first-of-its-kind result, with the cases being tossed.
The Conviction Integrity Review unit determined that “it no longer has confidence in the integrity of the convictions,” according to a press release from State Attorney Melissa W. Nelson.
Where do they go to get those years back? More importantly, do the prosecutors in their case care? How many more did they send away in this manner? Careers built, while lives were ruined. This is not justice for the victim, nor is it justice for taxpaying citizens who deserve more from the very people who take an oath to uphold the law and to protect the integrity of the conviction.
Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerated for 20 Years
Rodney K. Stanberry spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He received three 20 year sentences to be served concurrently for burglary, attempted murder, and robbery. He was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995 and began serving a prison sentence in 1997. He left prison on March 13th, 2017. Like Thompson, like Williams and Myers, like Michael Morton, like so many others, his case should have been an open and shut case. The prosecutor had a confession from another individual who was actually present when the crimes took place. The individual who confessed did so BEFORE Rodney’s trial. He had one of the best attorneys in Mobile, AL as his attorney and his attorney told the prosecutor that he would tell him everything. Why would he do this? Because the person who confessed thought the prosecutor was actually interested in arresting and convicting the actual culprits. He knew an eyewitness on the ground saw him as he was exiting the victim’s home. He thought he was caught. He, the person who actually was one of the two people present when the victim was brutally shot, got a firsthand view of how prosecutors will let the guilty go free in order to convict the innocent. And less he thought it was just one prosecutor, Joe Carl Buzz Jordan, he would discover that on Rodney’s appeal, another prosecutor also with the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would go out of her way to ensure that he did not say in court what she knew he would say. So she said if you talk, you are going to get life. She did not want him to go on record to tell the truth, for that would mean that the record further reflected that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office convicted an innocent man. Upholding the conviction should not be more important than letting an innocent man out of prison. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/tierny_redo.9113550.pdf)
He (the person who confessed) must have been really shocked. He did not voluntary appear in court during Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing; rather, Rodney’s attorney discovered that he was in the local lock up and had him to come to court. He was going to tell the truth again, but the truth would reveal what Rodney, an innocent man, knew, and that is that the system, the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, knowingly prosecuted an innocent man and knowingly went out of their way to keep that innocent man in prison- for twenty years! FOR 20 YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!
The current District Attorney for Mobile County is Ashley Rich. She has been the district attorney since around 2011, but she worked in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney for 14 years prior to becoming DA. She owns Rodney’s conviction just as much as anyone else. As such, she should allow for objective parties to review his case and to accept the conclusion, even if it reveals what is known, that they convicted an innocent man. I have called on the Mobile District Attorney’s Office for many years to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit. Although Rodney is now a free man, he deserves vindication and an apology from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. In addition, District Attorney Ashley Rich must publicly state that she will work to ensure that past cases of wrongful convictions are addressed and that the attorneys working under her will reveal exculpatory evidence, even if it does not go along with a theory. The victim in Rodney’s case never received true justice as justice is never served when the wrong person, when the innocent person is convicted. Buzz Jordan and the Prichard Police Department could have gotten true justice, but they did everything that justice seeking people would not do as it relates to Rodney’s case. You can go to www.freerodneystanberry.com for additional information about this.
Rodney was not a criminal before he went to prison and he did not return from prison a criminal. He worked every day prior to being incarcerated, making a decent living for a young, African American male. His co-workers and supervisors testified on his behalf. He was at work when the crimes took place and could not have been two places at once. He was penalized for being too helpful and who knows what else went through Jordan’s mind to make him want to target Rodney (we have our theories). With regard to exculpatory evidence, Jordan went to Rikers Island Prison to interview the second person the DA’s office claims was at the victim’s house but he did not turn over notes from that interview claiming that he was in New York on vacation and just happened to visit the prison. Yeah, this is what District Attorney Ashley Rich is apparently ok with, as well as then DA John Tyson, Jr. It would not be difficult for a Conviction Integrity Unit to review Rodney’s case and show that he is an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted by a flawed system and by an individual who pursued injustice. So when one thinks all these years later about who should serve the time that Rodney served, I think the prosecutor in Rodney’s case should be held accountable by the system. He is at fault. He is the reason why justice was never served. He is the reason why an innocent man spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He is the reason why people distrust the system. He is the one who should be held accountable, along with then ADA Tierney as she could have done the right thing in 2001 which would have avoided Rodney spending an additional 16 years in prison. As John Thompson stated with regard to his case: ““I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.” While I don’t advocate prison, bar associations must review these cases and act accordingly. Michael NiFong was disbarred, should that be the standard for prosecutors not associated with THAT case? Where there is no accountability, there is no second thought about cutting corners to send and keep innocent people in prison.
Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich still has time to do the right thing. One can be tough on crime while also pursuing a fair and just system for all. So, I call on each of you to contact the Mobile District Attorney’s Office and request (nicely, please) that she 1) allows for an independent third party to review Rodney’s case, 2) establish a Conviction Integrity Unit to review serious claims of wrongful conviction cases tried by her office and 3) offer a public apology to Rodney K. Stanberry.
Rodney will be 50 years old later this month (April 27th). More than half of his life has been consumed by a wrongful arrest, conviction, and prison sentence. During his birthday month, please make the call. Here is the contact information: Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-5000 and (251) 574-8400 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Again, please be respectful.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. The pursuit of justice for Rodney should continue, even if it takes another 20 years. Never forget about his case and 5, ten, 20, 30 years from now when you read about an exoneration in the news, think about Rodney and his case and tell someone about it. We must never forget what the Mobile District Attorney’s Office did to convict an innocent man and to ensure that he spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Justice is never served, when the innocent are convicted.
PS Here is what I recently posted on twitter that includes gloves and a mask that were “lost” which means that they could not be tested for hair samples which would have further proved Rodney’s case and, with DNA available to be tested, may have heled to get an Innocence Project involved: https://twitter.com/artiestan/status/1115056276801773568
Proven Innocent- A New Fox Drama, but a Real Life Battle for Rodney K. Stanberry
A new show about wrongful convictions is airing on Fox. Among its stars are Kelsey Grammer who plays a prosecutor seeking the office of state attorney, Rachelle LeFevrer, who plays Madeline Scott, an individual who was wrongfully convicted, exonerated and is now working tirelessly to help others in her situation, and Russell Hornsby, who helped to free Madeline Scott and is now working with her to free the innocent. I watched the show when it first aired on February 15th, 2019 and the second episode on February 23rd, 2019. I wrote the bulk of this blog after its first airing and will address some more issues in the second episode at a later time.
Watching the show filled me with so many emotions. The show has been with me all morning. I have shed many tears this morning. Thinking about the years my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry spent in prison for crimes he did not commit. He spent 20 years in prison even though the prosecutor in his case had the truth, even a confession, BEFORE Rodney’s trial, thinking about how callous the Mobile District Attorney’s Office was and continues to be regarding his case and wrongful convictions, thinking about the many innocent people who remain in prison because far too many district attorneys are more concerned with the conviction, rather than the truth. The lead character in Proven Innocent was exonerated, spent a decade in prison, went to law school, started an innocence project and is now battling in court against the prosecutor who convicted her. My goal was to someday start an innocent project in Mobile, Alabama and to run a candidate against the Mobile DA in an election so that wrongful convictions would be one of the main focuses of the race. DA Ashley Rich and her protégé’ Jennifer Wright will likely be the face of the DA’s office for years to come. So watching the lead character fight back from a wrongful conviction, get a law degree, start an innocence project and then battle the prosecutor who prosecuted her is a made for TV drama that served as a reminder that I failed to carry through with my plans; a battle until Rodney is completely exonerated and issued a public apology by the Mobile DA.
When he was released in 2017, 20 years-time served, I was mentally and emotionally exhausted. He is the person who had the 20 years taken from his life; his strength and determination was stronger than ever. On the day he was released, he wanted to hold a rally, but we settled for an interview as soon as he walked out of prison. He is an innocent man who has a desire to prove his innocence. The system worked against him, but as the public is more aware of how these wrongful convictions happen; his release does not and should not mean that we should move on and forget about what happened in the past. I am ready to pick myself back up. The destination is exoneration. Remember that mantra, it is often what I stated was the goal.
Two Year Anniversary
March 13th marks the second year anniversary of Rodney’s release from prison- 20 years time-served, and a massive travesty of justice. As mentioned, on the day that Rodney got out of prison, the plan was to hold a press conference in front of the Mobile Municipal Government building (Government Plaza) where the Mobile District Attorney’s Office is located. This did not happen as we were torn between Rodney enjoying his day of freedom versus hitting the ground running in the ongoing effort to fight for an exoneration. We were grateful that Bill Riales interviewed Rodney shortly after he exited prison. Riales was the first reporter to write an in depth piece on Rodney’s case. He will always be appreciated for his work as a journalist seeking the truth. Following his release and same day interview with Bill Riales, Rodney went on to have a dinner with family members and friends. Rodney did not hesitate to seek work upon his release. Before and during his wrongful conviction, and up to a week before he began his sentence on March 24th, 1997, Rodney worked at the same job, six years, without taking a vacation. He was actually on his job on March 2, 1992 when the vicious crimes took place that would affect two families forever. Rodney’s supervisors and co-workers testified that he was at work; he would have had to have been superman to be in two places at once (I discuss this in this blog- can one person be two places at once). The Mobile DA’s Office, knowing that they had a time issue, altered the time in which the crime took place. One of many signs that they, prosecutor Joe Carl Buzz Jordan, were not about the truth; the conviction was so much more important. When prosecutors do not seek the truth, they are not being pro victim, nor pro justice as justice is never served and victims do not get justice when the wrong person is convicted. Anyway, when Rodney was released, he sought to find work- as that was his character, a hardworking, decent, taxpaying individual. Prison did not change him; it did not change the core of who he is. It did take away 20 years of his work life; there is every indication that Rodney would have worked throughout those 20 years, earning a pension. His life and livelihood were taken away.
When Rodney was released, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I needed to take a break, to focus on my work, to just try to keep that long nightmare from impacting my day to day life again, at least without taking a short break from it all. I would not wish a wrongful conviction on any individual and on any family as it is such a painful daily experience. My vow to fight until he was exonerated took a back seat as I was just spent, mentally exhausted. Watching Proven Innocent last night was very powerful. It was very moving. It was very emotional. The system will not change if we do not push for change and reforms, and, yes, fight on behalf of those who are innocent and incarcerated (and innocent and released). My motto during Rodney’s incarceration was that the “destination is exoneration” and innocence is something that is worth fighting for. It was and is an uphill battle. This is about principal as much as it is about justice. The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles is the entity that grants pardons and paroles, unless it is a capital case, to my knowledge; it is the entity that denied an innocent man parole three times, so the struggle and battle for a pardon in Alabama will be an uphill battle. Our goal is to also get a public apology from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. This should not be as much of an uphill battle if DA Ashley Rich is about the truth and not about hiding behind a (wrongful) conviction. This battle may take another 20 years but I am in for the long haul. Perhaps one day I will be fortunate enough to complete a law degree, open an innocence project in Mobile, Alabama to set up a mechanism to help those currently innocent and incarcerated and to help prevent this from happening in the first place. Perhaps, but for now, my eyes are on pursuing an exoneration/pardon and an apology for Rodney K. Stanberry. This did not have to happen, the Mobile DA’s office had to come to terms as to why Joe Carl Buzz Jordan ignored the truth and sent an innocent man to prison for 20 years and why subsequent district attorney’s sanctioned his work. Buzz Jordan travelled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island prison in New York to interview someone with intimate knowledge of the crimes. But, he said that he did not take notes because he was on vacation. This is how they operate? District Attorney Ashley Rich has her tough on crime credentials, she is popular; she should demonstrate that the integrity of the system is at the forefront of her office, including past convictions. When she was running for the seat in 2010, this is what she said: what is below and I still have the recording available embedded in the link- her comments below begin at the 12 minute mark:
Ashley Rich, a Mobile Assistant DA for 14 years and current candidate to replace John Tyson, Jr. said on a radio show in Mobile, AL on September 16, 2010 during the 7am (cst) hour in response to a question about the Duke LaCrosse case and prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence: “If as a prosecutor you do not disclose exculpatory evidence, your career is over. Integrity is something that is so important because when you are a prosecutor, you not only have the duty to prosecute people and to put people in jail, but you also have a duty to uphold the law. You have the duty to do that with integrity and with the ethical standards in place… You must disclose exculpatory evidence because if you don’t, nothing good comes from it and essentially you have prosecuted someone who may not have committed the crimes because you didn’t disclose exculpatory evidence. It is good that we have the Duke LaCrosse case as an example of what not to do.” She went on to say that she would reopen a case and evidence should be reviewed. You be the judge. (Note Ashley Rich was elected and is now the Mobile County District Attorney).
It is never too late to do the right thing. Rodney’s case is, in my view, a stain on the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. They tried and convicted an innocent man even as they had evidence that he was innocent. District Attorney Ashley Rich should set up a Conviction Integrity Unity to address cases with serious claims of innocence. Rodney’s case should be among the first to be considered. Twenty years of his life was taken away because the prosecutor, who was more concerned with the conviction, suppressed a confession, withheld exculpatory evidence, and continued to work to ensure that Rodney remained in prison. I won’t get into in this blog, but a segment in episode 2 of Proven Innocence touches on why the prosecutor in Rodney’s case may have justified in his mind why he worked to keep Rodney in prison. He even referenced Rodney’s case in a separate case that was very personal to him, as well as to the victim’s family-again, I won’t get into it in this in this blog. In episode two of Proven Innocence, Kelsey Grammer’s character (Gore Bellows) is a district attorney running to be the state attorney. A new character appeared, a young women who completed her law degree and was ready to work for Grammer/Bellows. It turns out that she is the daughter of a victim of a violent crime. It is explained by Grammer’s character that he fought to keep the person who murdered her mother from getting out of prison, but that he was out lawyered and vowed to never allow that to happen again. The daughter of the victim stated that Grammer’s character is her hero. Maybe this is how prosecutors who convict the innocent clear their conscious, by convincing the victim’s family that they pursued justice to the very end; that they are the heroes and the innocent people that they convicted are the villains, even when they know that it is a false narrative. Hero status. The system, though, must do better; the system and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office must uphold the rule of law and ensure that the innocent are not incarcerated. This is the hero status that should be sought, freeing and exonerating the innocent, while ensuring actual justice for the victim. And on those occasions when the prosecutors do not uphold what the duties of the office should call for and do not uphold the integrity of the system, it must be imperative that the Office, in this case, the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, do so. District Attorney Ashley Rich can demonstrate that this is what she believes by doing right by Rodney’s case, and in this way, true justice can be served, for all involved.
We will continue to contemplate the next steps to our activism and keep you posted. Rodney will be 50 years old in April. He was in his twenties when he was wrongfully convicted and spent his 20s being wrongly accused, convicted, and in prison, his 30s in prison, and all but two years of his 40s in prison. He cannot get those years back, but he can get just a tiny sliver of justice with an apology and an exoneration and/or pardon. I have been reading up again on the pardon process in Alabama, I will write a blog in the future about the process. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.
After serving 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, what does Rodney K. Stanberry want to do on the first day of his release? He wants to protest, on day 1. Why? Because he is an innocent man who is not giving up on clearing his name. Twenty years in prison has not weakened his spirit to seek justice and as much as the system has failed him, he still wishes to use the tools of the system to fight to clear his name. He was once asked about his ongoing faith and belief in the system.
Dr. Wilmer Leon (a slight paraphrase): Rodney, after talking to you and after speaking with your cousin over the course of many years, you believed in the system and still have faith in the system.It is interesting to hear you now, you still seem to have faith in the system. Rodney, yes, yes I do, maybe it is a character defect…. The system has not only engaged in a miscarriage of justice for me, but also carried out an injustice to the victim. You can hear the full interview here; you can hear Rodney towards the end of this show that features his former supervisor, an eyewitness on the scene, his father (Earsell), sister(Toni), and cousin (Artemesia) :http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?attachment_id=78
Rodney’s family and friends have remained with him throughout his ordeal. His strength and perseverance come from knowing that he is innocent and not wanting the system to just write off another wrongful conviction as the cost of doing business. This is about his name being cleared, but it is also about the Mobile District Attorney’s Office instituting necessary reforms to address previous cases and to work to ensure that innocent people are not spending years, even decades, in prison.
Rodney will be released from prison on March 13th, 2017. He began serving his prison term on March 24th, 1997- 10 days of jail time has been credited to him, thus he has not even been given a day of a shortened sentence. Twenty years of his life was taken from him. Rodney wants more than anything to get out of prison on Monday, spend some time with his family in the hours after his release, and then go to Government Plaza to make a statement about his incarceration. While this will not happen on the day of his release, it is something that may be planned in the near future. He will be able to make a statement to the media and I will update this blog to include his statement. Rodney was a hardworking, law abiding citizen when he entered prison, and he will remain a hardworking, law abiding citizen as a newly freed man.
Rest assured, my 20 years of activism surrounding Rodney’s case and his 25 year experience of being falsely accused and arrested (1992), convicted (1995) and beginning of his prison sentence (1997) is taking a next step approach on March 13th, 2017. Just as exoneration while he was in prison was an uphill battle for him and for so many who are wrongfully convicted, this next step will be as well. But we cannot allow for an injustice to go without a long and consistent battle to remedy it. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, to quote Dr. King. Twenty five years ago it was Rodney, we’ve seen several cases where it was someone else, but tomorrow it could be you, your brother, your mother, your father, your sibling or your cousin who is wrongfully accused and convicted. District Attorneys must know that this is not acceptable. And those who have been exonerated should not fear coming out of the shadow for fear of being arrested again- and there are examples that can be provided for when this has happened. Rodney K. Stanberry will be a free man, but as long as the conviction remains, he is not exonerated. Our destination has always been exoneration; there is no turning back.
Sincerely and Peace,
PS This has been a very long journey. Many of you have been on this journey with us for many, many years. Others may have just heard about Rodney’s case. Regardless, we truly thank you greatly for your moral support. It energizes us knowing that so many of you cared about Rodney’s ordeal. You are very much appreciated. The webpage (www.freerodneystanberry.com) and blog page (www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog) will remain active.
Here is the written WKRG-TV report from the day of Rodney’s release:
There remains a concern among some Facebook users about being reminded via photos of loved ones and pets who have died. We keep these memories with us daily, but sometimes when they pop up on Facebook, they can open up a fresh wound in which we were not prepared to confront at that moment. I generally like the Facebook memory feed, but they have been painful. My Facebook Memories on any given day features about 20 of my posts and about one third to one half of those posts are about my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry. I am sharing blogs that I’ve written, articles, and general activist stuff. I once posted a blog entitled accidental activist (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/10/15/a-day-in-the-life-the-pursuit-of-justice-and-the-agony-of-defeat/) I wrote this blog after finding a notebook of mine when I was in DC that featured my day to day schedule- work, graduate school, working on Rodney’s case, it was nearly a 20 hour a day schedule. My commitment to my cousin’s freedom and exoneration began in 1997 and I’ve been all in since then.
The FB memories are particularly painful on anniversaries of specific dates; the date the crimes for which he is accused took place, the day of his conviction, his parole denial dates, the day his mother died and her funeral, and so on. This past year we were optimistic for an early release until the Alabama Department of Corrections (seemingly) arbitrarily changed a policy. This past summer, the Alabama Department of Corrections announced that they would be ending their supervised release/reentry program effective immediately. Needless to say, this would have been an opportunity for Rodney to be released 6 months before his scheduled release. It was very disappointing to learn of the abruptness to the end of the program. I contacted Alabama State Senator Cam Ward, Steve Watson (who oversaw the program), Alabama PrisonCommissioner Dunn, along with individuals in the media seeking an explanation, and the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles in the hopes that Rodney could have another parole hearing given that the SRP ended. Needless to say, this got me nowhere, except for a sympathetic ear. Watson said you seem to know a lot about the system. I shed a few tears because I would have preferred to not know as much as I do about how our system of justice can work.
Feeling Like a Failure
There were many times over the years when I felt like a failure for not being able to do more to secure Rodney’s freedom. I feel this way even though I know that it is honestly rare for someone to be exonerated once convicted-the system is stacked against the innocent, but the feeling is there, nevertheless. So as I try to fall asleep at night, my heart is so heavy, it is an awful feeling. And then there is morning, I look out my window, see a beautiful day, kiss my dog, and then go to Facebook and I see my memories of the day, I click on them, and I see years of activism that has not freed my cousin, and I think about him, so many decades (since 1992 for him when the crimes were committed) dealing with being wrongfully accused, wrongfully convicted, and still incarcerated. The crimes for which he is accused of committing took place in 1992, he was convicted in 1995, and he began his prison sentence in 1997. He’s had three parole hearings, each time denied, even though he has had everything parole board’s ask for—a work plan, family support, a good record, and so on. What he did not have is what they want, remorse. Yes, Rodney is extremely sad and angry that a horrible crime occurred. But he cannot take blame and show remorse for what did not do. Parole boards want a defendant to say he/she is guilty and that they are remorseful. In Alabama, getting parole over the past decade or so has already been very low. As Beth Swartzapfel wrote in an article entitled “How Parole Boards Keeps Prisoners in the Dark and Behind Bars,”
“ “The vast majority of the nation’s parole boards are required to hear victim input before making a decision, according to the 2008 survey; 40 percent said victim input is “very influential.”
In Alabama, it’s almost unheard of for the board to grant parole over victim opposition. The board also routinely receives letters opposing parole from the governor, the attorney general and other elected officials.
In Rodney’s case, the victim’s son, who is now an attorney, has been steadfast against Rodney being released. One can understand where he is coming from, his mother suffered from a brutal crime and I am sure that Joe Carl “Buzz” Jordan, former prosecutor with the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, who prosecuted Rodney has continued to convince him that Rodney is guilty (see http://bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley). In fact, soon after Rodney’s third and final parole hearing, Jordan and the victim’s son were co-counsels for a very important case involving a member of the victim’s family (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html ). Jordan invoked his work on my cousin’s case when talking about how he knew the family: “At the start of the trial, Buzz Jordan, who led the defense, introduced himself as someone who had known Patrick since she was 9 years old, when her mother was the victim of a shooting that left her paralyzed.”
If you are a prosecutor who never wants the victim’s family to question your integrity, you follow Jordan’s game plan. Please understand that Buzz Jordan had a confession from an individual who actually committed the crimes two years BEFORE Rodney’s trial, but he ignored it because it didn’t fit his theory. Jordan travelled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York to visit the person he claims was the shooter, but said he was on vacation so he didn’t take nor reveal any notes- talk about suppressing exculpatory evidence. But, as I’ve written over the years, the Alabama State Bar and other State Bars so do not seem to want to address this. The Texas State Bar did a rare thing in bringing up two attorneys on charges-attorneys that were responsible for keeping Michael Morton in prison for nearly 25 years and for keeping Anthony Graves in prison for nearly two decades (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/04/22/when-texas-gets-it-right-former-prosecutor-held-criminally-responsible-for-putting-innocent-man-in-prison/). As I stated in another blog:
“Collectively, Michael Morton and Anthony Graves spent a total of 40 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. This doesn’t include the arrest date, trial date, and conviction date. 40 years!!!! During their years in prison, their prosecutors went on to have productive careers; Ken Anderson even went on to serve as a judge. Imagine spending these years in prison wondering how are prosecutors able to blatantly ignore, withhold, suppress evidence that proved that you were innocent. While you’re sitting in prison wondering how can the system be so messed up, the people playing a role in keeping the system messed up are rewarded.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/06/21/prosecutorial-accountability-and-state-bar-responsibility-when-will-it-become-the-norm/
So here we are, the first month of 2017, less than two months before Rodney is released from prison after serving 20 years for crimes he did not commit. Rodney began serving his prison sentence on March 24th, 1997 and his scheduled release date is March 13th, 2017. Twenty years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Rodney is fortunate in that people from around the country and world (yes, world) know about his case. The parole board and Mobile District Attorney’s office have received tons or telephone calls and petition signatures over the years. During Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s first month in office, she received so many phone calls that her Chief Investigator returned calls to inquire why all the calls about Rodney. Kirsten West Savali was able to get him on record about the actions of Buzz Jordan (https://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/.) So we have had these moral victories, they came about as a result of having to put in a lot of work to contact people about Rodney’s case, talk to them about it, convince them that this is a case worth writing about, asking you all to sign petitions and so on. But at the end of the day, what matters is his freedom and his exoneration, and the decision by the Alabama Department of Corrections keeps him in prison until March 2017. At Rodney’s third and final parole hearing, the victim’s son said that when he serves his 20 years, we (he and his family) will not protest. Rodney is on track to serving the entire 20 years and we would not be doing the system any justice if we did not fight to reform the system and to continue to push for the freedom and exoneration of others. Columnist Leonard Pitts wrote a piece a few years ago about victims in the system. His piece was about the death penalty but there were two paragraphs in particular that stood out to me:
‘So how can a state that gets it wrong at least one time in every four want to speed up the process? Does no one care about the increased likelihood of executing someone who committed no crime?
We are always called upon to be solicitous of the pain suffered by victims’ families. Where is our solicitude for innocent people, wrong place, wrong time, people — usually indigent people of color — who are rushed, perjured, bumbled, erred and “oopsed” onto death row? Why does their pain affect us less? Why are they less deserving of our compassion? Are they not victims, too? “http://www.richmond.com/opinion/their-opinion/leonard-pitts/article_b9d75709-e878-5247-9f2e-8c98c8627856.html
Memories are painful; the system breaks our heart, and when there is no separation or time to really heal, the heartbreak remains. But as I said on Rodney’s most recent birthday: “This ordeal did not rob Rodney of his integrity. He remains a very strong person. When he is released, he will continue to live his life as a hard-working, fun-loving, family-oriented individual. Rodney and I were not close growing up; this ordeal has brought us together for these past 19 years. I hate with a passion what has happened to Rodney, but I am grateful to have gained such a close and dedicated relationship with an incredible individual. I am not sure that I could endure what he has endured, so he has given us all strength.”
Mr. and Ms. October- Prosecutors Who Win at All Cost-Even Convicting the Innocent
I am not a big baseball fan; I do prefer to watch and play soccer. So forgive me for using the term Mr. October and forgive me if the use in this case isn’t the best analogy. But when I think of Mr. October, I think of the player who will shine in the baseball playoffs; the person who will get that World Series win for his team. A solid athlete who exemplifies what the best athletes in the sport are about. For prosecutors, winning a case is important. District Attorneys win elections off of the number of convictions they were able to get. Winning is everything because, they believe, they are making the community safer by putting away the bad people. Win, win, win. The problem is that sometimes in an effort to win a case; they ignore evidence that a person may be innocent. Far too many prosecutors, pursuing the innocence when there is overwhelming evidence if innocence, instead of focusing on the actual guilty party seems to be the norm when one reviews the cases of those exonerated.
If there were a World Series for occupations that are successful in winning performances, district attorneys would be in the World Series each and every year. In fact, when one looks at the annual Nappie Awards delivered by Mobile local, alternative newspaper (Lagniappe Mobile), which has written positive stores about Rodney’s case), Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich is a winner in her category often. In the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, Mr. October would be Joe Carl Buzz Jordan and his co MVPs would be former Mobile District Attorneys Chris Galanos, John Tyson, Jr. and current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich. Prosecutor Buzz Jordan, in the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, is Mr. October. He was able to convict an innocent man, even as someone else confessed BEFORE Rodney’s trial, exonerating Rodney, he was get away with withholding evidence- claiming that he was on vacation when he traveled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island prison in New York to interview someone he claims was the guilty party, thus he did not take notes, he was able to convince the victim and the victim’s family that the crimes were a murder for hire even though he presented and had no evidence to make this conclusion, and after seeing documentation and hearing from witnesses before Rodney’s trial that he was at work, he moved forward with convicting an innocent man and the system has worked to protect the work on Joe Carl Buzz Jordan. He remains Mr. October. While Rodney will soon be on his 20th year of incarceration for crimes he did not commit, Jordan would leave the Mobile District Attorney’s Office shortly after Rodney’s trial and continue to make a career practicing law. Prosecutorial misconduct is rewarded, and, as mentioned, the system sanctions it.
I recall receiving a letter from an attorney in response to one of the many letters I sent out over two decades seeking assistance with his case. Here is a paragraph.”… Unfortunately, it is very expensive to do post-conviction procedures. Due to the procedural problems that Rodney faces, as well as the fact that less than 1 percent pf Rule 32s are won in the first place, it is extremely unlikely that Rodney will win.” The letter is dated March 13, 2002.
Mr. October, he is solid at bat, no one can overturn his record, and sadly, his co-MVPs did not and do not care to do so.
Sleep Nights and Heartaches
For so many years I’ve had sleepless nights, mainly thinking about my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. He has approximately 5 months left on his sentence. He began serving a 20 year sentence for attempted murder, burglary and robbery. From 1997 on, it’s been an obsession, a series of frustrations and heartbreaks. There have been times when all I literally could do is to stare at the ceiling in the darkness wondering why and what more can be done. I often think about the years he has been in prison and I have spent as an activist as I find myself staring towards the ceiling, in the darkness, feeling the pain of his ongoing incarceration. I often do what I’ve done so many times over the years; I write about it in the form of a blog at 3am- that I may not post- it is cathartic, to some extent. As we will continue to pursue exoneration, one thinks about the next steps and about previous steps, including attorneys I’ve spoken with over the years. Recently, I heard a powerful message from a current police chief who earlier in her career became a police officer, dropped out of college over a guy, returned to college to receive a degree in criminal justice, while serving as a law enforcement officer, and is now the first African American female police chief in her town. Recently, I spoke with a friend in his fifties who has returned to law school. And, recently, I spoke with a close friend of mine about family, career and so on. All of this weighed on my mind during one of those staring at the ceiling sessions. At a “women in law enforcement” event, I spoke with someone who remembers my discussions about my cousin’s case. We talked about how much we assume that if someone has been arrested and convicted that they are actually guilty. I shared with him that I used to be that way. When I heard about my cousin’s arrest and conviction, I assumed that he must be guilty if the jury said he was guilty. Little did I know about the journey that I would embark upon in 1997 when I did a lot of reading about his trial- via trial transcripts and so on. As I said before, if I knew then what I know now, I may have pursued a law degree. I believed for so many years that justice would prevail, that prosecutors would respond to moralsuasion, if not that, to doing what is right, even though there was a conviction by the jury. I was wrong in thinking that as prosecutors continue to prove that the conviction is sacred and that a conviction is a conviction, right or wrong, that they would respond to evidence of innocence. I spoke with numerous attorneys over the years, including high profile ones that you would know about. They were sympathetic but could not devote the time and resources necessary to pursue his case when he likely would get parole. I learned several things from this experience- two that I will share- that there is what is akin to a triage when it comes to getting help (unless you, yourself have tons of money to devote) and that is DNA cases, death penalty cases, and juveniles sentenced to life get the priority- which I totally understand. I learned that if you are innocent and you go before the parole board declaring your innocence, then you are unlikely to get parole ( (http://www.nytimes.com/video/nyregion/1247467961918/the-innocent-prisoner-s-dilemma.html) – and https://bostonreview.net/blog/schwartzapfel-stanberry-parole andhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-power-and-politics-of-parole-boards/2015/07/10/49c1844e-1f71-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html). In fact a member of the victim’s family may say to the parole board that the defendant did not own up to what he did and that is that-no chance (and in Alabama- as former and long term parole board member longshore stated: “In Alabama, it’s almost unheard of for the board to grant parole over victim opposition. The board also routinely receives letters opposing parole from the governor, the attorney general and other elected officials.
Again, Mr. October has no fear that his actions will be overturned.
District Attorneys, even when faced with evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, will stick by a prosecutor’s actions no matter what- that integrity of the system to them is different from what you and I would think is integrity of the system. We would think that it is about seeking justice, they think it is about pursuing a conviction, even though they are sanctioning unjust acts. The pursuit of injustice is not too harsh to say, for some District Attorneys- they justify it by putting away really bad guys while recognizing, but doing nothing, about the ones that fall through the crack. I did attempt to pursue law school in recent years- one year before my cousin’s second parole when we were sure that we could lead a strong effort, learning from his first parole hearing, of getting his parole. Between my dedication to my job, my cousin, and family matters, I just did not make law school a priority, and when my cousin was denied parole, it hurt so badly that I knew that I would focus on law school even less. I still did not realize at the time that moralsuasion does not work on people more concerned about the conviction than the truth. I opted to dedicate as much time as possible to his third parole, to highlighting to Mobile District Attorney’s election in the hopes that wrongful convictions would be an issue, and to bringing about more attention to Rodney’s case. But on August 28th, 2013, he was denied parole again. Another crushing blow. So like Sisyphus one has no choice but to continue put that rock on one’s shoulders and role it up the hill knowing the outcome but knowing that it was not an option to not do so, an innocent man remained in prison.
Rodney’s punishment is that he is innocent and, thus, maintains his innocence. Prosecutors and parole boards would rather than an innocent man say that he is guilty, rather than do what is right on behalf of the innocent. If I had pursued a law degree back in 1997, perhaps there would have been a different outcome- if I’d moved back to Alabama with the law degree- all of these things run through one’s mind when one reflects back on these years. The feeling that you have failed someone is a powerful feeling- I would not wish it, nor a wrongful conviction on any person or on any family. Do you think it gets easier with time? It doesn’t. There have been days these past two years when I tried to add more balance to my life, but only a few days as this is too much a part of one’s psyche. I also recognize that there have been so many cases where the innocent and incarcerated had very powerful attorneys handling their appeals, but it still took a decade or two, or even three before exoneration. And there are those who are innocent and incarcerated whose cases are never heard about (https://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/ronhuff.htm) We need to seriously address wrongful convictions in this nation. We need these MVPs of prosecutorial misconduct to be held accountable via the system. Yeah, the prosecutor may have hit a home run with a conviction, but what did he do to get that home run? Did he withhold exculpatory evidence?
Holding Prosecutors Accountable
Several people sent me an article about the California State legislature considering a bill that would hold prosecutors accountable. Here is just the first paragraph of the article:
And here are a few lines from the bill (AB 1909 Falsifying Evidence):
“This bill would make it a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or 2 or 3 years for a prosecuting attorney to intentionally and in bad faith alter, modify, or withhold any physical matter, digital image, video recording, or relevant exculpatory material or information, knowing that it is relevant and material to the outcome of the case, with the specific intent that the physical matter, digital image, video recording, or relevant exculpatory material or information will be concealed or destroyed, or fraudulently represented as the original evidence upon a trial, proceeding, or inquiry.
And, congratulations to the California General Assembly for passing the legislation and sending it to Governor Brown’s desk. Here is a paragraph from Assemblywoman Patti Lopez’s press release:
““I firmly believe in holding these officers of the court to a higher legal and ethical standard,” López explained. “What many fail to realize is that the decisions made by our criminal justice system can change people’s lives and the lives of those around them forever. No matter what the circumstances, prosecutors cannot and should not be allowed to trample on the rights of others or to pursue justice by committing their own acts of injustice.”” http://asmdc.org/members/a39/news-room/press-releases/assemblywoman-patty-lopez-s-prosecutorial-misconduct-bill-passed-by-state-senate
I’d already read the article and had been following what was happening in Orange County, but I appreciated the fact that people think about Rodney’s case and want to share with me helpful articles. That is definitely a step in the right direction, but the culture within District Attorney Offices has to change, and the culture of state bar associations that could do more to hold prosecutors accountable. Allow me if you will to use a baseball analogy that is not perfect, I will admit.
Mr. October- Joe Carl Buzz Jordan- and the case of Rodney K. Stanberry
Jordan started his time up at bat with a theory and then he pursued the theory, in a subtle way even as he knew that he had neither evidence nor basis for the theory. He would get the conviction with the help of his team. On first base is the police officer/detective assigned to the case. His or her actions are very crucial. Detective Fletcher (then with the Prichard Police department), although the crimes for which Rodney is accused, took place on March 2nd, he asked Rodney’s job if he were at work on March 3rd and told the victim’s family that he confirmed that Rodney was not at work on March 2nd (Rodney’s work records, testimony- in court, under oath- by his co-workers place him and his truck at work on March 2nd and even a city landfill work order places him at work (see my blog how can one person be two places at once)- nevertheless, this major mistake by the police helped to plant the seed that Rodney was guilty. And when Rodney did take off work on the 3rd to help law enforcement apprehend the people he thought were involved and were on their way to New York, the detective refused to call a detective in New York to help them to apprehend two individuals, including the shooter, involved saying that he and the Prichard Police Dept. could handle this; when Rodney provided Detective Fletcher with photos of the shooter, which included Rodney in the photo, the same detective showed the photo to the victim while she was recovering from a coma that resulted from her being brutally shot in the head, and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house- practically every Sunday. Even though the victim and victim’s family member indicated to law enforcement in the hospital room that she did not know who did this, he used this line-up of a picture provided by Rodney, with the question of which of these individuals could have been at your house. Once she said Rodney, no amount of evidence was going to change the mind of the prosecutor (see Who shot Valerie Finley). Detective Fletcher would soon be replaced by Lebaron Smith, who, on April (1992) accompanied prosecutor Buzz Jordan to Rodney’s job for a long interview (here is the transcript—- http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/1-31Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162359.pdf and http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/32-52Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162441.pdf)
. Although Smith was a detective with the Prichard Police Department, it was Buzz Jordan who conducted practically the entire interview, without mirandizing Rodney. Again, Rodney thought that they were seeking his help and he assumed that they had already cleared him as he was at work and they knew it. It is sad that towards the end of the interview, Rodney finally realizes that Jordan actually thought he was guilty and Rodney he essentially says he understands that it is routine to suspect everyone, but the questions are about him and it has been established that he was not at the victim’s house. Rodney was naïve, he actually believed that prosecutor Buzz Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith were trying to solicit his help to catch the actual culprits- he realizes towards the end of the interview that Jordan believes that he is the guilty party. This shocks him because he knew he was innocent and knew that they could easily exclude him from being a suspect. Rookie mistake. This is why Rodney said during the trial that Jordan is operating on some JFK conspiracy theory thinking he could be two places at once. What Rodney did not know then is what we all know now, prosecutors have the power to suppress evidence and to withhold evidence- and in the process get a conviction and avoid being convicted. It is a magical game where only the conviction matters, and neither state bar associations, judges, nor subsequent district attorneys care. Soon after the April 1992 interview with Buzz Jordan and Lebarron Smith, Rodney was arrested and charged with crimes he did not commit. This 23 year old man who was making $300 dollars a week at a major company with no incentive to steal the very weapons he either had or could purchase (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/02/20/gun-control-what-happened-when-a-gun-enthusiast-tried-to-stop-the-sale-of-weapons-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/), would go to trial and then after losing his immediate post trial appeals, would spend 20 years in prison (he is 6 months away from 20 years of incarceration. His trial would take place in 1995 and he would begin his prison sentence on March 17th, 1997.
The Mobile County Police Department’s Eddie Ragland’s and Captain Frank Dees contradiction one another about which officer were at the scene of the crime after it occurred ; Raglan insisted that he went to the victim’s home later, took photos, including a photo of a mask and glove that may have been used in the commission of the crime, but claims to not have collected said items- even though he photographed it, even though the victim’s husband testified that he did take them (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/prichard_police_captain_frank_dees_and_sergeant_eddie_ragland.)
Everyone plays a part in this convict at all costs culture.
No one should blame the victim for a wrongful conviction for it is the prosecutor that withholds critical information even from the victim for the purpose of getting an easy conviction. The prosecutor understands that role he has to play in convincing the victim and the victim’s family that an innocent person is actually guilty. Prosecutors mislead- maybe even lie- to them and keep this up forever. In Rodney’s case, the prosecutor defended a close member of the victim’s family (shortly after Rodney’s 3rd parole was denied) citing Rodney’s case in the courtroom as to how long he has known the defendant as he was trying to make sure that she did not serve time in prison (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html ). There is more to say on this point, but while I was asking the Mobile DA’s office and asking reporters to ask if DA Ashley Rich was going to send someone to Rodney’s parole hearing in 2013 to protest his parole, as DA Rich said she would do as part of her tenure as DA, I had no idea that 1) the DA’s office was prosecuting a member of the victim’s family and 2) that a member of the victim’s family speaking out against Rodney during Rodney’s parole, was working with Buzz Jordan at the time on this case to ensure that his close family member did not go to prison. It is so ironic. While the representative with the Alabama Attorney General’s office put on a case against Rodney before the parole board and saying that the victim’s family (she was referring to the son who is an attorney) is a good family, a civil rights attorney and so on, I wondered after I learned about the pending trial what would the same representative had said had she been arguing against parole of the family member who was on trial. You can’t make this stuff up. But, Jordan did his thing. Here is a quote from him: “”I think it was a difficult case,” said her attorney Buzz Jordan, who had cause to celebrate on Friday afternoon, but not as much as he’d hoped. He said he would be representing Patrick again once her hearing date is set on the lesser charge.” http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html
If prosecutors who convict innocent people want to be sure that the victim’s family never questions them on it, use Jordan’s playbook.
Third Base and Pre-Game player- The Judge
Judge Ferrill McRae (http://prospect.org/article/judge-lynch-mob ), to his credit, expressed concern about Jordan interviewing Rodney without reading him his rights, but only lectured him about it, but nothing else. A confession was made before Rodney’s trial, but McRae allowed Jordan to suppress it. And at Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing, McRae was mocking Rodney’s claims of ineffective counsel. The same judge should not be a part of the trial and the Rule 32 hearings, at least not in this case.
Home plate- a homerun, Jordan has the judge and the jury on his side. Another conviction, another home run. Mr. October.
Coach and Team Managers- DA’s who stand by a conviction no matter what and state bar associations that refuse to hold one of their own accountable even when they blatantly violate ethics laws.
A Question for Prosecutors: What is Your Mission-To Seek the Truth, the Conviction or Both?
I recently read an article in Reason magazine (via the website) entitled “Confessions of an Ex-Prosecutor: Culture and law conspire to make prosecutors hostile to constitutional rights.” The culture perpetuated by prosecutors is too often to win a conviction- at all costs. Constitutional rights seem to stop at the doorsteps of far too many district attorney offices when it comes to getting a conviction. Evidence of innocence far too often takes a back seat to a good theory or a victim who can sway the jury enough to get a conviction, even when the prosecutor has little evidence of an individual’s guilt. The conviction is the deity that prosecutors praise; constitutional rights of defendants are mere suggestions in the minds of far too many prosecutors. Here is a quote from the article in Reason:
“Three types of culture—the culture of the prosecutor’s office, American popular culture, and the culture created by the modern legal norms of criminal justice— shaped how I saw the rights of the people I prosecuted. If you had asked me, I would have said that it was my job to protect constitutional rights and strike only what the Supreme Court once called “hard blows, not foul ones.” But in my heart, and in my approach to law, I saw rights as a challenge, as something to be overcome to win a conviction. Nobody taught me that explicitly—nobody had to.”
This was the lesson learned from a defense attorney who began his legal career as a 26 year old prosecutor. He goes on to discuss his experiences as a federal prosecutor and what he observed. Ken White writes:
“…I even learned it by watching prosecutors commit misconduct—the deliberate or reckless infringement of defendants’ constitutional rights. I saw prosecutors make ridiculous and bad-faith arguments defending law enforcement, and prevail on them. I saw them make preposterous assertions about the constitution because they could, and because judges would indulge them. I saw them reject my claims that my clients’ rights were violated because they were the government and my client was the defendant and that was their job.”
Ken White attempts to explain why prosecutors behave as they do. He attempts to provide some insight into the culture of prosecutors- a shared fear. He writes: “Just as the brotherhood of prosecutors was premised on shared experience, it was also premised on shared fear. As a defense attorney, I fear that I’ll fail my client and they will be unjustly imprisoned. But as a prosecutor, the culture taught me to fear that I’d make a mistake and a guilty defendant would go free to wreak havoc on society. That fear constantly colored my assessment of legal issues.”
He explained a case of one of the people he had to prosecute. To paraphrase, the individual had lost his job and was evicted from his apartment. The individual went to the bank to withdraw money from an insurance settlement, only to be told that there was a hold on the check. Emotionally distressed, the individual told the teller that he had a bomb. He was given thousands of dollars, much less than what was in his account. The individual took the money, went to his car, and remained there until his arrest- he expected his arrest. White explains that he wasn’t keen on throwing the book at the guy as it was obviously something that he would not have done automatically. But his supervisor brought up a DUI incident and said that he must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. He writes:
“I rather timidly questioned my supervisor. Should this man face the weight of federal criminal prosecution? Aren’t his circumstances unique, and unlikely to recur? Shouldn’t we find another approach?
My supervisor—a decent, moral man—pointed me to the defendant’s criminal record of drunk driving. If we let him go, he reasoned, do you want him out on the road with your young wife? What if he causes a crash and someone is killed because we were lenient?
So I took the case to trial, and the jury—functioning in an idealized way, as they sometimes do—hung 11 to 1 for acquittal. But I learned my lesson: As a prosecutor, I was responsible for what may happen if I failed to convict these people. The fate of their future possible victims are on me.
That camaraderie—that fear—colored my evaluation each time I assessed whether an action would violate a defendant’s rights. The office culture helped make me. https://reason.com/archives/2016/06/23/confessions- of-an-ex-prosecutor/1
I will repeat a line from above” “… I was responsible for what may happen if I failed to convict these people. The fate of their future possible victims are on me.” This is interesting for as we know from so many cases (Michel Morton, John Thompson, Cameron Todd Willingham, Anthony Graves, Gregory Taylor, the list goes on), prosecutors withheld evidence and prosecuted these individuals resulting in their spending nearly two decades in prison- collectively more than 8 decades- and even being put to death by the state.). Michael Morton, for example, was accused of murdering his wife. The actual murderer went on to murder again, while the prosecutor focused so heavily on Morton and on Morton’s conviction, that His mind wasn’t on possible future victims or if he actually had the wrong man. This should infect the culture of prosecutor offices- “what if by withholding this evidence that is favorable to the defendant that I will allow the guilty culprit to go unpunished,” is what they should ask themselves. Isn’t that an easy thought? I mean really, why would a prosecutor withhold evidence favorable to a defendant if it can clear a defendant, and, therefore, lead them in the direction of the actual culprit. Do prosecutors not care about all victims. Did Ken Anderson, the individual who prosecuted Michael Morton, not care about the death of a woman killed by the same man who murdered Morton’s wife after he focused and pursued Morton? This should haunt prosecutors, but they are so hung up on the conviction in the immediate case that they wish not to look beyond the “what if I am wrong” question. If I am so sure that I have the right person, then why am I willing to violate this person’s constitutional rights, particularly when it comes to the Brady Rule regarding exculpatory evidence that is favorable to the defendant? When prosecutors convict innocent people, the guilty culprit remains free to commit more crimes. If one were to look at just the incidents of innocent people on death row, one can understand the number of people who committed heinous crimes, but who were let go because prosecutors focused on the innocent, one would see how serious and disturbing this is. To quote Samuel Gross, law professor at the University of Michigan and the editor of the National Registry of Wrongful Convictions:
“How many people are convicted of crimes they did not commit? Last year, a study I co-authored on the issue was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It shows that 4.1 percent of defendants who are sentenced to death in the United States are later shown to be innocent: 1 in 25.
Death sentences are uniquely well-documented. We don’t know nearly enough about other kinds of criminal cases to estimate the rate of wrongful convictions for those. The rate could be lower than for capital murders, or it could be higher. Of course, in a country with millions of criminal convictions a year and more than 2 million people behind bars, even 1 percent amounts to tens of thousands of tragic errors.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the- cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5- 93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html
These individuals spent years in prison because a prosecutor got it wrong. And once a prosecutor gets it wrong, the system remains in favor of the prosecutor’s actions. But the individuals who actually committed the crimes for which the innocent were/are serving time, are free to live lives unaccountable for the crimes they committed. Do prosecutors lie awake at night thinking about the potential victims in these cases, or, again, is it only the victims in the cases that are before them that they care about. Is this fair to the victim, to believe that the person they put the most trust in, the prosecutor, failed to bring about true justice. The victim does not get closure when the innocent is convicted. Trust in the system can be eroded, but, as Ken White says in this article, prosecutors still maintain a high degree of trust, and, as such, victims do not often step up and attempt to hold prosecutors accountable. Getting back to Michael Morton’s case, the prosecutor in his case, Ken Anderson, went on to serve as a judge for 25 years before the Texas State Bar FINALLY held him accountable- a ten day jail sentence and a loss of his law license- http://www.dallasnews.com/news/local-news/20131108-ex-prosecutor-gets-10-days-in-jail-over-michael-morton-case.ece
Anderson’s successor John Bradley continued the culture of the office and refused to allow a bandana worn by the actual culprit to be tested for DNA. When it was finally tested, Morton was exonerated, but not before a 25 year prison sentence with the belief that he murdered his wife hanging over his head. Bradley lost his election- the victim’s family (the family of the second person murdered by the person who murdered Morton’s wife) got involved in the campaign-wrongful convictions became a significant part of this campaign (http://www.texasmonthly.com/politics/why-john-bradley-lost/) . This is what really needs to happen; this is what will force prosecutors to change the culture of their offices, when victims speak up. How can a prosecutor hear a confession, for example, and opt to suppress it because it doesn’t fit his theory. I am getting to my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry’s case later, but the prosecutor did everything that should not have been done, but he got a conviction, and the system has never and probably will never hold him accountable, but neither will the victim’s family because of the level of trust that they have in him. The families of those who watched individuals set free and exonerated should be asking questions, should be demanding investigations, should hold prosecutors accountable, for if prosecutors claim to work on behalf of victims, then they must also change the culture of conviction at all costs, for the sake of providing victims with true closure. I have a friend who does not want to serve on a jury. She watched the documentary on the Steven Avery and expressed that she does not want to be responsible for sending an innocent person to prison because prosecutors are acting in a corrupt fashion. I responded that my cousin may not have been convicted if there were people on the jury who were unwilling to believe everything that the prosecutor fed them. People who are going to be objective and not swayed by a prosecutor because he/she is a prosecutor are needed in order to provide some balance in the courtroom.
On the issue of trust, Ken White writes in his article, “Confessions of an ex-prosecutor” the following:
“Even as Americans are facing the ruination of their lives at the hands of prosecutors, even when they’re innocent, even when they’re being mistreated by the government, they’re still skeptical of defense lawyers and trusting of prosecutors. They prefer to hire a former federal prosecutor because they don’t want to think of themselves as someone who has to hire a criminal defense lawyer.
That’s the power of culture. American culture relentlessly tells prosecutors that they are by definition the good guys. It tells them that assertions of rights are, at best, impediments to be overcome, and at worst cynical ploys by villains. It is tremendously difficult to ignore those cultural messages and give defendants’ constitutional rights the attention they deserve.”
As I’ve stated on numerous occasions, prosecutors are needed, most are decent, hard-working, people who want to put away the “bad guys.” But sometimes prosecutors act without integrity; sometimes they allow the pursuit of the conviction. I wrote in a blog entitled “The Prosecutor and the Criminal”,after reading Picking Cotton: Our Memoir on Injustice and Redemption by Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson Cannino and The Confession by John Grisham. In this blog, I talk about how prosecutors sometimes act less as public servants and more like the criminals that they prosecute. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/08/11/the-prosecutor-and-the-criminal/
In some cases, the criminal has more integrity than the prosecutor who is supposed to uphold public trust. When those prosecutors are not held accountable, it weakens the idea that there is truth and justice for all. In another article on Reason magazine’s website entitled “When Prosecutors Withhold Information, Innocent People Go to Prison- Or Worse,” there is a discussion of the consequences of prosecutors violating the rights of the accused. Some prosecutors slowly take the lives of innocent people, quietly impact the lives of so many. If they had to wear body cameras, perhaps the public will be more aware of the destructive nature of SOME prosecutors. It is rare that the Department of Justice and the State Bar Associations to investigate even the worst violations of prosecutorial misconduct. And the U.S. Supreme Court has given them immunity. This is a serious problem, yet prosecutors are not often scrutinized, they have very little accountability. A law professor at Santa Clara University examined 5000 cases and found that prosecutors withheld favorable evidence in 620 of the cases and a judge ruled that withholding this violation of the law in only 22 cases- even judges sanction what they do as we intimately found out in my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry’s case, where Judge Ferrill McRae (http://prospect.org/article/judge-lynch-mob) allowed prosecutor Buzz Jordan (Mobile, Alabama) to suppress a confession and then presided over Rodney’s post-conviction appeal and chastised Rodney for having the audacity to address this. There are no body cameras on prosecutors and the death of the innocent and incarcerated, when it happens, isn’t immediate, so there are no media, nor sustained rallies, for the most part, but remember Timothy Cole of Texas (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/tim-cole-rick-perry ) died of an asthma attack in his 13th year of a wrongful conviction, Troy Davis and Cameron Todd Willingham were eventually executed. Many today will fall victim to prosecutorial misconduct and many today, including Rodney K. Stanberry, remain in prison (nearly 20 years) because prosecutors care far too much about the conviction as opposed to the truth.
So, prosecutors continue to do what they do, the culture continues to be entrenched, and there remains very little incentive for prosecutors to change the culture of the office. Even if a prosecutor looks at Ken Anderson- the prosecutor in Michael Morton’s case- he/she sees that it took 25 years before he was held accountable, the same in the case of the prosecutor in Anthony Graves case, accountability came two decades later. A successful career can be made off of high conviction rates and the odds of being held accountable when there is prosecutorial misconduct is so low that a cost benefit analysis can be made to just continue to operate within the culture of the office. Ken White, in the first article cited in this blog (courtesy) of Reason magazine’s website wrote:
“As a young prosecutor I found myself analyzing each constitutional question not in terms of whether the defendant’s rights were respected, but in terms of how I could show it was irrelevant that they weren’t. I didn’t make up that approach out of a black heart. I learned it from the legal culture.”
It hurts to my core understanding how prosecutorial misconduct and sanctioning said conduct have resulted in my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, remaining in prison for 20 years for crimes he did not commit. The public tends to respond to police shootings, as they should, but the public should know that prosecutors conveniently “lose” evidence that could actually clear an innocent man. In my cousin’s case, a police officer tasked to collect evidence took a photo of a mask and gloves at the scene of the crime, but claims to have not collected them- don’t laugh it is true. Just as a prosecutor- Buzz Jordan- also in Rodney’s case claimed to interview at a prison in New York (he traveled from Alabama to New York) but claimed to have not taken notes because he was on vacation. Don’t laugh, it is true. Just as the same prosecutor hears a confession by one of the two actual perpetrators in the crimes for which Rodney is on his 19th in prison, and dismisses it because it did not fit his theory. He even asked the person if he were given lunch meat in return for his confession. Lunch meat- as if a person with a felony on his record already would confess on behalf of someone that he barely knew (if that can even be said) for lunch meat. Don’t laugh, it is true. It is a shame that no one opted to run against Mobile DA Ashley Rich this time around, not even token opposition, for the only way that the culture will change is if there is a DA with a different mindset in the office. In six years, one of her prosecutors with the mindset Ken White (Reason) as a young prosecutor when he was caught up in the culture will run, and hopefully, someone, like the Ken White- the ex-prosecutor will prevail. A Conviction Integrity Unit needs to be established in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office for Rodney to have a chance to to be exonerated even after his term concludes. While rare, it has happened. I believe Brooklyn, New York DA Ken Thompson has exonerated at least one person after his sentence has been served. Here is a link to a conviction review unit within his office- http://brooklynda.org/conviction-review-unit/ That is why I will never give up this battle to exonerate my cousin- exoneration is the destination. One has to hold out hope for justice, such as it is when an innocent man serves 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. This hurts so much and it doesn’t get easier.
Imagine spending 20 years in prison for a crime you did not commit. Imagine spending 20 years in prison for a crime you did not commit, when you have witnesses placing you a thousand miles away from where the crime was committed. This is apparently what happened to 40 year old Richard Rosario. He was 20 when he was convicted in 1996 and he is 40 now. Imagine spending 20 years of your life in prison, away from your children who were born just before your incarceration. Rosario was released this week. “”A modicum of justice has occurred today,” said one of his lawyers, Glenn Garber of the Exoneration Initiatve. But “he’s not been fully vindicated, and we hope he will be soon.””
This is a reality for far too many individuals in the United States of America. I have provided statistics in other blogs on this, but for this blog, I want you to take note of what Mr. Rosario said, “ I didn’t deserve this, and nor did the family of the victim.” When prosecutors prosecute an innocent person, they leave the victim and victim’s family to believe that justice has been served. For each of the actual innocent people who have been released from prison, there is a victim/victim’s family left without closure and left to deal with open wounds. Prosecutors can do the right thing at any point during a defendant’s case, but, too often, they go for the easy conviction. No one wins when innocent men and women are incarcerated, except for prosecutors who continue to advance their careers based on their conviction rates.
Rodney K. Stanberry- Year 19
On March 24th, 2016, Rodney K. Stanberry will conclude 19 full years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He will begin his last year of incarceration on March 25th, 2016. Rodney had proof that he was at work when the crimes for which he is accused of committing took place. He has work documents as well as co-workers placing him at work. The prosecutor interviewed Rodney at his place of employment (without reading him his Miranda Rights, Rodney was cooperative because he wanted to be helpful, he had no idea that he was a suspect. While at his place of employment, the prosecutor- Joe Carl Buzz Jordan, likely saw that Rodney was at work, but what does the truth matter when one is operating under a theory. I outline the day the crimes took place in this blog entitled “Can One Person Be Two Places at Once” . In addition, an individual who was actually present when the crime took place confessed that it was on him and the actual shooter at the victim’s house. Again, Buzz Jordan interviewed Moore, the person who confessed, approximately two years before Rodney’s trial and the interview took place in the law office of one of the most prominent attorneys in Mobile. He told his client to tell PROSECUTOR Jordan the truth, which he did, exonerating Rodney, but Jordan didn’t believe him, even asking if he has been offered lunch meat in return for the confession. Understand that Moore and Rodney were not friends and that Moore was facing many years in prison if prosecuted. He had no incentive to lie and every incentive to be truthful. He and his attorney believed that a prosecutor with the Mobile District Attorney’s Office was actually searching for the truth. As a result, Rodney ended up serving 19 years and counting for crimes Jordan had to know he could not have committed.) Rather than the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to pursue the truth, they relied on a theory that was unproven, “lost” evidence, and an overzealous prosecutor. It is truly shameful with the criminal is more honest than the prosecutor, absolutely shameful. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office, from John Tyson, Jr. to current District Attorney Ashley Rich, had more than 20 years to actually pursue justice in Rodney’s case, instead, at every point of his appeals and parole hearings, they have ensured that he would not achieve his freedom. They sanction dishonesty, as it is about the conviction with them, nothing but the conviction. How can someone claim to be pro-victim under these circumstances? The prosecutor in Rodney’s case, seen in the video above, has continued to convince the victim’s family that Rodney is guilty and the prosecutor has ensured that he provides assistance needed to be sure that he is never questioned (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/09/09/the-continued-struggle-to-free-an-innocent-man-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/ and http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2014/02/11/ruthless-we-should-never-have-to-describe-people-paid-and-elected-to-pursue-justice-as-such-but/)
This is not justice, this is injustice perpetuated by a flawed system and individuals who are blinded by the need to uphold a conviction over anything else. This is also not pro-victim.
Rodney K. Stanberry is a strong individual. He has endured these two decades of injustice with dignity because he knows he is innocent and he knows he has support. Rodney was a hard-working, fun-loving, law-abiding human being who went to prison in 1997 to serve a 20 year sentence for crimes he did not commit. He is now a soon to be 47 year old man (he turns 47 in April) who is ready, willing, and able to work hard and to continue to live as a law abiding citizen, while we continue to fight for his exoneration. Rodney did not deserve the nightmare that he has lived since first being accused of a crime that he did not commit in 1992 (the trial was in 1995 and he entered prison in March 1997), nor did his family and friends deserve the heartache and heartbreak of knowing that a loved one has been a victim of the convict at all costs mentality that too many prosecutors live by. His son born shortly before his sentence began is a grown man, his mother died, and his father is now in his 80s. This conviction has taken a toll on him, but the bigger toll is on our system of justice. We need a system that the average person truly believes is fair and just. When we consistently see news headlines featuring individuals who have served 10, 20, and even 30 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, we gradually lose the belief that the system is fair and just for all. Rodney was once asked why he still believed in the system. After confirming his belief in the system, Rodney said that it is a character flaw on his part. The character flaw isn’t with Rodney; rather, it is with the prosecutors/district attorneys who refuse to seek the truth. The cure to this is for prosecutors to be held accountable by State Bar Associations, and for voters to say enough is enough and to vote prosecutors out of office who refuse to acknowledge that reforms are needed. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich acknowledged when she first sought the office that wrongful convictions should be addressed, but as cases have been overturned by prosecutors in her office, she has remained silent on this issue. And she is walking into another term, unopposed. One of my biggest regrets is that 19 years ago, when I first became an advocate for Rodney’s freedom and exoneration, is that I did not move back to Alabama to fight for him there. If that had happened, perhaps I would have been able to convince a strong candidate to run against DA Ashley Rich on the issue of wrongful convictions. Citizens around the country who are fed up with prosecutors who refuse to acknowledge AND seriously address wrongful convictions can vote in local elections, it happened in Chicago with regard to a prosecutor who did not adequately investigate a police shooting (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-election-chicago-idUSKCN0WI0I0) and it happened with a prosecutor associated In Williamson County, Texas, Jana Duty, a Republican, defeated Bradley and her Democratic general election challenger, the issue of Michael Morton’s case was front and center.
By this time next year, Rodney will be out of prison. He will be a productive citizen. He will not hold grudges. I will never give up the battle to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry. It is about the truth, it is about justice, and Rodney deserves it, justice deserves it.
Title: An Innocence Inquiry Commission in Alabama?- A Step in the Right Direction
On Thursday, February 18th, I was informed that an Alabama State Senator had introduced legislation that would establish an Innocence Commission in Alabama. I was immediately excited as this is something that I’d hoped for, advocated for, and dreamed about for so many years. Sen. Brewbaker introduced a bill that would allow for people convicted of felonies would have an opportunity to have their cases heard by an innocence inquiry commission if there is factual evidence of innocence.
“According to Brewbaker, the purpose of the Innocence Commission is to grant a defendant a new trial or receive outright exoneration, if there, “is physical evidence that can prove actual innocence, not just reasonable doubt, but actual innocence.” Brewbaker said the commission, “would add a lot of integrity to the death penalty process for Alabama.” And hopes lawmakers will see the wisdom in “following the lead of states like Texas and establish an innocence commission.” http://www.alreporter.com/brewbaker-sponsors-historic-innocence-commission/
The bill was introduced with bipartisan support. Sen. Brewbaker referenced the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission in the above quote. Since it was established in 2006, 9 individuals have been released from prison, including Greg Taylor who spent 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit and Joseph Sledge who spent nearly FORTY YEARS in prison . Just these two individuals (Taylor and Sledge) spent a combined 55+ years in prison. They would likely still be in prison were it not for an opportunity provided by the state of North Carolina to get another shot to have their cases heard. So, again, needless to say, I was very, very excited about Brewbaker’s bill. I forgot to adhere to that cautiously optimistic stance that I’ve developed over the years. As my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, is in his 18th year of a 20 year sentence, all I can think about was that he would finally be able to get his case heard again. (note, March 25th, 2016 will mark the beginning of Rodney’s 19th year in prison for crimes he did not commit).
On Wednesday, February 24th, I felt the pain of disappointment and heartache when I read an article entitled: “Change: Alabama’s Innocence Commission would now only review death row cases “. I once again learned the lesson of what it does to a person to have too much hope. Peanuts character Lucy had once again pulled away the football that Charlie Brown finally thought he would be successful in kicking. The Alabama State Legislative body pulled away a shot at justice for all inmates who are innocent and incarcerated for the purpose of political expediency. I truly understand the need for death row inmates to be able to have their cases heard. A death sentence is extremely serious and it is literally a matter of life and death. Alabamians Anthony Ray Hinton was just released from death row after 30 years and William Ziegler spent 13 years on death row before eventually being released from prison. Walter McMillan ,a case, like Anthony Ray Hinton’s, so disturbing that the entire judicial system in Alabama should be on trial, died not too long after his release from death row. Here is what Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative said about McMillan, who spent 6 years on death row, following a trial that lasted a day and a half. This quote was reflected his feelings as a judge was finally going to order McMillan innocent and that he would be released.
“ Walter was rightfully ecstatic, but I was confused by my simmering anger. We were about to leave court for the last time, and I started thinking about how much pain and suffering had been inflicted on Walter and his family, the entire community. I thought about how if Judge Robert E. Lee Key hadn’t overridden the jury’s verdict of life imprisonment without parole and imposed the death penalty, which brought the case to our attention, Walter likely would have spent the rest of his life incarcerated and died in a prison cell. I thought about how certain it was that hundreds, maybe thousands of other people were just as innocent as Walter but would never get the help they need. I knew this wasn’t the place or time to make a speech or complain, but I couldn’t stop myself from making one final comment.” Pg 225 Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson)
Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative worked very hard to free and exonerate Walter McMillan. But, as Stevenson mentioned, had Judge Robert E. Lee Key not overridden the jury’s verdict, McMillan would likely have died in prison. Prosecutorial and law enforcement misconduct weren’t enough to get the attention of the Equal Justice Initiative, although this is something that the group is very concerned with, rather, it was the action of a judge. Under the revised proposed Innocence Inquiry Commission legislation, a case such as McMillan’s would be heard if a judge sentenced the person to death, but in the same case if it were a life in prison sentence, the person’s case could not be heard by the innocence commission.
I asked Alabama State Senator Cam Ward, chair of the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee, why the bill was revised to include only death penalty cases via an exchange on twitter and he responded that the sponsor of the bill requested the change because he could not get the votes passed in original form (Feb. 25, 2016 tweet @artiestan is where it can be found. I can understand why Sen. Brewbaker felt the need to withdraw his original bill for the revised bill because these high profile exonerations were in the news and it hits home among even the toughest law and order legislator. Brewbaker, for example, is a strong proponent of the death penalty, but even someone such as him can look at Anthony Hinton’s case (30 years on death row, when he should not have spent a single day in prison) and feel genuinely concerned about innocent inmates on death row, but there are many who are not on death row whose sentence can also be a matter of life and death.
It includes two friends who were arrested when they were 16 for carjacking and murder. David McCallam spent nearly 30 years of his life in prison before his exoneration, his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, died in prison. It can be a life and death situation whether an innocent person is sentenced to a capital or non-capital case. They were sentenced 25 years to life, not a death sentence. Imagine being given a 20 year sentence. Imagine giving a hug and kiss to your young son that cannot yet walk or talk. Imagine not being able to hear his first words, the first time he walks, the first day of school. Imagine missing his 16th birthday, and then his graduation, 18 years have passed by and you remain in prison for crimes you did not commit, while that son who was a baby is now a young man. Do these individuals not deserve a shot at justice before a state sponsored Innocence Commission?
What one discovers in being an advocate for an innocent person who is incarcerated is that there is a triage when it comes to taking on wrongful convictions- death penalty cases, life without parole cases, juveniles sentenced to life, and many law firms take on capital cases as pro bono opportunities. Stevenson in the quote above stated that he would not have heard about Hinton’s case had the judge not sentenced him to death. Beth Schwartzapfel’s reports this about Timothy Cole in her brilliant article entitled “No Country for Innocent Men : “In 1992, his case was considered by the pardon and parole board. He was asked if he was sorry for what he did. He said he didn’t do anything. He was denied parole. He kept up on emerging DNA technology, and in 1995 he wrote a letter to the newly founded Innocence Project in New York City, but the organization did not take his case. In 1996, he was denied parole again.” Timothy Cole did not live to see the statue and legislation dedicated in his honor and he, like so many, would not have a slight chance to have their cases heard in a state that has an Innocence Commission, but only for death penalty cases. He didn’t receive a death penalty, but his sentence to prison ended up being a death sentence.
Are we willing to say that, well, if you are sentenced to ten years, just take the sentence and move on, it’s only ten years of your life and we don’t want to point out the problems in your case, even if the problem included egregious prosecutorial misconduct? When someone has a 20 year sentence, innocence projects may believe that by the time a case is appealed, that the person will be free or paroled, but the innocent and incarcerated even runs into a roadblock dealing with parole- it difficult getting parole when one is not remorseful; as what is quoted in the Timothy Cole case demonstrates, it is difficult to be remorseful, when one is innocent. Award winning investigative journalists Beth Schwartzapfel points out in her award winning Washington Post article on parole entitled: “How Parole Boards Keep People in the Dark and Behind Bars”
“A months-long Marshall Project investigation reveals that, in many states, parole boards are so deeply cautious about releasing prisoners who could come back to haunt them that they release only a small fraction of those eligible — and almost none who have committed violent offenses, even those who pose little danger and whom a judge clearly intended to go free.”
So a person sentenced to 20 years in prison, even if there is overwhelming evidence of innocence, can remain in prison for those 20 years, appeals exhausted and no chance for substantive help. As included in Beth’s article as it relates to Alabama:
“In Alabama, it’s almost unheard of for the board to grant parole over victim opposition. The board also routinely receives letters opposing parole from the governor, the attorney general and other elected officials.
“That’s going to impact the disposition when they protest, almost universally,” Alabama board Chairman Robert Longshore said. “You’ve got a very politicized victim community in the state of Alabama
In Rodney’s case, we have been told by attorneys who said that by the time they get his case into court on an appeal, that he would likely be paroled, thus the resources need to be used on cases where inmates have longer sentences. Rodney, under the situation described by Longshore, who denied Rodney parole three times, by the way, did not have a fighting chance to get parole. The newly passed Alabama Prison Reform bill is supposed to provide some relief for inmates who have 12-24 months left on their sentences, but this is not the reality. What the bills says and what is actually happening are two different realities, but that is the subject for another day.
The innocence inquiry bill introduced in the Alabama Senate easily made it through the judiciary committee and goes to the full Alabama senate floor. It, of course, has to pass the House side of the Alabama legislative body. I applaud this step that the legislature is taking and I certainly would not speak out against a bill that recognizes that innocent people are in prison and that they need for the state to do more to address this. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said about the bill: “”Senate Bill 237 is unnecessary as death row inmates already have access to a process to establish innocence under the Rules of Criminal Procedure. Furthermore, the bill would supplant the role of the current judicial system by creating a ‘fourth layer of appeals’ outside of the review already provided by the circuit courts, Court of Criminal Appeals, and the Alabama Supreme Court.” Also “Strange urged senators to join him and the victims of violent crime in “standing on the side of justice and oppose this bill.” http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2016/02/change_alabama_innocence_inqui.html
The sentiment expressed by AG Strange is echoed by districts attorneys who would rather get a conviction and maintain a conviction, rather than acknowledging prosecutorial misconduct and that they convicted innocent people; For the state to acknowledge that something needs to be done is worthy of applause. I am in a position of being frustrated and heartbroken that the original bill isn’t being considered, but I am excited that the state of Alabama is moving in the right direction. It shows that humanity is seeping through among some legislators. But this same humanity must be shown for people who are not sentenced to death. Do they not deserve to have their case heard by a proposed Alabama Innocence Inquiry Commission?
Please take a moment to thank Sen. Brewbaker for introducing this legislation. He can be reached by clicking here- Brewbaker. And if you are in Alabama but are not sure who represents you in the Alabama House and Senate, then please click here to locate your legislators and consider contacting them: http://capwiz.com/state-al/home/
Also, you can express your thoughts about whether all felony cases should be included as his original bill proposed. The session is relatively short, so do not delay.
I have spent nearly 20 year of my life fighting for the exoneration of Rodney K. Stanberry, I will spend another 20 years if necessary. Even if this bill is not amended to include all felonies, we must not give up on the fight to support innocence commissions, conviction integrity units, and electing prosecutors and attorney generals who do not place the conviction above true justice. When prosecutors run unopposed, they have no incentive to change. DA Ashley Rich, when she was running seemed sympathetic toward the possibility that innocent people are in prison, as the actual DA, not so much. Don’t give, justice is worth fighting for.