Mr. and Ms. October- Prosecutors Who Win at All Cost-Even Convicting the Innocent

October 1, 2016

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.

Marty Shroud was a young attorney when he was able to convict Glen Ford, who spent three decades on death row for a murder that he did not commit.  Here is what Shroud said in his now apologetic years: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.” http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/03/20/lead-prosecutor-offers-apology-in-the-case-of-exonerated-death-row-inmate-glenn-ford/25049063/  While Shroud likely has a nice retirement plan, Glen ford was not compensated for the 30 years of his life that was taken away- he was given a 20 dollar gift card upon his release and exoneration. He has since died without receiving anything beyond that 20 dollar gift card from the state. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/11/30/the-sport-of-boxing-and-the-arena-of-prosecutors-fighting-against-wrongful-convictions/  Far too many prosecutors are like Shroud was in 1984. Further, they are given the tools, the players, and the power to convict innocent people, without repercussion, without being held accountable.  Their careers are built on this.  Their Mr. October-like  performance build their careers, and, unfortunately, undermines the system of justice.

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.

“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.”” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-power-and-politics-of-parole-boards/2015/07/10/49c1844e-1f71-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html

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:

“Responding to several highly publicized district attorney scandals that have tainted numerous murder cases, a California state legislator has introduced bill that would make it a felony crime for prosecutors to intentionally withhold or falsify evidence.”                       http://reason.com/blog/2016/08/16/california-bill-would-make-it-a-felony-f

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.

By creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local    program.”  http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1909

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.

Second Base

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.

It is almost October 2016 as I write this blog.  Rodney has spent approximately 19 years and 7 months in prison.  Mr. October, Buzz Jordan, has spent as much time on his law career.  Where is the justice?  Not in Alabama as it relates to Rodney’s case. (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/ ).

Peace,

Prof Stanberry

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A Question for Prosecutors: What is Your Mission-To Seek the Truth, the Conviction or Both?

July 8th, 2016

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.”

And so it goes.

Rodney K. Stanberry

As referenced earlier, I have a cousin who remains in prison or crimes he did not commit. He was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995, and began his prison sentence in 1997.  He was convicted of burglary, robbery and attempted murder. He is in his 19th year of a 20 year sentence.  What happened in his case should be a subject of a movie.  What the prosecutor in his case was able to do in his case should still be the subject of investigation.  Rodney tried to play crimefighter- meaning he tried to prevent crimes and, as a result, he is in prison. Rodney tried to keep weapons from moving from Alabama to New York and for that, he remains in prison while the prosecutor in his case (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI ) continues to practice law, even defending a family member of the victim in 2013, citing Rodney’s case- if a prosecutor ever wants to ensure that the victim’s family doesn’t question them, then they should use Buzz Jordan’s playbook.  (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html and   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/)

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.

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

www.freerodneystanberry.com

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Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerate, Year 19

Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerate, Year 19.

(see also Rodney K. Stanberry Year 18

)

“”I’ve been in prison for 20 years for a crime I didn’t commit,” said Rosario, who had lost multiple appeals. “My family didn’t deserve this. I didn’t deserve this, and nor did the family of the victim.”” http://bigstory.ap.org/article/cbeb663a3bab40e884e83ad2cd5d6a2e/nyc-killing-florida-alibi-man-may-go-free-after-20-years

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.

Sincerely,

Artemesia Stanberry

Please read this investigative piece by investigative journalist Beth Schwartzapfel: Who Shot Valerie Finley? Why One Man’s Innocence Is So Hard to Prove

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An Innocence Inquiry Commission in Alabama?- A Step in the Right Direction

February 27, 2016

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.

Timothy Cole, a college student sentenced to prison for 25 years for a crime that he did not commit, died on year 13 of his sentence, a death sentence, essentially, he was 39 at the time of his death. Recently, the New York Magazine published a powerful piece entitled “That’s When I Knew I Was Free: Eight Exonerated Prisoners on Their First Week Outside.”

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.

Peace,

 

Artemesia Stanberry

 

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Mistakes of the (Miss) Universe: Why Won’t District Attorneys Admit Their Mistakes?

December 25th, 2015

Mistakes of the (Miss) Universe: Why Won’t District Attorneys Admit Their Mistakes?

I know it is the holiday season and people justly want to focus on family members and friends, but please keep those who are innocent and incarcerated in mind, and support innocence projects around the world.  For the innocent and incarcerated, major holidays such as Christmas is a reminder of the precious years lost- precious years that one cannot back, precious years away from family members, and the recognition that one may never have another Christmas with a loved one.

The Internet was recently abuzz with the Steve Harvey incident, you know which one. He inadvertently crowns Ms. Colombia as Miss Universe instead of Miss. Philippines, the apparent winner. Steve Harvey returned to the stage within two minutes and owned up to his mistake.  Now, it may have been easier if the pageant organizers and Steve Harvey pretended that a mistake was not made, it may have prevented the negative publicity, but it certainly would not have been ethical.  The best policy would have been to own up to the mistake. Steve Harvey did so and said, as I recall, that it was all on him, that the right person is listed on the card;  he just read it wrong. Now I know that so many people are seeing this as a publicity stunt, but one can only imagine what our judicial system would be like if prosecutors recognized that they are investigating the wrong person and therefore, they need to focus on the actual perpetrator. When a prosecutor has a theory and/or if he/she has spent several months on an investigation, he/she may not want to acknowledge the mistake, rather, the temptation may be to let the jury figure it out and leave it up to the defendant’s attorney to present the best defense possible.

Take, for example, Anthony Hinton, who spent nearly 30 years on death row from crimes he did not commit.  Although it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime, he was arrested, convicted, and made his home on Alabama’s death row for three decades.  The prosecutor in his case had a documented history of racial bias, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, “and said he could tell Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” solely from his appearance. http://www.eji.org/deathpenalty/innocence/hinton  Instead of owning up to the reality of his potential innocence, the temptation was too strong to get the conviction, in this case, not based on a theory, but based on how someone looked.

Take, for example, Timothy Cole, who died in prison, when another person later confessed, the prosecutor was not willing to admit/acknowledge a wrongdoing, instead he allowed Cole to spend more years in prison where he eventually died due to a health complication.

Take, for example, Michael Morton, the prosecutor had evidence before his trial indicating that he was innocent, but the sensational nature of the case was too strong, there was a strong need to convict. In Morton’s case, the prosecutor’s mea culpa came nearly 3 decades after Morton’s arrest and conviction and after the Texas Bar saw his actions to be so egregious that they put him on trial. Unfortunately, I can give you so many cases like this, including the case of William Ziegler, prosecuted by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. There are so many cases where if the prosecutor just admitted his/her mistake, an innocent person may have avoided spending years in prison.  Imagine a world where prosecutors did not mind returning to the center of the stage and saying, my mistake, we saw the evidence, we opted not to withhold it, we want to do what is right by the judicial system. Imagine.

Rodney K. Stanberry

Rodney K. Stanberry was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995 and sentenced in 1997 for crimes he did not commit. He remains in prison, another Christmas, another holiday that he has missed with his family and friends. The prosecutor in his case had a confession by one of the individuals who committed the crimes. The prosecutor opted to not believe the confession because it interfered with his theory, and he suppressed the confession before Rodney’s trial. This same prosecutor travelled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York to interview the person he says was the shooter only to claim that he did not take any notes to share because he was on vacation. The prosecutor (Buzz Jordan) could have at any point before Rodney’s trial pursued the truth and actual justice for the victim of the brutal crime committed, but, instead, he took the “easy” route to convict an innocent man.  Another Assistant District Attorney in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, when confronted by the person who confessed (he was on the witness stand ready to confess-again), opted to ignore his confession- she gave him this warning: If you say what we think you will say, then it lights up for you. This is after an exchange where she is pretending (my opinion) to express concern that Moore should consult with an attorney before he confesses AGAIN. Rodney’s attorney reminds her that he had an attorney (one of the most well-known in Mobile, if I may add) when he confessed in front of Jordan. The bottom line, Tierney wanted to make absolute certain that Moore would not confess again, thus throwing the state’s theory out. You see, it is the conviction and not the truth that matters (you can read the exchange here (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/tierny_redo.9113550.pdf). This sounds to me the opposite of saying “our bad, we made a mistake, we knew it for a while, now we will move to remedy it- after all, the truth and justice are what we are concerned with in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office.  Unfortunately, we know how the District Attorney’s Office views Rule 32 hearings. A Rule 32 hearing is a chance for a convicted inmate to have an opportunity for a new trial after appeals have been exhausted, usually for ineffective counsel. A current Assistant District Attorney (Adero Marshall) in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office posted a YouTube video about these Rule 32 hearings.  Here is a quote from a YouTube video sponsored by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office:  I find myself in a unique position of defending the defense attorneys and their actions in hearings to ensure that these convicted felons remain convicted and that justice is truly served.  It requires research, writing, and understanding the law as well as being able to effectively communicate with and work with the defense bar. ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT3WRvG4hLk  There is no admitting or acknowledging a mistake by far too many prosecutors, including those under the leadership of Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich. You heard ADA Marshall, it is about upholding the conviction, to prosecutors, justice is served when the conviction is upheld.  A prosecutor withheld evidence- no problem, we will uphold the conviction. The person whose confession we suppressed wants to confess- no problem, we will be sure to scare him out of doing so.  Where is the justice in this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Finally, after Rodney was convicted, he remained out on appeal. He met with a probation officer and this is from the report:

“Probation & Parole Officer’s Remarks:

Subject made a good impression on this officer. He was very concerned about the situation and stated continuously that he had nothing to do with these cases. He did tell me that Terrell Moore had confessed to these crimes and had given a confession to the District Attorney and to the police department. I spoke with Mr. Moore and Mr. Moore stated that he knows for certainty that Rodney Karl Stanberry did not commit these offenses ….Rodney Stanberry was very polite during the course of this interview and supplied this officer with all the necessary information needed. (Note, this is from a report written by A. Lewis II, Alabama Probation and Parole Officer, on May 3rd, 1995- the complete report (about 3 pages) is available to the media and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office upon request)

This is who Rodney was. He was a law abiding citizen who worked at the same job up until just before he entered prison on March 24th, 1997.

In contrast, here is what the people we trust to pursue justice behave:

Martha Tierney to Terrell Moore- You Talk, You Get Life.

Buzz Jordan on Terrell Moore- I Never Believed He Was Involved with these crimes and never will believe it.

Terrell Moore on Terrell Moore- I was involved, I was at the house, I saw who shot Ms. Finley, and it was Angel Wish Melendez– we were the only two at the house, Rodney had nothing to do with this.

It is a sad day when the person who commits a crime is more truthful than the people paid by taxpayers to uphold the law. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/moore_in_court_more_on_can_he_testify_and_his_pleading_the_5th-_pgs_664-687testimony_by_victims_sister_688-705

 

During Rodney’s trial in 1995 Assistant District Attorney Buzz Jordan’s statement to the jury asking if they’d be willing to convict an individual based on no physical and scientific evidence, no weapons, no fingerprints and so on.

On page 687 of the transcript, the jury appears restless and sends a message to the judge that they are ready for this case to end. Two days later when the jury is set to deliberate, they get the case just before noon. The judge says before you get this case, it is noon, so go get lunch first. The jury said that lunch wasn’t necessary. 48 minutes later, they gave a unanimous guilty verdict on all three counts (attempted murder, attempted burglary, attempted robbery. During the sentencing phase, Jordan reiterated his belief that this was a murder for hire and that he would be bringing Rene Whitecloud and possibly one other person to trial. It never happened. Why, because the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would have been exposed, they convicted an innocent man and the people with knowledge of the crimes stated so, even though it meant that they may have gotten prison time.

Far too many prosecutors do the total opposite of acknowledging a mistake. They lose sight that this is about justice, including justice for the victim. Justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted. The conviction and upholding the conviction are far more important than the pursuit of justice.  It must have been very difficult for Steve Harvey to return to the stage, look at the person who is not actually the “winner’ and say in front of a worldwide audience that he read the card wrong. As I discuss in this blog entitled “The Prosecutor and the Criminal,” too many prosecutors will look at a defendant that they know are likely innocent, and pursue the case anyway. The truth becomes a casualty of war.  And with that, they likely look at Steve Harvey’s acknowledgement of his mistake and say, well, that guy certainly would not be a good fit for our office. I’m being a bit facetious.  Nevertheless, too few prosecutors are like Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson  and too many are like the prosecutors who prosecuted the aforementioned cases. As I’ve written before, there are so few prosecutors that would acknowledge what DA Kenneth Thompson acknowledged: “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/10/09/to-be-free-and-exonerated-in-a-fair-and-just-world/ If Steve Harvey were acting like many prosecutors, when he announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the Miss Universe title, he would have ignored evidence that he knew to be true (the actual name on the card). He would leave it up to someone else to the right thing, the head of the Miss Universe pageant, for example, but not him. In our judicial system, too many prosecutors are rewarded for not pursuing actual justice. Steve Harvey is apparently being rewarded with a new contract with the Miss Universe organization by acknowledging that he made a mistake. What’s wrong with this picture?

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

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The Sport of Boxing and The Arena of Prosecutors- Fighting Against Wrongful Convictions

November 29th, 2015

The Sport of Boxing and The Arena of Prosecutors- Fighting Against Wrongful Convictions

 

Many believe that boxing is a barbaric sport.  A boxing match consists of two individuals, in peak condition, inflicting as much pain and blows to the body as possible until the match concludes. The optimum conclusion is a knockout- that knock-out punch that keeps an opponent down for the count. Right jab, left jab, right jab, upper cut and then come back with a powerful right hook, a few more blows to the body if the opponent survives this and Boom, it’s over.  I am not a boxing fan. There are epic matches such as the Ali- Frazier 1971 fight that live on in the memory of many, and then there are the “matches” fought by once imprisoned boxer Dewey Bozella.  As mentioned in this article entitled  Dewey Bozella’s Next Challenge: Life on the Outside: “At 23, he went to prison and didn’t re-emerge until he was 50, finally exonerated and vindicated. Twenty-six and a half years, gone — eight more than Rubin “Hurricane” Carter did, by the way. He walks with a limp but retains the vigor and energy of a young man.” https://sports.vice.com/en_us/article/dewey-bozellas-next-challenge-life-on-the-outside

Dewey Bozella was wrongfully convicted solely on the testimony of two people who had their sentences reduced in return for saying that Bozella committed a murder. I’ve written about this case a few times before and what stood out for me then is what continues to stand out now, and that is his refusal to say he was guilty for crimes that he did not commit, even if it would have gotten him an early release date. My cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, might have been out of prison many years ago if he played this game, but you can’t give in to a falsehood. The truth and one’s integrity is all that one has when the system- represented by district attorneys and some in law enforcement- decide that you are the one they want, even if you are innocent. So one must fight for the truth, in the arena where prosecutors see the truth as a casualty of the convict and maintain convictions at all cost world that is their arena.

Bozella’s toughest match was not in a boxing ring with an opponent- rather, it was with a prosecutor and a judicial system that placed many blows to his body and soul. The 23 year old could not withstand the blows of the system, but he kept fighting and remained true to himself. The world of wrongful convictions is barbaric. The only people who may not think so are the prosecutors who get them. As I’ve said frequently, prosecutors are needed and they do have tough jobs, but the prosecutors who knowingly convict innocent people and/or that fight to keep them in prison should begin yesterday to do what is fair, right and just. No one wins- except for prosecutors- when an innocent person is convicted.

The Case of Glenn Ford

There are prosecutors who will never admit that the system has failed.  Take the District Attorney who finally worked to exonerate Glenn Ford after he spent 30 years in prison.  Here is an interview conducted by 60 Minutes:

“Bill Whitaker: Did Mr. Ford get justice in this case?

Dale Cox: I think he has– gotten delayed justice.

Dale Cox, the acting district attorney of Caddo Parish, got Glenn Ford released after receiving the informant’s information. As he sees it, the justice system worked and no one, including Marty Stroud, did anything wrong.

Dale Cox: I don’t know what it is he’s apologizing for. I think he’s wrong in that the system did not fail Mr. Ford.

Bill Whitaker: It did not?

Dale Cox: It did not…in fact…

Bill Whitaker: How can you say that?

Dale Cox: Because he’s not on death row. And that’s how I can say it.

 

Bill Whitaker: Getting out of prison after 30 years is justice?

Dale Cox: Well, it’s better than dying there and it’s better than being executed—-

There may be no more controversial prosecutor in the U.S. than Dale Cox. Between 2010 and 2014, his Caddo Parish office put more people on death row per capita than anywhere else in the country. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/30-years-on-death-row-exoneration-60-minutes/

It should be noted that the original prosecutor in Ford’s case, Marty Shroud III, apologized 3 decades later and apologized for the type of prosecutor he was. He said:

“There was no technicality here. Crafty lawyering did not secure the release of a criminal. Mr. Ford spent 30 years of his life in a small, dingy cell. His surroundings were dire. Lighting was poor, heating and cooling were almost non-existent, food bordered on the uneatable. Nobody wanted to be accused of “coddling” a death row inmate.

 

But Mr. Ford never gave up. He continued the fight for his innocence. And it finally paid off.”

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/03/20/lead-prosecutor-offers-apology-in-the-case-of-exonerated-death-row-inmate-glenn-ford/25049063/

Glenn Ford died in June 2015 at the age of 65.  When he was in his early 30s, he was sentenced to death row. Shroud, who got his conviction, said this: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.”  While Shroud likely has a nice retirement plan, Glen ford was not compensated for the 30 years of his life that was taken away. And his memory of his release was this:

Glenn Ford: What law is this? I never heard of such law where it says it’s OK to do what they did to me without any type of compensation.

There was some compensation. Glenn Ford was given a $20 gift card the day he left Angola prison.

Glenn Ford: Gave me a card for $20 and said “Wish you luck.”

Bill Whitaker: How long did that last you?

Glenn Ford: One meal. I had some fried chicken, tea and the French fries came with it. I had $4 and change left.

Bill Whitaker: After 30 years in prison?

Glenn Ford: Right.

Bill Whitaker: Thirty years on death row in solitary confinement and the state of Louisiana releases Mr. Ford with a $20 gift card. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/30-years-on-death-row-exoneration-60-minutes/

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter also intimately understood that his toughest opponent was not one in the boxing, rather a system that wants to convict and forget, a system that things it key to survival is to refuse to acknowledge and remedy conditions that lead to a wrongful conviction.  I wrote the following upon his death in April 2014:

The world lost a tremendous advocate for those who are wrongfully convicted. Rubin “Hurricane’ Carter, who spent nearly 20 years of his life in prison for crimes he did not commit died on Easter Sunday, 2014. In the weeks before his death, even as he was suffering from cancer, Carter wrote a powerful article about a man in prison in New York, a man Carter believes is innocent, a man who has been incarcerated since the 1980s. Here is some of what he wrote: “My single regret in life is that David McCallum of Brooklyn — a man incarcerated in 1985, the same year I was released, and represented by Innocence International since 2004 — is still in prison. I request only that McCallum be granted a full hearing by the Brooklyn conviction integrity unit, now under the auspices of the new district attorney, Ken Thompson.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/hurricane-carter-dying-article-1.1621747#ixzz2zSGIYJ3u”

 

It is tremendously powerful for a dying man to pursue justice for someone he believes is innocent.  We need for more prosecutors to seek the truth over the conviction. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2014/06/22/innocent-and-imprisoned-in-alabama-birthdays-fathers-days-and-the-marking-of-the-years/

Rubin’s fight for justice in the case of David McCallum likely helped to gain his release after he spent 29 years in prison. (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/09/8-exonerated-prisoners-first-week-outside.html and http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/10/09/to-be-free-and-exonerated-in-a-fair-and-just-world/)

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter understood that you have to continue the fight until the end because the system is continuous, will try to take you beyond the rounds of a match that the innocent prepare for as the innocent person naively believes, during those crucial early rounds especially, that the system is fair and just- at all times, not 3 decades later.

Carter’s fight with prosecutors that put on their boxing gloves and enter the ring with an arrogance worthy of those with the power on their side continued beyond his exoneration and it continues beyond his death. Prosecutors have the advantage in their arena; their reach is longer, allowing them to inflict the most damage to the defendant- their natural opponent.  And there is no shortage of prize fighters who hold the same attitude as prosecutor Shroud: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning.”  And on occasion when the prosecutor’s opponent seems formidable, ie having a solid alibi-being at work when a crime took place, a confession by the person who actually committed the crime and so on, the prosecutor needs to be sure that he/she has some advantage, perhaps by hitting below the belt (ie withholding evidence), or taking a sucker punch just after the bell rings indicating that a round is over  (ie suppressing evidence that would clear a defendant at the start of the trial), or by planting in a referee’s (the judge/jury) that the opponent is a dirty fighter and therefore can’t be trusted-therefore, every call must go our way.  Prosecutors have an advantage in our system.

Creed

I recently watched the movie Creed.  Michael B. Jordan, who played the son of Apollo Creed, was an inexperienced fighter who got the chance of a lifetime to fight a bigger (both in size and in name), more resourced, more established fighter.  It didn’t hurt that he had Rocky Balboa in his corner training him. For those of us fighting on behalf of the wrongfully convicted, we cannot always have a Rocky Balboa, that is to say a Barry Scheck, a Bryan Stevenson, a large law firm looking to do pro bono work, rather, we have to be the Creed to the “Pretty” Ricky Conlan (see the movie), and we have to take it one step at a time, we have to go round by round, even though the system tries to deliver a technical knockout- standing behind a jury’s decision, even though they know they misled the jury, by refusing to reopen a case, letting the victim/victim’s family believe that they (the prosecutor) got it right so they won’t question the decision and accept false closure, or by running out the clock to ensure that an innocent inmate will not get a day in court and will not be exonerated.  Yes, the prosecutors are the Apollo Creeds, the Muhummad Ali’s (much respect), brash, sure of themselves, ready to take on all challengers, but advocates must continue to fight, round by round, even though it hurts to know that they system is not designed to help the wrongfully convicted, even though the system is stacked against you with State Bar Associations unwilling to do the necessary policing of prosecutors, even though you will never have the resources that they have to bring about justice.

In the end, even if an inmate is never exonerated, society will know that a prosecutor willingly and knowingly allowed for an innocent person to be incarcerated and that the system protected this act. It is a moral victory, but at the end of the 16th round, the prosecutors may have won the fight, but you’ve won the battle and hopefully others who are in the same situation will take on the fight.  The justice loving community has to continue to chant “ justice, justice, justice” so that it can reverberate not only in the arena of a boxing match, but throughout society so that  more prosecutors can mimic the work of Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson who secured the release of David McCullom and 13 others during his short tenure as District attorney-http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lorenzo-johnson/meet-the-prosecutor-fighting-to-overturn-wrongful-convictions_b_8617584.html  As I wrote before, There are so few prosecutors that would acknowledge what DA Kenneth Thompson acknowledged: “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/10/09/to-be-free-and-exonerated-in-a-fair-and-just-world/  When my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, was convicted in 1995 by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, prosecutor Buzz Jordan (seen in this video), ignored a confession by the actual culprit, ignored evidence that Rodney was at work, and ignored evidence demonstrating Rodney’s innocence. Mobile District Attorney John Tyson, Jr. defended Jordan’s work, as did Assistant District Attorney Martha Tierney who remained silent, upon hearing Jordan say in Rodney’ Rule 32 (appeal) hearing that he traveled to New York’s Rikers Island Prison from Mobile to interview a suspect, but took no notes because he was on vacation,” and current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich continues to sanction the prosecution and conviction of an innocent man. She would NEVER say that she inherited a legacy of disgrace when it comes to wrongful convictions even as her lead attorney was accused by a judge of engaging in prosecutorial misconduct  in the William Ziegler case (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/04/23/who-will-hold-prosecutors-accountable-for-their-actions-the-case-of-william-j-ziegler/). Prosecutors can recover from the occasional loss of a fight because in their world, it can take decades before another loss occurs. By then, they are reflecting and maybe apologizing for the prosecutor they were as opposed being the prosecutor who pursues justice over convictions, that pursues honestly above deception, that pursues the truth over maintaining the conviction.  Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson and former Dallas County, Texas DA Craig Watkins are role models for this, I am thankful for them.  What about your local District Attorney? Most District Attorneys are elected officials, you can be more than a spectator by using your vote to help make a difference.

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

www.freerodneystanberry.com

Articles of Interest:

http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley

http://yourblackworld.net/2012/11/14/black-community-rallies-to-re-open-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/

http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/

http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=2332

http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5978

And although Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich is does not have an opponent for her upcoming District Attorney’s race, you can contact her office to encourage her to reopen Rodney’s case, address wrongful convictions by establishing a conviction integrity unit, and ensure that public that the truth is more important than the conviction. She can be reached at (251) 574-8400 or ashleyrich@mobileda.org

 

 

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To Be Free and Exonerated- In a Fair and Just World

October 9, 2015

To Be Free and Exonerated- In a Fair and Just World

Recently, the New York Magazine published a powerful piece entitled “That’s When I Knew I Was Free: Eight Exonerated Prisoners on Their First Week Outside.” As the title entails, it highlights the first week of “freedom” by 8 individuals who were exonerated, many after spending lengthy years in prison. The time each of the 8 individuals highlighted served ranged from the 16 years Jeffrey Deskovic spent in prison to the 29 years that David McCallum spent in prison, for crimes they did not commit! McCallum is now 46 years old and he was just released last year. He has spent more than half of his life trying to understand how could, in the United States of America, an innocent person spend so much time in prison.  I am assuming that that is what he spent a lot of time thinking about.  He was 16 years old when he was accused of carjacking and murder- he and his co-defendant could not even drive! Like McCallum, Deskovic was also arrested at the age of 16, accused of rape and murder. Sixteen, their sweet sixteen was the introduction to a criminal justice system that accused them both of serious crimes. Can you imagine being 16 years old and facing a judge, a jury, and then the realities of prison life?

I’ve always said that to get exonerated is like winning the lottery. It is not something that happens easily or quickly.  The odds are not in favor of the accused. As many who are exonerated will tell you, there are so many others serving time in prison for crimes they did not commit that the public knows little or nothing about.   And, as we saw in the Tim Cole case, among others, death can come before one is exonerated.  McCallum was arrested along with Willie Stuckey.  Stuckey did not live to see his exoneration.  Here is a paragraph from the article:

“I was walking out without Willie Stuckey walking beside me. He was my childhood friend and my co-defendant. He passed away while he was in prison. He was 32. I saw Stuckey’s mom when we were in the elevator together going up to the courtroom. She said to me, “It’s supposed to be two of you.” And she broke down. I was still shackled, so I couldn’t really hold her even if I wanted to. The district attorney and the judge let his mom sit in for him, so we were sitting next to each other while the proceedings were taking place. She said something very profound to me. She said, “You’re my son now.”” http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2015/09/8-exonerated-prisoners-first-week-outside.html#

This is a tragedy and a travesty all the way around. To be a parent of someone in prison is a daily heart ache.  Speaking as someone who has a cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison- 18 years and counting– for crimes he did not commit, I can tell you that there is not a day that goes by when your heart isn’t aching, when you don’t feel a tremendous sense of pain over the injustice and the reality that a person has lost his/her freedom because they system failed them. To be a parent, that is just devastating.  One often hears that a parent’s worst fear is outliving their children. Add to this fear the reality that one’s son is innocent and incarcerated. It is a sense of helplessness that is difficult to get over.  Willie Stuckey’s mother outlived her son, but she lived to see him exonerated.  It is a bittersweet moment, but she will likely forever think about what her son at 32 could have done with his life as a free man.  She will likely think about the grandchildren by him that she never will have.  And every birthday that comes around, she will remember where he spent his 16th, 18th, 21st, 25, and 30th birthday- in prison. She will forever be reminded that the state took her son at 16 and gave him back to her at the age of 32 to be buried. The system swallowed him up and left him to digest on the juices of injustice.

More Reflections of the Exonerated

The reflections of the men (all men were highlighted in the New York Magazine piece) were powerful.  It was told from the vantage point of those who received some sort of delayed justice.  But after years, decades even, incarcerated, there must be something akin to a post-traumatic stress syndrome at play. On some level, even the exonerated may wonder if they will ever truly be free.

Imagine the emotional roller coaster of being wrongfully convicted and then finally finding someone or a group that believes in your case and is willing to fight on your behalf.  That sense of hope that one may have suppressed becomes stronger. But this hope is fleeting as one set back after another takes place. It is mental torture in some aspects.  Let’s return to the McCallum case, for example.

McCallum’s appeals had been exhausted, his attorney asked then Brooklyn DA Charles Hynes to submit it to the Conviction Integrity Unit for review.  Hynes claimed that after investigation, there was no evidence to support claims of innocence. When Hynes was defeated in his reelection bid and replaced by DA Kenneth Thompson, McCallum’s attorney asked again for the DA’s office to review the case, and Rubin Hurricane Carter’s dying wish was for McCallum’s case to be reviewed.

“In August 2013, Hynes’s office informed Michelen that the office had concluded there was no evidence to support McCallum’s claim of innocence.

In the fall of 2013, after Hynes was defeated in his bid for re-election, Michelen wrote to Kenneth Thompson, the newly elected District Attorney, imploring him to take a fresh look at the McCallum case.

In April 2014, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a well-known middle-weight prize fighter who was cleared of a wrongful conviction for murder in 1985, died of prostate cancer. Before he died, Carter sent a letter asking Thompson—as a dying wish—to review McCallum’s case anew.

 

On October 15, 2014, Thompson moved the Kings County, New York, Supreme Court to vacate the convictions of both McCallum and Stuckey. The motion was granted and the charges against both men were dismissed. McCallum was released immediately.

 

Thompson said the confessions clearly were false. He also was harshly critical of his predecessor, Hynes, for failing to seriously address claims of innocence. Thompson declared, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetail.aspx?caseid=4523

What a difference a district attorney makes.  Far too many district attorneys are content with getting a conviction on questionable evidence and maintaining the conviction simply for the sake of maintaining the conviction.  More district attorneys such as Ken Thompson and former Dallas County, Texas District attorney Craig Watkins are desperately needed as they recognize that justice is far more important than simply maintaining a conviction. There are far too many district attorney offices where there is, to quote DA Thompson again, “a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

What About Those Who Haven’t Been Exonerated?

The second annual Wrongful Conviction Day  was October 2nd. According to the Innocent Project’s website, “The purpose of Wrongful Conviction Day is to set aside a day to focus on and discuss the causes and remedies concerning wrongful convictions, an issue that affects and devastates individuals, families and societies worldwide. In recognition of the day, innocence groups from around the world will hold events and host a range of activities to raise awareness about the many cases of people who have been convicted of crimes they did not commit.” http://www.innocenceproject.org/news-events-exonerations/october-2-is-wrongful-conviction-day

It is very important to recognize Wrongful Conviction Day because the public needs to be aware of how easy it is to convict and innocent person in this country.  And that once an innocent person is convicted, it may take years, if not decades, for that person to be exonerated. That is a sad and painful reality.  Recently, the Equal justice Initiative (EJI) announced that their client, Beniah Dandridge, was exonerated after spending 20 years in prison on a murder charge.  Apparent poor forensics by the Alabama Bureau of Investigations and the use of a jail house informant helped to convict an innocent man. For 20 years Dandridge languished in prison wondering if he would be a free AND exonerated man.  I would like to see prosecutors in this case and so many others to respond to questions about what is it like to see someone that they either sent to prison or worked extremely hard to keep that person in prison to be exonerated.  Do they care? Does it matter how justice seems perverted when prosecutors engage in tactics that lead to wrongful convictions? Will they try hard to prevent these types of convictions? Would they establish a Conviction Integrity Unit? And so on. There are so few prosecutors that would acknowledge what DA Kenneth Thompson acknowledged: “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”  Justice should not depend on which district attorney is prosecuting one’s case or with judicial district one is in, it should depend on prosecutors going beyond the extra step to ensure that the actual culprits are convicted and working for, not against, efforts to free innocent people.

I would also like to see articles featuring voters who are also asked how they feel when they watch the news and learn that an innocent person had been exonerated after 5, 10, 15, 20, 36 and more years in prison.  And in these articles there should be an understanding of how district attorneys handle these cases and whether district attorneys are elected or appointed. In most jurisdictions, district attorneys are elected and, therefore, these voters should be asked if it is a responsibility of theirs to hold district attorneys accountable for their actions.  It costs a lot of money to incarcerate an inmate, imagine the amount of money a state has to spend keeping an innocent person incarcerated.  Taxpayers have a vested interest in seeing that prosecutors pursue justice, not theories and false information.  No one wins when there is a wrongful conviction, except for prosecutors who build their careers on the quantity, not the quality, of convictions.  Wrongful convictions are not pro-victim, they are pro-prosecutor and we need to be aware of this reality.

Conclusion

I am interested in this subject matter because I have a cousin who is in his 18th year in prison for crimes he did not commit.  He was prosecuted by Joe Carl “Buzz Jordan who worked for the Mobile District Attorney’s office. Subsequent Mobile District Attorneys John Tyson, Jr. and Ashley Rich (the current DA) refuse to acknowledge that Rodney did not commit the crimes for which he is accused.  I will not get into Rodney’s case here, but please read this blog about whether Rodney could be two places at once, this investigative report by Beth Schwartzapfel  that was published in the Boston Review and go to this website www.freerodneystanberry.com.  When DA Ashley Rich was campaigning to replace retiring DA John Tyson, Jr., this is what she said in response to a question:

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. Candidate Ashley Rich (September 16, 2010 ) Ashley Rich is now the Mobile County District Attorney after winning the election to replace former DA John Tyson, Jr. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich1.mp3

In spite of the concern DA Ashley Rich expressed about lessons that the Duke LaCrosse case provided, Rich has been silent when she was presented  two cases (Toby Priest and William Ziegler) where judges called her office out on prosecutorial misconduct by prosecutors in her office.  Ziegler was finally released after spending 15 years in prison, most of it on death row.  Here is an interview immediately following his release. The William Ziegler case was particularly disturbing, but Chief assistant district attorney Deborah Tillman, nor DA Ashley Rich, expressed any regret or fault in the way his case was prosecuted (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/04/23/who-will-hold-prosecutors-accountable-for-their-actions-the-case-of-william-j-ziegler/). Withholding exculpatory evidence was suddenly not a matter of integrity for DA Ashley Rich. District Attorney Ashley Rich is campaigning for reelection.  Her primary is in March.  District Attorney is a very law and order, tough on crime district attorney. One can be a very law and order, tough on crime district attorney AND pursue true justice for the victim (s) of crimes, even if it means not getting a conviction and even if it means working to release innocent people.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I wish DA Ashley Rich the best, I know she wants to make the community safer, but she can do this while also doing what is right, fair, and just when it comes to wrongful convictions.  She doesn’t entertain the idea of establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit because she believes her prosecutors use safeguards to prevent such actions.  If the safeguards were in place for the Priest and Ziegler case, they failed miserably.  In my cousin’s (Rodney K. Stanberry) case, there was a confession made in front of prosecutor Buzz Jordan by the person actually involved in the crimes, but he dismissed and suppressed the confession. Jordan traveled to Rikers Island Prison from Mobile, Alabama to interview someone he said was the shooter, but claimed he did not take notes because he was on vacation!!! My cousin had evidence that he was at work when the crimes took place, but there was then a manipulation of the time frame of the crimes to pursue Jordan’s theory, there was lost evidence, and so on and so forth.  But DA Rich isn’t concerned with the actions in Rodney’s case either, so I am not sure what was the lesson she learned about the Duke Lacrosse case, other than, unlike Mike Nifong (Duke Lacrosse prosecutor),it is rare that a prosecutor will be sanctioned for engaging in prosecutorial misconduct (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/06/21/prosecutorial-accountability-and-state-bar-responsibility-when-will-it-become-the-norm/0 That lesson does not bode well for the integrity of the system.

Rodney K. Stanberry is on the the extremely long list of people who are innocent, but who may never be exonerated.  If we were to look at the estimates of those who are innocent and incarcerated (http://www.innocenceproject.org/faqs/how-many-innocent-people-are-there-in-prison), then we will see a long list of people trying to maintain hope and hoping that this country that has in its pledge of allegiance “with liberty and justice for all” will find more prosecutors pursuing actual justice and the integrity of the system. Prosecutors should understand that upholding the integrity of the system should not be paused when they are pursuing and maintaining questionable cases.

Sincerely,

Artemesia Stanberry

www.freerodneystanberry.com

www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog

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/

http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley

http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?s=can+one+person+be+two+places+at+once

Posted in Blogs by Art, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Ongoing Consequences of Convicting the Innocent-The Responsibility of District Attorneys

August 3, 2015

The Ongoing Consequences of Convicting the Innocent-The Responsibility of District Attorneys

Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich: “Petitions are great.  A group of citizens banding together can move mountains.” Radio Interview, Friday, July 24th, 2015.

 

Last week, we learned of the death of Alprentiss Nash.  Mr. Nash spent 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.  As reported in The Guardian, “He was released in August 2012 after DNA tests on a ski mask recovered from the scene matched the genetic profile of another man.” On Tuesday, July 28th, Mr. Nash was shot and killed, just three years after he obtained his freedom, he was 40 years old.  Mr. Nash spent nearly half of his life accused and incarcerated for a crime that he did not commit. When we think about the years lost for those sitting in prison, innocent and incarcerated, we have to think about how much time they have on this earth, how many family members have died since their incarceration, and how many key milestones that we all take for granted that the inmate has missed. At 40 years old, Mr. Nash still had so much life to live, at 20, when he would have entered the prison system as one who was wrongfully convicted, he could only dream of the day of his exoneration, not imagining that he would be locked up for literally half of his lifetime.  I don’t know much about Mr. Nash, nor his case, but I do know that the nation should be outraged that there were, are, and will continue to be innocent people who are serving time in prison for crimes they did not commit.  Mistakes are made, I understand that reality, but when actions by prosecutors are intentional, either in getting the wrongful conviction or in ensuring that a person that may actually be innocent remains in prison simply because a District Attorney doesn’t want to acknowledge ethical violations, to put it lightly, these actions become inexcusable and should not be tolerated- it should not be tolerated by State Bar Associations, nor by citizens who look for District Attorneys to prosecute people who commit crimes without resorting to prosecuting people for some personal reason or because it is an easy path to get a conviction.

About that Mask-If Prosecutors Know They Won’t Like Results of DNA Evidence, Do They “Lose” The Evidence?

Alprentiss Nash’s case sticks out to me because similar to Rodney K. Stanberry, he was convicted in 1995, also similar to Rodney’s case, a mask went “missing.”  A Prichard Police Officer claimed to not have retrieved a mask, yet, he took a photo of it and the victim’s husband said (in court) that he actually did collect the mask. Please review Officer Ragland’s testimony at Rodney’s trial as it includes the discussion about the mask and gloves. At the time when the crimes were committed, he worked in the Identification Division of the Prichard Police Department. And, as you will see when reading his testimony, after Rodney’s attorney questions him about whether he would typically do a DNA hair analysis on the mask, prosecutor Buzz Jordan comes back with this on redirect examination: Jordan: You are not any kind of DNA- you have no qualifications on DNA, do you?  Ragland: No, I have no expertise on DNA at all.  Jordan: And you have no qualifications on hair analysis Ragland: None.  Jordan: And you don’t have any of the facts of this event, do you? Ragland: No.  And it goes on like that. Again, here is the link to Officer Ragland’s testimony. So why was Rodney’s attorney pressing on the issue of the missing mask and gloves? Because the person who confessed to being one of the two people at the victim’s house when she was brutally shot said that his accomplice initially wore a mask.  The Mobile District Attorney’s office, to this day, prefers to pretend that the person who actually shot the victim did not exist.  Here is a link entitled “The Shooter, What They Want to Wish Away.” The Mobile DA’s Office wants to pretend that Angel “Wish” Melendez never existed and that Terrell Moore, the individual who confessed BEFORE Rodney’s trial was not actually involved in these crimes. Here is a link to the confession.  It would be a joke were it not so serious- a serious letdown by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office as they continue to ignore the truth and to dismiss evidence leading to the truth, favoring, instead, to pursue the conviction of an innocent man and spending nearly two decades to ensure that that innocent man remains in prison.  Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich can be instrumental in seeking the truth, actual justice for the victim, and exonerating an innocent man. Justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted.

It was convenient for Jordan to not have the mask as an issue, so Officer Ragland not recalling if he actually took the mask and gloves as opposed to just taking photos of them was convenient. Testing the DNA  on the mask would have further proved Rodney’s innocence so guess what was “lost/missing” before Rodney’s trial and probably will never be found? The mask. The hair analysis would have demonstrated that the person the DA’s office claimed did not actually exist, did exist.  Alprentiss Nash was finally able to get the mask used in his case tested- after 17 years in prison, he was finally exonerated.  But look how long the fight was to test an object that would have cleared an innocent man.  Do DA’s not care that when they focus on the innocent, that the actual guilty culprits get to remain free- free to commit more crimes? Do they not care about the victims of those crimes? Do they not care when innocent people sit in prison day after day, week after week, year after year, and sometimes decade after decade?  Alprentiss Nash was able to live just three years after spending 17 years in prison for crimes he did not commit.  Sad and a shame.  http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/jul/29/chicago-man-released-prison-shot

DA Rich Encourages Activism? A group of people banding together can move mountains.

At the top of this blog is a quote by current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich during a recent appearance on a Mobile, Alabama radio show.  She said it in response to a caller praising her and asking for the impeachment of an elected official that she can’t discuss pending cases, but petitions are great. A group of people banding together can move mountains (it is towards the end of the show)

So many people have contacted the Mobile District Attorney’s Office about Rodney’s case for years. In fact, during DA Ashley Rich’s first 30 days in office, she received so many emails and telephone calls about Rodney’s case that her Chief Investigator (Mike Morgan) actually called people to ask about their interest in Rodney’s case!  That same Chief Investigator responded to questions about Rodney’s case in this article about Rodney’s case written by Kirsten West Savali-  http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/.  The actions of Mike Morgan, Chief Investigator for the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, would not have happened without an engaged citizenry.  But this is not enough; District Attorney Ashley Rich must reopen Rodney’s case, in a serious manner.  She must make an effort to locate the mask and gloves since, as former DA John Tyson, Jr. stated, they don’t throw away evidence, they never have and they never will (well, we now know that this may not be the case as when a judge forced the Mobile DA’s Office to locate evidence in the William Ziegler case- recently released from death row and from prison, ADA Tillman said that she and Morgan looked for the evidence, but could not locate it) Convenient, isn’t it. So, over the course of the next two years (and even beyond two years as our destination is exoneration), I will ask you to continue to contact the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to ask for action on the mask and gloves, reopening Rodney’s case, reviewing and investigating how Buzz Jordan handled an actual confession, and to what extent did Jordan taint  this case by talking about a bitter divorce and child custody issues (see page 223 of the trial transcript and then carefully read the victim’s testimony, which can be found on our webpage- http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/part2half1Stanberry_transcriptcopy_ppa2.289161819.pdf).  As I stated in one of my first letters to District Attorney Ashley Rich: “It isn’t the victim’s fault, it is the system’s fault for dismissing all evidence, for the way the pseudo “photo lineups” was conducted, for dismissing a confession, engaging in poor tactics that even the judge condemned away from the jury, and otherwise influencing the victim because his prosecution hung only on her testimony (child custody issue, for example).  Just as I am sure that John Tyson, Jr. would have handled this case differently had he not been sworn in less than a year before the trial, I am sure that you want to do what is right and fully investigate and reopen Rodney K. Stanberry’s case.” (You can find the complete letter by clicking on the link that begins with Oct. 11 on the call to action page- http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/call_to_action-) .  Keep in mind, Jordan floated around a murder for hire theory so that even if the jury could figure out that Rodney could not have been at the victim’s house, that maybe he was involved in some murder for hire scheme. Jordan never charged anyone with this, but letting it hang out there and mentioning to the judge (Ferrill McRae) that there is a bitter divorce and a child custody issue will be decided after the trial is tainting the trial to get an outcome in his favor, if not in favor of actual justice.

It was and remains an absolute travesty what happened to the victim in this case as she, nor her family, deserved any of this.  It was and remains a travesty for Rodney and his family as they did not deserve this, either. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office could very well have convicted the actual culprits, but, for some reason only Jordan can explain, they settled on an innocent man. When district attorneys such as Ashley Rich refuse to acknowledge wrongful convictions, they shake confidence in the system. District Attorney Ashley Rich in her aforementioned interview spent a lot of time talking about how she lacks funding, her opposition to the recently passed prison reform bill, a bill designed to address Alabama’s prison overcrowding issues, and reinforcing her general tough on crime persona. When a DA candidate for another county was on the same show, but a week later, he mentioned something that Rich should also address:  training for Assistant District Attorneys, no matter how long they’ve been there.  She should reiterate what is exculpatory evidence, the need to maintain evidence, and to understand when there is actually enough evidence to pursue a case. And she should definitely emphasize that her ADAs should not manipulate witnesses, even when they have no evidence to pursue a case. I will post a couple of petitions to be signed and, from time to time, ask that you contact her office.  Here is sample of a petition recently posted on change.org, please read it. She can be the District Attorney to bring about the truth AND justice regarding Rodney’s case.  She can do the right thing and free Rodney K. Stanberry.  And we will see if she meant what she said about petitions being great and her belief that a group of citizens banding together can move mountains. How big of a mountain will she be in pursuit of actual justice?

Wrongful Convictions- Too Many Cases, Too Few Exonerations

A recent article entitled “The Staggering Number of Wrongful Convictions” reinforces the reality of wrongful convictions and how difficult it is to get exonerated. The article was written by Samuel R. Gross, a law professor at the University of Michigan who is also the editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. Consider this paragraph from his article recently posted in the Washington Post “Suarez served three years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. The average time served for the 1,625 exonerated individuals in the registry is more than nine years. Last year, three innocent murder defendants in Cleveland were exonerated 39 years after they were convicted — they spent their entire adult lives in prison — and even they were lucky: We know without doubt that the vast majority of innocent defendants who are convicted of crimes are never identified and cleared.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-cost-of-convicting-the-innocent/2015/07/24/260fc3a2-1aae-11e5-93b7-5eddc056ad8a_story.html?postshare=2661437881896842

Rodney K. Stanberry is on his 18th year in prison for crimes he did not commit.  The crimes for which he is accused took place in 1992, he was convicted in 1995 and began serving his prison term (three 20 year sentences to be served concurrently) in 1997. His father is now in his eighties, his mother has died, and his son born shortly before his incarceration graduated from high school this year- Rodney was not allowed to attend his graduation.  It is never too late for the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to do the right thing.

District Attorney Ashley Rich is up for reelection.  As of now she does not have an opponent as far as I can tell at this time.  The primary election is in March 2016 and the general election is in November 2016.  During her last campaign, I asked her and her opponent about establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit.  Here is a sample of the responses from the two.  DA Rich has not demonstrated that she is interested in pursuing true justice in cases that have come before here where the person convicted may actually be innocent.  Therefore, we must endeavor to put into action what she said about petitions and citizens banding together.  I will write a new petition an post in the near future, in the meantime, you can contact DA Ashley Rich by calling (251) 574-8400, (251) 574-5000, and/or Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-6685 – ashleyrich@mobileda.org.

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

www.freerodneystanberry.com and www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog

 

http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley

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/

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Prosecutorial Accountability and State Bar Responsibility-When Will it Become the Norm?

June 2015

Prosecutorial Accountability and State Bar Responsibility-When Will it Become the Norm?

 

“”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.”  (From Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:58:28 -0400 (Ashley Rich Radio Interview –http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich.mp3) Her remarks about the Duke case can be heard at around the 12 minute mark.

 Duke Lacrosse Case-A Learning Tool

District Attorney Ashley Rich is right to use the Duke Lacrosse case as a learning tool.  But let’s take this a bit further. Legislators do not shy away from tough on crime talk and prosecutors do not shy away from putting as many people who come before them in prison as possible. Oftentimes, when a particularly heinous crime takes place, legislation is named after the victim as a reminder that society cares about this issue and will prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law.  While the world was watching the accusations against the Duke Lacrosse players and as the North Carolina State Bar was preparing sanctions against Michael Nifong, the prosecutor in the Duke case, what if a member of the state legislature and even a member of Congress as federal prosecutors aren’t immune to prosecutorial misconduct as we’ve seen via some great work by the Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/crime/convicted-defendants-left-uninformed-of-forensic-flaws-found-by-justice-dept/2012/04/16/gIQAWTcgMT_story.html) passed legislation to substantially address prosecutorial misconduct?  While the public was outraged over Nifong’s work, bills should have been flying all over the place to send a message to prosecutors that prosecutorial misconduct will not be tolerated.  What if  State Bar Associations started looking more closely at the work of prosecutors based on judicial rulings that overturned cases and started making examples of prosecutors following the Duke Lacrosse case?  Then, possibly, we could say that District Attorney Ashley Rich and others intimately understood the Duke Lacrosse case as “an example of what not to do.” When one looks at the prosecution of William Ziegler, for example, one sees an Assistant District Attorney who worked alongside  DA Ashley Rich for many, many years, and the silence of Rich after his case was overturned, one wonders exactly what did she learn not to do.  So what if District Attorneys around the country who engaged in prosecutorial misconduct were identified by State Bar Associations and, subsequently sanctioned? Would that mean that today, perhaps a prosecutor would not withhold evidence that a defendant is innocent? Prosecutors have a lot of power in our judicial system and State Bar Associations aren’t really going to police their own to the extent necessary to prevent prosecutorial and ethical misconduct.  So let me get out of fantasy land and discuss the significance of the actions of the Texas State Bar Association in the Mike Morton and Anthony Graves cases. Can you imagine the “Michael Nfong Prosecutorial Accountability Act” that would serve as a warning and as a reminder for prosecutors who ignore evidence of innocence so that they can get a conviction?

 

When Texas Gets it Right-Again 

Well, in June 2015, we learned that Charles Sebesta, a former District Attorney in Burleson County (Texas), was stripped of his law license and disbarred by the State Bar in Texas for sentencing Anthony Graves to prison for crimes he did not commit.  Anthony Graves spent nearly 2 decades in prison, including 16 years in solitary confinement and 12 years on death row. His moving, chilling, and sad experiences on death row can be read and viewed here (http://time.com/3915168/solitary-confinement/?xid=tcoshare and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WAGnK6tyYs)  This is the second time in two years that a (former) district attorney in Texas had been disbarred for their role in a wrongful conviction. The first one during this two year period was Ken Anderson who prosecuted Michael Morton.  Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. And if you ask me, I think Anderson’s successor John Bradley (http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/why-john-bradley-lost) should come under scrutiny for he not only  spent years blocking DNA testing that could have cleared Morton years before his exoneration took place, but he openly mocked Morton for his claims of innocence.  From the Texas Monthly:

A widely-read local blog, the Wilco Watchdog, relentlessly dissected Bradley’s missteps in the case:

Bradley mocked Mr. Morton’s claim that DNA testing on the bandana and other items could possibly be linked, in Mr. Bradley’s words, to “a mystery killer”… Bradley derided Michael Morton’s request to test the evidence in light of the unsolved case as “silly,” and he told Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle that Morton was “grasping at straws” by refusing to give up his quest for DNA testing. http://www.texasmonthly.com/story/why-john-bradley-lost/page/0/1

Bradley would be defeated in a 2012 primary election by Jana Duty and wrongful convictions would be a main part of the campaign. The family of the victim of the individual who actually committed the crimes for which Morton served 24 yrs of his life in prison, was in opposition to Bradley for if Anderson had done his due diligence with the prosecution of Michael Morton, the actual culprit would not have gone on to commit a brutal rape and murder.  It is a rare occasion that a prosecutor is held accountable for his/her actions.  It is also rare that the headlines when this does occur last beyond a day or two.  How many of you have seen a headline about Anthony Graves’ prosecutor being disbarred? It took place during the week when the media was focused on the Rachel Dolezal story. When the Texas State Bar disbarred Charles Sebesta, it should be a reason for media outlets to use this as a means to inquire about the practices of District Attorneys within their respective localities.  This year we also learned that the Texas State Bar has accused the prosecutor in Cameron Todd Willingham’s case (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/03/cameron_todd_willingham_prosecutor_john_jackson_charges_corrupt_prosecution.html).  Willingham was executed by the State of Texas in 2004.  Life is too short for innocent people to be sent to prisons while prosecutors who send them to prison use the convictions as a building block to get reelected and, in some cases, promoted to a judgeship. Willingham’s life was cut short by the State after a prosecutor, John H. Jackson, apparently worked to get a conviction at all cost at the expense of pursuing actual justice. Consider this:

 

“What’s perhaps more sickening than the neglected forensic evidence in this case is the other work that Jackson, the prosecuting attorney, did to win a conviction and see that Willingham’s every appeal was denied. These efforts include allegedly coercing and paying off a jailhouse informant to testify that Willingham had confessed to him, lying to the jury about whether the informant had been offered any benefits in exchange for his testimony, and withholding the informant’s recantation while Willingham sat on death row. Or, as the Marshall Project, which has been reporting on Jackson’s alleged misdeeds for the past year, described the state bar’s accusations: “obstruction of justice, making false statements and concealing evidence favorable to Willingham’s defense.”” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/03/cameron_todd_willingham_prosecutor_john_jackson_charges_corrupt_prosecution.html

Prosecutor John H. Jackson will repeat the mantra of so many district attorneys who handled wrongful convictions, and that is nothing was done wrong. And even though the Texas State Bar has filed misconduct charges against Jackson, the punishment will also be a slap on the wrist, while Willingham’s family has to live with his execution by the hands of the state, resulting from the work on John H. Jackson. And, if Willingham is innocent, the victim’s family doesn’t receive closure.

Years of waiting for Justice

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.  In addition to his exoneration, Michael Morton was able to see his prosecutor get arrested and disbarred. Well, this must have been a great feeling knowing that the system recognized that prosecutors should not have the power to steal an innocent person’s life, but justice came in the form of a 10 day jail sentence for Anderson, for which he only served a fraction of that and, again, this is after he’d spent over two decades as a judge. Ken Anderson was able to build wealth, prestige and prepare for the next generation.  There is no mention as to whether or not he has to contribute some of his pension to the State to help in the compensation of those wrongfully convicted. So, in the end, he was able to build a career, take responsibility of what was done in the Morton’s case by way of disbarment (he was now retired) and a few days in jail. If that is the punishment prosecutors can expect, there is no deterrent factor. So engage in prosecutorial misconduct today and 30 years from now, you MAY be held accountable by having your law license taken away after you’ve concluded your career of practicing law. In the meantime, those who are wrongfully convicted often see their families dissolved (Michael Morton not only lost his wife to a brutal crime for which he was accused, but his own son changed his name on his 18th birthday because he (the son) trusted the prosecutor and the system to the extent that he thought his father was guilty. Those who are wrongfully convicted have to fight for compensation upon their exoneration (for those who actually are exoneration).  While one cannot put a dollar amount on the years lost to incarceration, one can work harder to prevent wrongful convictions so that the wrongfully convicted won’t have to put their lives on hold languishing in a prison, suffering through the entire ordeal.

In Alabama, Anthony Ray Hinton was recently released from death row after serving nearly three decades of his life in prison.  Although it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime, he was arrested, convicted, and made his home on Alabama’s death row for three decades.  Here is a paragraph about his case from the Equal Justice Initiative, a group that freed Hinton from death row:

“In 1985, two Birmingham area fast-food restaurants were robbed and the managers, John Davidson and Thomas Wayne Vason, were fatally shot. There were no eyewitnesses or fingerprint evidence; police had no suspects and pressure to solve the murders grew as similar crimes continued. On July 25, 1985, a restaurant in Bessemer was robbed and the manager was shot but not seriously wounded. Anthony Hinton was arrested after the manager identified him from a photo lineup, even though he was working in a locked warehouse fifteen miles away at the time of the crime. Police seized an old revolver belonging to Mr. Hinton’s mother, and state firearm examiners said that was the gun used in all three crimes. The prosecutor—who had a documented history of racial bias and said he could tell Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” solely from his appearance—told the court that its experts’ asserted match between Mrs. Hinton’s gun and the bullets from all three crimes was the only evidence linking Mr. Hinton to the Davidson and Vason murders.” http://www.eji.org/deathpenalty/innocence/hinton

The prosecutor, given what you see above, said he was guilty and evil solely from his appearance. Where is the Alabama State Bar’s press release about this case? Will they have a special edition of “The Alabama Lawyer” devoted to prosecutorial responsibility?  The Innocence Project has been responsible for 330 DNA exonerations since the project has come into existence.  While not all of the exonerations may have been about prosecutorial misconduct, they do have a link entitled government misconduct that provides some insight into practices the government, read prosecutors, have engaged in to get a wrongful conviction, and it highlights Michael Morton’s case (http://www.innocenceproject.org/)

Can the Media Help?

There has been some really good investigative journalism in the area of wrongful convictions. One of my favorites was an investigative article written by Beth Schwartzapfel entitled “No Country for Innocent Men” about the Timothy Cole case http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/tim-cole-rick-perry.  Cole would eventually be exonerated, but not before his untimely death 13 years into his prison sentence from a health related issue. He died in prison. He was in his 20s when he entered prison and in his 30s when he died in prison. He didn’t live to see his exoneration. But he did live through those agonizing years in prison trying to understand how law enforcement was able to get a witness to identify him as the perpetrator.  Cole cried when he was convicted, as you can imagine.  The Texas State Legislator named a bill after him, “The Timothy Cole Act” which is designed to help those who are wrongfully convicted and the state of Texas established the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel on Wrongful Convictions to study the causes of wrongful convictions (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/tim-cole-rick-perry).  But before Beth’s article, there was media attention paid to Cole’s case once it became evident that Texas convicted another innocent man.  Investigative journalists have written important pieces about wrongful convictions.  But what is needed is additional scrutiny of District Attorney’s when it becomes evident that the person’s conviction should not have happened in the first place.  So it is not enough for Anthony Ray Hinton, for example, to be exonerated, rather, the media need to engage in serious inquiry into the District Attorney’s that put them there.  Local news publications have to continue with the follow-up- meaning that when there are cases that they’ve covered that are overturned, and they see similarities with cases that are not overturned, they should ask and investigate the follow-up question, what is the professional standard of ethics, how and how often do District Attorneys inform their Assistant District Attorneys about standards, such as not withholding exculpatory evidence, and how seriously does the State Bar take these matters.  Following the News & Observer’s investigative report on cases covered by former Durham County, DA Tracey Cline (yes, the same office that Michael Nifong headed), they included an article about professional codes of conduct.  You can see the articles entitled “Twisted Truth”:  http://www.newsobserver.com/news/special-reports/twisted-truth/ Three years later, Cline has been suspended for five years for complaints made about her handling of several case (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/counties/durham-county/article23179362.html) . Again, what if newspapers around the country engaged in these investigative reports by not only focusing on the representation of the inmate, or lack thereof,  and the role of the judge, but by looking at a broader view of how prosecutors fail. There seems to be a Teflon effect when it comes to prosecutors who engage in unethical practices to get a wrongful conviction.  Staying in North Carolina, Governor McCrory recently pardoned Henry McCullom and his step-brother Leon Brown. Both served nearly 31 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, a combined total of more than 60 years. They were teenagers with mental deficiencies when convicted.  Not long after their arrest,  then District Attorney Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Carolina, convicted the person who actually committed the crimes for which McCullum and Brown were accused (the person was convicted for another crime, but the similarities were such that it would have been obvious to a prosecutor that that man was guilty for both).  But, I suppose seeing that he got three convictions for the price of one, he was silent on what he knew in terms of the actual culprits guilt in committing the crimes for which McCullom and Brown were punished. Britt, once known as America’s deadliest DA for the number of death row convictions he had under his belt, continues to deny that he did anything wrong (http://www.newsobserver.com/news/special-reports/twisted-truth/). And because McCullom and Brown did not play Lacrosse at Duke University, you probably hadn’t heard his (Britt’s) name until now.  I am not sure if there are efforts by the North Carolina State Bar to disbar him (as he served as a district attorney and judge), but is it not interesting that two prosecutors out of Durham, North Carolina were disbarred and I have yet to see reports that the North Carolina State Bar is pursuing an inquiry into Britt or of the several exonerations seen in North Carolina in recent years, some thanks to the work of the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission. To be fair, there has to be a grievance filed, but I would like to see the amount of print dedicated to Tracey Cline and Michael Nifong devoted to these others cases as well where prosecutorial misconduct sent people to prison for years, decades, even. My point in bringing up the Raleigh News & Observer’s  “Twisted Truth” series and sharing with you the links is that the series they did was an attempt to hold a prosecutor accountable, they were very thorough, offering you information about the grievances filed by the State Bar, interviews with people who had something to add about Cline’s work, and so on.  Imagine if the media, even those outlets that allowed for investigative pieces about wrongful convictions to be covered in their publications would do this type of work in an effort to hold prosecutors accountable? We may actually get that Michael Nifong Prosecutorial Responsibility Act. Consider this:

Anthony Graves- 16 years in prison- (convicted in 1994–prosecutor disbarred in 2015 )

Michael Morton- 24 years in prison (convicted in 1987- prosecutor disbarred in 2013)

Anthony Ray Hinton- 30 years in prison, prosecutor not disbarred

Henry McCollom- 31 years in prison, prosecutor not disbarred

Leon Brown- 31 years in prison, prosecutor not disbarred

Timothy Cole- died in prison on his 13th year of a prison sentence, prosecutor not disbarred

Greg Taylor- 17 years in prison, prosecutor not disbarred

Darrel Hunt- 19 years in prison, prosecutor not disbarred

Duke Lacrosse players- 0 years in prison (accused in 2006, prosecutor disbarred in 2007, NC Attorney General Apology- 2007)

What message does this send? Again, I am not trying to make an issue of the players accused of a crime, rather, I am trying to understand why in this case, possibly the first and only in history, does a prosecutor get disbarred so quickly over allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. What is different between that case and the countless others where we see prosecutors engaging in misconduct? Why is it that Mobile District Attorney can discuss lessons to be learned from the Duke Lacrosse case, but not from any number of other cases?  Getting back to the Anthony Graves case, consider this from the Texas Monthly in an article written by Pamela Colloff:

 

“In a sweeping ruling released this morning, the bar found that Sebesta had violated no fewer than five tenets of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, including:

3.03(a)(l ): “A lawyer shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a tribunal.”

3.03(a)(5): “A lawyer shall not knowingly offer or use evidence that the lawyer knows to be false.”

3.09(d): “A prosecutor in a criminal case shall make timely disclosure to the defense of all evidence or information known to the prosecutor that tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense…”

8.04(a)(l): “A lawyer shall not violate these rules, knowingly assist or induce another to do so, or do so through the acts of another…”

8.04(a)(3): “A lawyer shall not engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.

When I reached Graves in Houston this morning, he expressed his gratitude to the bar for ensuring that Sebesta had finally faced consequences for his actions. “I never thought that a young, African-American man from the projects could file a grievance against a powerful, white DA in Texas and win,” he said.

But he cautioned that a victory in his case alone was not enough. “I think this is a great first step,” he said. “But a lot of people in Washington and Burleson counties were prosecuted and convicted by Charles Sebesta, and some of them are still behind bars. All of those cases need to be examined, too.”

Was disbarment a sufficient punishment for the man who had sent him to death row, I asked? “I think he should be brought before a court of law to answer to charges of attempted murder,” Graves said.”  http://www.texasmonthly.com/daily-post/ex-da-who-sent-exoneree-anthony-graves-death-row-disbarred End Quote.

Tell an individual who is a victim of prosecutorial misconduct that District Attorneys should continue on the path of not being held accountable for their actions. District Attorneys run on a tough on crime platform, but remain silent when prosecutors engage in what can be considered criminal acts.  Graves stated that his prosecutor should be brought up on an attempted murder charge.  Timothy Cole died in prison. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the State of Texas (the Texas State Bar is in the process of investigating prosecutor misconduct charges on his prosecutor-John H. Jackson http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2015/03/cameron_todd_willingham_prosecutor_john_jackson_charges_corrupt_prosecution.html , Troy Davis was executed, and the list goes on.  How long will prosecutors be able to continue to sentence innocent people to prison without being held accountable? People may object to the notion that some of the aforementioned people are innocent, but one can’t object to the documented prosecutorial misconduct, including not disclosing evidence that demonstrate that they person may be innocent. Once a prosecutor has a theory, evidence to the contrary is difficult for them to share.  Again, more than 90 percent of prosecutors and the cases they prosecute are likely good and straight by the book cases, but when they aren’t, accountability should be pursued, as quickly as it was in the Duke Lacrosse case.  We dearly need prosecutors, but we need District Attorneys to set standards and safeguards within their respective offices to ensure that innocent people are not convicted. Once prosecutors get a conviction, even when it confronted with the likely innocent of the person convicted, they spend so much time ensuring that the person remains in prison.  This perpetuates a travesty of justice and when there is no accountability, the system remains the same.

District Attorney Ashley Rich and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office

I’ve written many times about the Mobile District Attorney’s Office as I have a cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry , who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. He is in his 18th year of prison. But I’ve also written about other cases, including William Ziegler’s case, a man who spent 13 years on death row for crimes he likely did not commit.  He was granted a new trial and he was on the verge of being released, but before he could be released, he had to take a plea deal accepting some fault in the crime- a crime for which he spent 13 years on death row.  This is what I included in a previous blog:

“As a condition of his release on April 16th, 2015, 39 year old William Ziegler, who spent 13 years on death row and 15 years and 50 days in prison for a brutal crime that he likely did not commit, had to say that he was guilty of “aiding and abetting murder”. But as a condition to continue to prosecute cases, the prosecutor in his case, Mobile Chief Assistant District Attorney Deborah Tillman, will not have to say that she withheld exculpatory evidence and/or acknowledge any prosecutorial misconduct that led to Zielger spending 13 years of his life on death row.  No one in the media will pursue this question, and after a day or two,  Ziegler’s case will receive little coverage.  At what point will prosecutors be held accountable for their actions?  As I state here  and many, many times, prosecutors are needed, necessary, important, and do what is right most of the time, at least that is what we have to believe as citizens who need them to pursue justice and to help to protect communities. But when they step out of that cone of trust by engaging in unethical practices, it is important for the action to be acknowledged, for reforms to take place.  But the response to Ziegler’s case from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office has been that we have done nothing wrong. Why aren’t prosecutors in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office and/or representatives of the state asked to apologize, to be accountable, or to discuss what will be done to avoid prosecutorial misconduct in the future?” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/04/23/who-will-hold-prosecutors-accountable-for-their-actions-the-case-of-william-j-ziegler/

District Attorney Ashley Rich, as mentioned, has been silent on the judicial ruling in this case. While the local media engaged in investigative reports about Ziegler’s case, they haven’t demanded that Rich address key issues with her office as it relates to the Ziegler case. This is a case that questions the integrity of the system.  While the prosecutions I cited earlier took place prior to the Michael NiFong/Duke Lacrosse case, is there any doubt that as you read this that there is another Michael Morton, Anthony Graves, Rodney K. Stanberry being prosecuted today using the same practices cited by the Texas Bar?  There are no body cameras on prosecutors as they make a decision to keep or discard evidence, as they travel from hundreds of miles to interview a suspect in a prison but claim that no notes were taken as was the case with Rodney K. Stanberry, there are no body cameras on prosecutors as they come face to face with someone who actually committed the crime for which they convicted an innocent person, or as they come face to face with a victim of a crime that could have been spared if prosecutors did the right thing the first time around.  There are no body cameras to capture prosecutors at their worst, so we will once again see the headlines about someone exonerated, but then move on to the next trending story.  And with this, there will be continued frustration with the system, but with no true reforms.  What say you Alabama State Bar? Or State Bars around the nation for that matter.  District Attorney Ashley Rich is up for reelection and she will be reelected, as will prosecutors around the nation, and when asked about wrongful convictions, they will say We did nothing wrong.  And so it goes.

Sincerely,

Artemesia Stanberry

Articles of Interest:

For an Investigative Report on the case of Rodney K. Stanberry- http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley

For an article about how District Attorney Ashley Rich’s Office  responded to Rodney K. Stanberry’s case- http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/ 

Three Blogs of Interest:

http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/08/06/can-a-person-be-two-places-at-once-the-wrongful-conviction-of-rodney-k-stanberry-2/

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/

http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/08/11/the-prosecutor-and-the-criminal/

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46- An innocent man celebrates his 46th birthday in prison. Why is Justice so Hard to Come by for the Innocent and Incarcerated?

 

46- An innocent man celebrates his 46th birthday in prison. Why is Justice so Hard to Come by for the Innocent and Incarcerated?

On Monday, April 27th, 2015, Rodney K. Stanberry will be 46 years old.  He began his prison sentence in 1997 for crimes he did not commit.  His son, just a few months old when Rodney entered prison, is about to graduate from high school in May. Just as Rodney was not able to attend his mother’s funeral, attend his father’s 80th birthday gathering, he will be unable to attend his son’s high school graduation.  Rodney has made it a point to play an important role in his son’s life.  He loves his son dearly, just as he loves his parents who had been married for as long as he has been alive. His mother died on September 12, 2012, his father turned 80 on February 12, 2014 and his son will be graduating on May 21, 2015.  All of which are significant dates, along with many others, that an innocent man must endure because the system has failed to correct itself.

For years as I was advocating for Rodney’s freedom, the letters that we exchanged that hurt me the most were the ones in which he expressed his desire to be a good parent to his son. He did all that he could from the confinement of his unjust incarceration.  Here is an excerpt from one of my previous blogs:

“Rodney has remained a strong father for his teenage son. Rodney and I have exchanged so many letters since his incarceration in 1997. At times, I review some of the letters. I recently found one that included what you see below. It is heartwrenching and heartbreaking but shows the love of a father towards his son and son towards father regardless of the situation both are in.

 

(August 2004 This begins on page 6) “Me and Tre (Rodney’s son, he was about 7 or 8 in 2004, 16 now) took a picture last month that I wanted to send you, wanted to! For some reason, I just can’t come off any pictures of my baby. Isn’t that natural though? My visit day is Sunday, but here’s what’s up. The Mitchell Center is putting on a hunting expo from 4pm to 8pm, so I plan to tell dad to cancel their trip up here, and take Tre there instead. He’ll love that! Darn (he used the other word), I gotta get out there to my baby, Art. Did I tell you what he said on the yard? I told him I love him more than most fathers who are out there with their sons. He said ‘I know dad, if you were out, we would be doing something right now.” That stuff (he used another word) made me feel so good, Art. Then he said something that hurt me and made me feel good at the same time….”

 

The next part I want to ask if it would be ok to post. It would break your heart. Imagine what a son who wants to be with his dad so much would say. The system truly has an impact on family and friends. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/01/01/a-relentless-pursuit-of-justice-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/”

 

To be innocent and incarcerated is, in a sense, a dual punishment.  One has to helplessly mark the days left in one’s sentence and the days that are considered sacred and milestones in the lives of loved ones.  As Rodney wakes up to a 46th birthday in prison, my wish for him is for the powers that be allow him to attend his son’s graduation, and that the powers that be correct his wrongful conviction. Rodney was denied parole in 2013, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles refuses to allow him to come up for a parole date even as he meets the criteria of one should be granted parole.  Further, the parole board does not provide a reason for parole denial and for why he cannot come up for parole again 18 months after he was denied- Two weeks ago, as Rodney reached his 18th month after the 2013 parole denial I made a request for a new parole date and that request was denied, without reason.

Rodney believed in the system from the day he discovered that a brutal crime had been committed, he went to the Prichard Police, for which they said he was too helpful, he called a detective in New York to tell them to look for two people who would be traveling from Alabama for they were involved in a crime, but the Prichard Police were not interested in cooperating with the NY detective, and even the person who confessed to the crime, exonerating Rodney, believed that the authorities knew that it was he that was involved, and not Rodney, must still be in shock, that the system convicted an innocent man (Rodney), while allowing he (Moore) and the shooter  off the hook.  It is very difficult to continue to have faith in a system that allows a prosecutor to suppress a confession, withhold exculpatory evidence, to show photos to the victim as she was recovering from a coma-leading her to identify Rodney because he was a familiar face, and to pursue a theory over the evidence, and to pursue the conviction over the truth.   But Rodney, like so many in his situation, continues to hold on to the belief that even as long as he has been incarcerated, 18 years and counting, that the system will recognize that he is innocent.  I recounted the following in previous blogs:

 

Dr. Wilmer Leon said to Rodney during this interview http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?attachment_id=78that he (Rodney) in spite of this nightmare continues to believe in the system. Rodney’s response was yes, perhaps it is a character flaw. It most certainly is not a character flaw, rather; he is being a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a nephew, and, yes, a cousin, who knows he was raised to be a decent human being and who knows that in spite of a flawed judicial system that he can’t change who he is. Rodney could have given up a long time ago, he could have a long time ago played the game that prosecutors and the parole board want the innocent to play (or to put it in the words of the New York Times, the Innocent Prisoner’s Dilemma), he could have been a broken man by now. But he has support, because he has his integrity, his strength, and perseverance and that is a lesson not only for his teenage son, but for all of us. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/06/20/freedad-to-the-fathers-who-are-wrongfully-convicted/

Happy Birthday, Rodney.  The continued moral support from family members, friends, and the many people who have learned about his case has helped to sustain him.  We need for district attorneys such as Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich to pursue truth and justice in these cases. Justice is never served when the innocent person is convicted.  By the same token, talking about the importance of protecting the integrity of the system, as DA Rich said when she was running for office, is not the same as actually doing what few prosecutors have done, and that is to seek justice and the truth, even if it means that a conviction will be overturned.  There are district attorneys who took an active role in releasing innocent people.  What District Attorney Ashley Rich said as she was running for office doesn’t seem to comport with her actions as District Attorney. Please read this blog about how prosecutors handled William Ziegler’s case, as an example. And as a reminder, this is what she said when she ran for office:

“”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.”  (From Thu, 16 Sep 2010 10:58:28 -0400 (Ashley Rich Radio Interview -http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich.mp3Her remarks about the Duke case can be heard at around the 12 minute mark. 

Again, justice is never served when the innocent are convicted.  And saying things such as “If as a prosecutor you do not disclose exculpatory evidence, your career is over….” and talking about one’s duty as a prosecutor is so much different than actually standing by those words when you are the District attorney.

 

Sincerely,

 

Artemesia Stanberry

PS

If you watched the CBS show Battle Creek on April 26th, you saw them tackle a wrongful conviction last night.  A young man was arrested and while in jail, he came across the man convicted of taking the lives of his parents. The young man was angry, as you can imagine, and dreamed of the day he met this person for he imagined what he would do.  Instead, as he heard the individual explain that he was innocent, that the person did not get parole because he refused to say that he was guilty and remorseful for something he did not do, the young man went to his friend in law enforcement (who happened to be an FBI agent on assignment in Battle Creek) and asked for him to explore the truth. He asked the person to not tell his mother, who served as Police Chief of the Battle Creek Police Department as she would not understand why he needed to know the truth, nor would she pursue reopening the case.  There were three elements of interest: 1) a young man questioning what the people in law enforcement who claimed to be looking out for his best interests told him for years, 2) an inmate, after 17 years in prison, maintaining his innocence, even as he appears before the parole board, 3) the need for actual closure for the young man and 4) in the episode the District Attorney’s Office was not featured as in real life, the District Attorney would have denied, denied, denied that anyone other than the person they convicted was the guilty culprit, even in the face of evidence that shows differently. It turns out that the young man was right to question what he was told as it led to the release of an innocent man.  He had to step back and actually ask why would a man maintain his innocence and refuse to say he is guilty so as to have a better chance of getting out of jail.  He had to take a tough discovery of his own, and in doing so, he found the closure that he never really had. Too often, that is the stuff television shows and movies are made of. I applaud Battle Creek for tackling the issue. Here is the Battle Creek episode (http://www.cbs.com/shows/battle-creek/video/_8BcAWLGYDLArT47cp7nl_NYLoVa6q4Y/battle-creek-old-wounds/)

 

Please read: http://bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley

http://yourblackworld.net/2012/11/14/black-community-rallies-to-re-open-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/

http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/

http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/04/28/44-an-innocent-man-celebrates-his-44th-birthday-in-prison-why/

http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/08/06/can-a-person-be-two-places-at-once-the-wrongful-conviction-of-rodney-k-stanberry-2/

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/

 

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