October 14, 2012
A Day in the Life- The Pursuit of Justice and the Agony of Defeat
This weekend I was able to resume this book I’m working on about my cousin’s case (the working partial title- The Accidental Activist). Anyway, I put it aside following the death of his mother on Sept. 8th. Since her death I’ve been feeling as if I had a heart break, in this case, my heart has been broken by a system that continues to let down my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry. It is hard to get over the fact that he was away from his mother for all of these years and that he couldn’t even attend her funeral. Were he guilty, that would be one thing, but he is an innocent man who was deprived of being with his heart, his mother
(http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/09/11/rodneys-mother-may-she-rest-in-peace/). Anyway, while I have been working on other stuff surrounding his case, I put
the book aside, because it is painful going through these years of fighting for him. I mean when you look at a letter from 1998 when he says I would have given up and accepted what they’ve done to him if it weren’t for me and when he refers to me as Captain of Team Rodney all those years ago, one starts to feel like one has failed and as if one/I have let him down and that is hard to deal with every day. So as this book is about my activism surrounding his case, you can understand why I had to set it aside because of the level of absolute hurt I was and am feeling, I’m just dealing with it better. I am always fine when I
am at work, that’s why I look forward to work, but nights, weekends, research days, those were and are the hardest. It literally feels like a heart break.
But I am determined to stay focused on the book. This morning (Sunday) as I was going
through files to find my first letter to him and/or his first letter to me and my first letter to an interest group or to the media, I couldn’t locate what I was looking for from 1997, which is when he began serving his prison sentence and when I first inquired about and started working on his case, to the best of my recollection. I found letters from 1998 (one he begins with “How’s Everything in Monicaville?” a reference to the Monica Lewinsky, Bill Clinton Scandal that led to the Bill Clinton impeachment by the House, acquittal by the
Senate). I found a letter from Rodney dated April 1, 1998, but this is one of the few when he isn’t focused on the case, just a quick letter to ask how I planned to spend my Spring Break (I was a doctoral student at the time), update me on his quest for a new trial, and a brief discussion on some prison stuff. So given the date of the letter, our correspondences must have begun months before, so hopefully I can locate my first letter to him or his first letter to me (I used to make copies of my letters on occasion) to include in the book. I also located a few letters I wrote to the media (including the Mobile Press Register– http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/GrelanMobileRegister1.246230400.pdf)
asking them to investigate the case and one of the first letters I’ve received from the NAACP, dated November 24th 1998, essentially stating that “The NAACP is not a ‘direct legal’ services provider and as a result of limited resources, we must limit the number as well the type of cases in which we intervene” (November 24, 1998, Office of the General Counsel, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Willie Abrams, Assistant General Counsel). Kweisi Mfume was the President & Chief Executive Office at the time. Abrams did refer me to the Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama, which I had, by that time contacted.
What I am also rediscovering as I am looking through my files is how busy I was when I lived, attended school and worked in Washington, D.C. I was working full time, going to school full-time, working on Rodney’s case and I had a decent social life- with friends from sports teams, my professional life and my educational life. How and when did I sleep- lol. I do recall working, then leaving work in the evening, and then returning to work at 8 or 9pm (later if I had class) and staying at work until 2am or so. I didn’t live far from the U.S. Capitol, where I worked, and, thus, felt comfortable walking home. Sometimes I would leave at 11:45pm in time to catch the last metro train-the Blue Line from Capitol South, other times I’d stay until a former co-worker of mine, who is known to burn the
midnight oil as well, would leave at 2 or 3am to take me home. I came across one of my notebooks from one of my classes in 1999 and this was my schedule for a Saturday morning: 8am-10am-letter to Rodney; 11am-2pm- work on literature review on the Birdie Mae Davis case- at this time, my dissertation was going to be on School Desegregation,
which the Birdie Mae Davis case out of Mobile being one of my case studies, my
dissertation topic ended up being on mandatory minimums for crack cocaine and
the dilemma of the Congressional Black Caucus; 3pm-8pm- prepare for Dr. McCormick’s public policy class; 9-11:30pm Read first half of assignments from Dr. M’s class (don’t know if this is McCormick or Morris); 11:30-1 Grade papers. On Sunday of that particular weekend it was- Read Sunday newspaper; 11-1 (I can’t read what it says, looks like Minutes; 2pm-8pm something about reading a book, can’t read my writing, work on Birdie Mae Davis literature review, go to GW to work on literature review; 9-12 Read for class; 12-1:30am (complete paper for NCOBPS). So, again, I was working for a member of Congress, a doctoral student at Howard University, presiding over and/or in leadership roles of organizations, and still having somewhat of a social life, while spending significant time sending letters and transcripts out about my cousin’s case. Again, how did I do it all! Of course I didn’t have a dog (I have an awesome dog). I would actually pick up my schedule if I didn’t now have to live my life in 8 hour increments- sometimes less. It is a
challenge, but when I commit to something that is for the benefit of others (my dog included), I remain committed. It isn’t just having a dog; it IS that the longer my cousin is in prison, the more I become withdrawn. When I am not at work or engaging in a work related function, I just want to be away from everything. If I ever start an innocence project, a networking component will be a part of it for unless you truly know what it is like to sacrifice so much of your life to help someone, in this case, someone who is wrongfully convicted, it is difficult to explain what you go through each day and it doesn’t get any easier.
It certainly doesn’t get any easier for Rodney. I read through about ten of his letters this morning and he is a man yearning for the judicial system to correct itself; he is yearning for justice. He is screaming that he did what he was supposed to do when he found out about the crimes. Even before the crimes occurred, he tried to play crime-fighter by
refusing to sell his friends from New York weapons and telling his friends, the
victim and her husband, from Mobile to not sell them weapons. His friends from New York were told that Rodney didn’t want them to be able to purchase weapons; Michael Finley admitted on the witness stand that Rodney said to not sell them weapons but that he, Mike Finley, arranged for them to be sold anyway and his wife was with him (it
begins on page 294 http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/M_Finley_Section_1.255154125.pdf)
Wanting more, the folks from New York hooked up with Terrell Moore from Mobile (Moore confessed to being at the victim’s house when she was shot-confession not heard by jury), shut Rodney out of the loop, and went to rob the Finley house for their guns. Ms. Finley was at home, as it was Mardi Gras Monday and she was brutally shot in the head.
When Rodney found out about the crimes when he got off worked that day, he immediately tried to apprehend his friends from New York, he discovered where the guns were and managed to get the returned, he went to the Prichard Police, taking the next day off of work, to show them pictures of the guys from New York, to give them a name of a detective in New York to apprehend his friends returning on the Greyhound bus, and he would eventually secretly record Donnard Jones, who introduced Moore to the people from New York, to get to the bottom of what happened. He turned this secret recording over to the Prichard police. Jones also testifies to this in trial. While Terrell Moore pled the 5th at trial, he confessed three times before trial including a confession made in front of prosecutor Buzz Jordan in the law office of one of the most powerful and well-known attorneys in Mobile, Alabama (and Alabama).
Rodney’s reward for 1) trying to keep guns from travelling to New York, 2) immediately
trying to apprehend the people he knew to be involved in the crimes, and 3) going to the police? He became a suspect and later an inmate in the Alabama Department of Corrections. The crimes occurred on March 2, 1992, Rodney was arrested in April 1992, he was convicted in 1995, and began serving a prison sentence for attempted murder, burglary, and robbery in 1997. He was in his 20s. It is 2012 and he is in his 40s, still in prison for crimes he did not commit. Imagine how many people would have been murdered in New York with guns purchased from Alabama if Rodney had said nothing and allowed his friends to accumulate as many weapons as they wanted. It is so ironic that the person without the criminal record and criminal mind who attempted to act to save lives is the one the Mobile District Attorney’s Office pursued and convicted for the brutal crime against the victim. Rodney invited his childhood friends to Mobile to experience Mardi Gras. While they were in town, he did what many southern boys do, he took them to the Finley’s house to show off a deer he had shot and wanted to have mounted (http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=2332&sid=1 ).
Both Rodney and Michael Finley were gun collectors. Rodney had the same weapons he was accused of stealing; he had a steady job that paid him well so he had no incentive to steal weapons. The people from New York saw weapons, wanted them, Rodney didn’t want them to be sold any weapons, Rodney gets cut out of the loop, a brutal crime takes place that was a robbery and the district attorney’s office spins it into a murder for hire, while not charging anyone with that crime. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office by the
time of Rodney’s trial had a confession by another individual, a statement from Rene Whitecloud, on the ground witnesses corroborating that it was the person who confessed that they saw and his vehicle coming from the victim’s house and that Rodney’s vehicle was not at the victim’s house, Rodney’s work records, supervisor and co-workers also confirming that he was at work when the crimes took place, and other evidence exonerating Rodney (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_confession-_testimonial_immunity_agreement). But, because the Prichard Police Department took photos provided by Rodney to the victim as she was in the hospital recovering from a coma caused by a gunshot to her head and, after hearing a relative of the victim and a police officer in her hospital room say she doesn’t know who did this, placed those pictures in front of her and said squeeze my hand if you can recognize anyone who could have been at your house. Rodney was often at her house. With this squeeze of the finger, the question went from who could have been at your house to “this one did this?”, and with the murder for hire theory planted, victim eyewitness misidentification ensued (see http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20100914154802.256153049.pdf and http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/eyewitness_misidentification). The truth no longer mattered to law enforcement/prosecutor as they worked to suppress the truth before Rodney’s trial. When you have an eyewitness who was an innocent individual shot
in the head, if you want a conviction, you suppress the truth, and rely solely on her testimony to get a conviction. Who cares in the” convict at all cost” game, right? Three/fourths of those exonerated by DNA evidence were convicted as a result of eyewitness misidentification.
In response to questions about Rodney’s case, the Mobile District Attorney’s
Office, presided over by District Attorney Ashley Rich, said that they understand that eyewitness identification can be faulty, but that in this case, the victim knew Rodney (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/). She did and Rodney was often at her house. But the District Attorney’s Office also knows that once the victim squeezed the detectives hand when asked which of these individuals could have been at your house, she would say it was Rodney and that his girlfriend was in his bronco parked in her driveway. Once they discovered that this wasn’t true, which they did, they, the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, could have pursued the truth, especially when it came to them in the form of a confession by the individual looking at the victim as she had a gun to her head and from Rene Whitecloud, who stated that
Moore and Angel “Wish” Melendez went to the victim’s house and that Rodney knew
nothing about it. Instead, they went for a conviction based on eyewitness misidentification, and ensured that they jury would not hear the confession, while all the while telling the jury and the press that Rene Whitecloud was the shooter and would be brought to Mobile for a trial. This is what the Mobile District Attorney’s Office stands by. Further, the prosecutor in Rodney’s case went to Rikers Island prison in New York to visit Rene, but claimed to have done so while on vacation to see if Rene actually existed so he didn’t take notes. Understand that he had this statement from Rene before he went (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Rene_Whitecloud.26225239.pdf),
and he admitted during Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing a few years after Rodney’s trial that he went was able to go through the chains to get to Rene in prison through the same person who sent him Rene’s statement. District Attorney Ashley Rich stated during her campaign to become District Attorney that the integrity of the conviction was important and that she would not tolerate withholding exculpatory evidence. If this is the case, then she would “discover” Jordan’s notes because it is highly doubtful that a prosecutor would travel to a prison in another state to visit the person he claims to be the shooter and not take any notes. Here is her interview (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich.mp3)
For the record, I don’t blame the victim for this for she suffered from a brutal crime, rather, it is the Mobile District Attorney’s Office and the Prichard Police Department that could have pursued true justice, but opted, instead, for an easy conviction. No one wins when the wrong person is convicted, except for the prosecutor, and no one gets closure when the wrong person is convicted.
You wonder why the system breaks our heart- because we believed and believe in it
and when you believe in something so much and it lets you down, sometimes you
are hurt by it. On a radio show, Rodney was asked about his continued trust in the system.
Dr. Wilmer Leon to Rodney: “After talking to you and to Artemesia over the years, you still have faith in the system.” Rodney: “Yes, yes I do,
perhaps it is a character defect.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?attachment_id=78
Listen to the interview for more information. Rodney and I still have faith in a system that has gone out of its way to let him down. We can’t be like the people who don’t mind
keeping innocent people in prison; we have to be change agents. I hope in writing this book that it will empower people to fight on behalf of those who are wrongfully convicted. The road is long, it is hard, you will have to make all kinds of sacrifices, including shutting out friends and family from to time, but justice is worth fighting for.
Sincerely and Peace,