The Continued Struggle to Free an Innocent Man- The Case of Rodney K. Stanberry


(longer version)

September 8, 2013

Greetings:

On Wednesday, August 28th, 2013, Rodney K. Stanberry was denied parole by the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.  He is on his 17th year of a 20 year sentence and will not have a chance to appear before the parole board again.  Rodney has 3 and a half years left on his sentence.  His scheduled release date is March 2017.

It was frustrating that he was not granted parole.  He had traits a parole board might consider favorable in an inmate coming before them- a lack of a criminal record and history, gainful employment before he entered prison, programs in prison that he has taken advantage of, a strong support system, employment lined up, and so on.  Rodney, as is the case with other inmates, did not appear before the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles.  His 79 year old father and his sister spoke on his behalf.  It was heartbreaking to watch his father make his final plea before the parole board.  The first time I saw tears in his father’s eyes was when Rodney was fist denied parole back in 2004, after serving 7 years in prison.  While getting parole isn’t an easy task, it is even harder when the board desires a false display of remorse from an innocent inmate falsely convicted.  It was stated by someone who spoke before the parole board in opposition to Rodney’s parole that Rodney maintaining his innocence shows that he has deluded himself into thinking he is innocent.  While we did not present a case of innocence during the hearing, this statement was made and we did not have a chance to address it.

We did address the challenges that an inmate maintaining his innocence has when his case appears before the parole board (http://www.change.org/petitions/the-alabama-board-of-pardons-and-paroles-grant-parole-to-rodney-k-stanberry). There have been several independent journalists who have looked into Rodney’s case.  These are not people who are part of Rodney’s family.  Their reports point to his innocence.  Here is an extensive investigative report from earlier this year—(http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley).  We would very much welcome the Mobile District Attorney’s Office allowing an independent investigator, not affiliated with their office, to review Rodney’s case.  District Attorney Craig Watkins of the Dallas County, Texas District Attorney’s Office did just that, he allowed an innocence project to review case files and as a result, there were many exonerations.  The Georgia Innocence Project has Rodney’s case in their files, perhaps one of their attorneys could review it. If prosecutors are about getting to the truth, why not allow fresh eyes to review cases where there is evidence of innocence?  Instead, far too many prosecutors promote a culture of getting a conviction at all costs and maintaining the conviction.  When this happens, the guilty go free, while the innocent serve time in prison. How is society safer?  In Rodney’s case, if law enforcement would have arrested the guilty culprits, at least one death of another innocent bystander would have been prevented, as well as other robberies. It seems that prosecutors aren’t as concerned about the victims in cases where they let the guilty go.  In Rodney’s case, prosecutors wanted and still want to pretend that the person who actually shot the victim did not exist (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_shooter-_what_they_want_to_wish_away).  This should be disappointing and discouraging to all who care about justice and about the behavior of those we elect to pursue justice and to put away law breakers.

What Can We Do As We Move Forward

1)      I recently received a letter from Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders in response to a packet of information I sent to him regarding Rodney and his parole hearing. He informed me that he has drafted legislation to establish an Innocence Inquiry Commission modeled after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission established in 2006.  Since its establishment, four individuals, who exhausted their appeals, were exonerated.  As reported by journalist Beth Schwartzapfel “… the Innocence Inquiry Commission, which sidesteps the usual legal channels to look at the actual facts of whether someone might have been wrongfully convicted, is the first, and, to date, only program of its kind” (http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley). Four individuals have been exonerated who otherwise would still be sitting in prison. Here is a link to the website http://www.innocencecommission-nc.gov/

This legislation by Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders should be supported when introduced.  The Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee has stated in an email dated Nov. 1, 2012 that he does not see a need for an Innocence Project in Alabama. Here is part of the email exchange I had with him regarding this, his comments have not been altered and since he is a public figure responding to an email about a public bill, I am including it:

“Actually they do have the power to declare some one innocent. The Governor also still has the power to grant innocence and clemency. Between appeals courts, pardon & parole board and the power of the Governor to grant pardons or clemency, I just don’t see why we need yet a fourth group to correct wrongful incarceration. We have so many different avenues to have a wrongful conviction challenged that it would seem to be duplication to create yet another board or commission.

Respectfully,

 

Cam Ward

State Senator

PO Box 1749

Alabaster, Al. 35007

www.camward.com
On Nov 1, 2012, at 12:32 PM, Artemesia Stanberry <artemesia@freerodneystanberry.com> wrote:

With all due respect, sir, they do not have the power to establish an Innocence   Commission, do they? In fact, as I recall, the Alabama Legislature took the power of granting pardons and clemency from the Governor and put it solely in the hands of the Board of Pardons and Parole, who won’t, by the way, grant parole to people who continue to maintain their innocence, which is an unenviable position to be in- if you’re innocent, you have to lie to say you’re guilty and say you are remorseful, just for a chance at freedom. Many innocent people won’t do this, as a legislator who cares about sentencing reform and prison issues, this should, perhaps, be a concern.  Can the parole and pardons board at least be separated by statute? If the parole board isn’t concerned with innocence and the people on the parole board are also on the pardon’s board, doesn’t this pose some degree of conflict? 

 

The North Carolina Legislature set up an Innocence Commission, legislators, as you know, can do this. Or an am wrong? Can the Alabama State Legislative body, assuming there was interest, not establish an Innocence Commission without permission from the Board of Pardons and Parole?

 

Peace,

 

Artemesia

_____________________

Please contact Alabama State Senator Cam Ward, chair of the Alabama Senate Judiciary Committee, to request his support for the legislation Senator Sanders will introduce.  The Alabama State Legislative Body does not meet again until January 14th, 2014, but it is important for his bill to have momentum before and after it is introduced. Also, please, if you are in Alabama and/or have friends and relatives in Alabama, contact your legislator to ask that they support this legislation when introduced.  If you do not know who your representative is, please use this link to find out http://www.legislature.state.al.us/.  Massive public interest and attention before and after the legislation is introduced may give it the traction needed to get passed by the Alabama State Legislative body making Alabama the second state in the nation to have an Innocence Inquiry Commission.

2)      Rodney K. Stanberry’s case should be among the first considered in the event that the next Alabama Legislative session sees the creation of an Innocence Inquiry Commission. An editorial in a periodical in Mobile, Alabama called for an Innocence Project in Alabama. It included Rodney’s case  deserving of consideration to be reviewed. http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5978 -2013).

We must engage in public action in the form of letter writing campaigns, telephone calls to members of the legislator, the media and public rallies to put Rodney’s case on the agenda to be considered. The road to Rodney’s exoneration continues and whether he has 3 and a half years or one day left in his prison sentence, it is important that his case of actual innocence be heard by a state sanctioned Innocence Inquiry Commission that has the ability to issue subpoenas, access police files, search evidence rooms, and order DNA testing, all without asking a judge, if it is modeled after the one in North Carolina (http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley ). A public personality and social justice advocate, Dr. Boyce Watkins, is willing to help mobilize and promote a rally on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol on behalf of Rodney’s quest for freedom and exoneration. We could do this in support of both Alabama State Senator Hank Sanders’ legislation and Rodney’s case being among the first to be considered.

 

3) Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich

A) Rodney’s appeals have been exhausted, he will not have another parole hearing, and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office said in a television report (http://www.wkrg.com/story/23137189/questions-linger-about-guilt-of-innocence-of-rodney-stanberry) and news article (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/08/convicted_of_crime_he_insists.html) that Rodney’s claim of innocence has no merit.  She can be reached at (251) 574-8400 or via email at ashleyrich@mobileda.org to discuss Rodney’s case.

Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich should reveal any files she has regarding prosecutor Buzz Jordan’s trip to Rikers Island Prison to visit Rene Whitecloud, the person the State said was the shooter. Jordan said he was on vacation, so no notes were taken. (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/).  Yes, Buzz Jordan travelled to a prison in New York, interviewed Rene Whitecloud, but did not disclose the contents of that interview because he said he did not take notes because he was on vacation.  The previous District Attorney, John Tyson, Jr., however, said that Jordan went to New York to find out more about the case and that he took extensive notes. Jordan said under oath at Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing that he was on vacation.  District Attorney Ashley Rich, who said in this interview during her campaign, that she would not tolerate a prosecutor withholding exculpatory evidence.  If a prosecutor is investigating a case and he has a statement exonerating the accused, he is responsible for sharing that statement with the attorney of the accused.  If Whitecloud further corroborated Moore’s confession, and Jordan withheld it, this should be grounds for DA Ashley Rich to reopen Rodney’s case.  In 1993, after hearing Moore’s confession, he said it was all a pack of lies, that he never believed Moore and never will believe Moore. If after interviewing Whitecloud in prison in New York if he listened to Whitecloud further exonerate Rodney as he did in this statement, did he also render it a pack of lies and opted not to share it? This is serious and should be addressed by someone who was so adamant about upholding the integrity of every conviction in her campaign to be district attorney.

B)  Rodney was the only person put on trial for the shooting of the victim. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office should explain why prosecutor Jordan told the jury and the media that Whitecloud would be brought back to Mobile to be tried, when, in actuality, this never happened.  Yet, it was included in a victory for John Tyson, Jr.’s murder team (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/mobileregister.256104348.pdf ). Why not put the person the state said was the shooter on trial in Mobile?  Jordan said during Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing that he thought Whitecloud had been convicted of murder in New York and that the prisons are tougher there. Is this a pack of lies or was it Jordan not wanting to bring Whitecloud to Mobile to again confirm that Rodney was actually innocent. Please review Jordan’s testimony at Rodney’s Rule 32 Post Conviction hearing (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20100914155013.256151941.pdf ). Rodney’s attorney gets key responses from Jordan (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/exculpatory_evidence).

C) Lost Evidence.  During Rodney’s trial, a member of the Prichard Police force responsible for investigating a crime scene and collecting evidence said that when he arrived at the victim’s house 2 days later, he did not discover any usable fingerprints and while took a photo of a mask and gloves the person confessed said he and the shooter had, he claims that he did not collect the items.  Again, he said he took pictures of it, but says he did not collect the items.  The victim’s husband testified that he took photos of them AND collected the items.  According to a forensics report from the Alabama Department of Forensics, a bag containing lose hairs were among the items in their possession. Where would this come from if the mask weren’t collected? The Mobile District Attorney’s Office should investigate what happened to the mask and gloves, what were the results of the loose hairs found, and get the items tested to see if they match Rodney or Rene, or, if indeed, it came from the actual shooter (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_shooter-_what_they_want_to_wish_away).

4) The Mobile District Attorney’s Office should be asked if they believe Moore’s confession is “a pack of lies” or if they simply support the judge’s ruling in allowing Jordan to get the confession suppressed the day of Rodney’s trial.  In other words, do they have no quarrels about the truth of his confession, but support Jordan’s efforts to get the confession suppressed.

5) “Photo Line-Up” Victim Eyewitness identification is important, as well as procedures of obtain the identification.  The Mobile District Attorney’s Office needs to address statements made by people in the hospital room with the victim, including a Prichard Police office, as she was recovering from a coma who stated that she doesn’t know who perpetrated the horrible crime against her.  Prichard Police detective Fletcher, after hearing this, then placed photos, provided by Rodney in an effort to help them detain the people from New York, asked if there was anyone in the photos who could have been at her house and asked her to point a finger at the person she recognized.  Rodney was in the photos and Rodney was frequently at the victim’s house as the husband was his good friend.  This is how the initial identification of Rodney came about- as someone who could have been at her house, as he was often at her house.

6)  Murder for Hire- The District Attorney’s Office should investigate the extent to how an unproven murder for hire plot tainted eyewitness testimony, thus further depriving Rodney of a fair trial. To what extent did the prosecutor lead witnesses and family members to believe this? Moore’s testimony demonstrates that this was a burglary gone very, very badly. The prosecutor, however, had something else in mind, and his theory became more important than the truth.  In this interview with Rodney in 1992 (before he is arrested), Rodney says to the prosecutor towards the end of the interview that it is sounding like you are suspecting me of committing this horrible crime when you know for a fact that I was here at work.  (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/1-31Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162359.pdf and see page 49 http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/32-52Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162441.pdf

 

Conclusion

 

Here are two important blogs that I encourage you to read- “Can a Person be Two Places at Once” and Gun Control: What Happened When a Gun Enthusiast Tried to Stop the Sale of Weapons.”  Rodney was at work when these crimes occurred, he had the same weapons he was accused of trying to steal, and he tried to prevent weapons from being sold to his friends from New York for fear they would be taken to New York to be used for criminal means.  Rodney K. Stanberry was the law abiding individual who tried to prevent weapons from falling into the wrong hands and when learning about the shooting went to the police to try to help him apprehend the culprits.  Rodney remained at the same job from 1992-1997, the crimes occurred in 1992, his trial in 1995 and he began his prison sentence in 1997.  He is actually innocent, but remains in prison for these crimes that he did not commit.  We need collective action to get his case heard once the Alabama State Legislature passes a bill establishing an Innocence Inquiry Commission and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office need to do allow for an independent investigation of Rodney’s case.  Rodney should not have to spend the next 3 and a half years in prison.  This isn’t justice, this is punishing the innocent for actually being innocent.  We need you. There is no I in team, but there are two in activists.  You are that “I”. Let’s do this.

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

 

 

 

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