Fighting for Funding, Fighting for Justice: Establish a Conviction Integrity Unit in Mobile, AL
I should be in the courtroom every day fighting criminals. It should not be that I’m having now to fight certain county commissioners for funding. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich, January 10, 2014, Uncle Henry Show
The idea of the innocent man jailed for a crime he didn’t commit is a concept so frightening to law-abiding citizens that it routinely serves as the plotline for books and movies like “The Shawshank Redemption.” An innocent falling into the maw of the judicial system and winding up rotting in jail for something he didn’t do is a special kind of Hell. But that kind of thing only happens in movies, right? Rob Holbert, Lagniappe Mobile, November 28, 2012, Lagniappe Mobile
First of all, it is good to know that Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich respects activism surrounding a cause. She is fighting for what she believes is just, resources to help her to put away the criminals as she was elected to do. Welcome to the club, District Attorney Rich. According to an article written by Michael Dumas, DA Rich, “In her Jan. 8, 2014, email, Rich urged the recipients to ‘reach out to your county commissioner and encourage them to stop fighting our budget requests and sit down and work with us to find a solution that will keep our prosecutors in the courtroom fighting criminals.’”http://blog.al.com/live/2014/01/fight_for_funding_between_mobi.html This is a response to an ongoing dispute about whether or not the Mobile County Commission is providing the level of funding legally required. Here is the message District Attorney Rich sent, posted on her twitter account: http://www.mobileda.org/mobiledaofficeevents.htm. Further, District Attorney Ashley Rich appeared on the Uncle Henry Show (Newsradio AM 710) on Friday, January 10th to appeal to the public to support her efforts to get more funds from the Mobile County Commission. She said that she was elected to fight crime not to fight the county commission. DA Ashley Rich is about to begin her 3rd year as the district attorney for Mobile County, that’s a campaign slogan (she has a 6 year term). To hear District Attorney on the Uncle Henry Show, click here (http://www.livestream.com/unclehenry/video?clipId=pla_0b1c8e36-e56b-407c-88c5-5f08d286eae5&utm_source=lslibrary&utm_medium=ui-thumb). She also asks that he (Uncle Henry) post her email exchanges with County Commission President Merceria Ludgood and Connie Hudson on his website. At the end of the interview she hands him papers, she is serious about her efforts to put public pressure on the Mobile County Commission (specifically Ludgood and Hudson, as she says Commissioner Jerry Carl is trying to find a compromise). Yes, District Attorney Ashley Rich is in support of good old fashion grassroots activism- when it is something she wants. Now, of course, I support Rich’s efforts to have the resources to fight crime, but I also believe those resources should be tied to helping to prevent and address wrongful convictions. She said that when she goes into the court room, she wears a white hat. But does everyone? Does she not make mistakes? Do her prosecutors not make mistakes that result in innocent people remaining in prison. DA Rich knows, like so many others, that the chances of being exonerated once convicted are extremely low. Is she fine with conviction, even if it is of an innocent person, and what happens after that is left up to chance? Two cases that grabbed the attention of Mobile Judges and the Mobile media since she was sworn in as DA are relevant for consideration when talking about the role of prosecutors. I write about the Toby Priest and William Zieglar case here:http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/11/21/another-judge-grants-a-new-trial-in-mobile-alabama-a-reaction-to-the-lagniappe-article-on-william-zieglar/. Further, Lagniappe Mobile published an editorial calling for the need for an Innocence Project and stated that Rodney’s case needed an independent look: http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5978.
I wrote about this funding dispute in 2011. I called and asked others to call the three Mobile County Commissioners to request that any additional funding to the Mobile District Attorney’s Office be tied to the establishment of a Conviction Integrity Unit so that wrongful convictions can be addressed, prevented and overturned. As I mentioned in the blog written in 2011:
“You can call all three Mobile County Commissioners and ask them to insist that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office establishes a Conviction Integrity Unit similar to one established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in Dallas County, Texas. Here is information about the Conviction Integrity Unit: Conviction Integrity Unit
“Established by District Attorney Craig Watkins in July of 2007, the Conviction Integrity Unit reviews and re-investigates legitimate post conviction claims of innocence in accordance with the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Chapter 64 (Motion for Forensic DNA Testing). In addition, the Conviction Integrity Unit reviews and prosecutes old cases (DNA and non-DNA related) where evidence identifies different or additional perpetrators. Special Field Bureau Chief Russell Wilson supervises the Conviction Integrity Unit, the Appellate Division, the Public Integrity Division, the Federal Division and the Mental Health Unit, as well as public information, evidence destruction and expunctions at the District Attorney’s Office. The Conviction Integrity Unit is staffed by two assistant district attorney, one investigator and one legal assistant. This special division is the first of its kind in the United States.” (source www.dallasda.com) http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/07/26/mobile-da-mobile-county-commission-rodney-stanberry-make-the-call/”
Costs of Keeping Innocent Incarcerated
Since I first wrote about this in 2011, Rodney K. Stanberry, who is in his 17th year of incarceration for crimes he did not commit, was denied parole for a third time.* District Attorney Ashley Rich, has now been in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office as long as Rodney has been incarcerated, first as assistant district attorney under John Tyson, Jr. and then as District Attorney beginning in January 2011. Her Chief Investigator, Mike Morgan, said in this article that there is no reason for Rodney to be granted a new trial and District Attorney Ashley Rich said this when asked by a reporter about her position on Rodney’s parole hearing this past August, she said: “We have always taken the position that we oppose his parole” http://blog.al.com/live/2013/08/convicted_of_crime_he_insists.html.
The Mobile County Commission should stand strong, give the DA’s Office more money if they agree to establish a conviction integrity unit to help prevent wrongful convictions and to help those who have evidence that a wrongful conviction may have occurred. Of course this assumes that the Mobile County Commission is concerned enough about wrongful convictions that they want monies tied to addressing this. But even if they aren’t concerned about wrongful convictions, per se, certainly they are concerned about the costs related to keeping innocent people in prison. The members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles stated on August 28th, 2013 at Rodney’s parole hearing that Rodney will remain with the State of Alabama as an inmate until he serves out his sentence in March 2017. This means 20 years of incarceration for Rodney. If it costs on average $13,000 to incarcerate a person in Alabama, it has already cost the taxpayers nearly $220,000 to incarcerate Rodney K. Stanberry (17 X 13,000). When he is released in 2017, the cost will exceed $250,000. If there are 5 wrongful convictions with 20 year sentences, that’s over a million dollars! How many salaries for Assistant District Attorneys could this provide for? This should be addressed. The taxpayers deserve to know that there is integrity in every conviction.
Again, I applaud District Attorney Ashley Rich for asking 5,000 constituents on her email listserv to contact the Mobile County Commissioners. I ask that you do the same, with the caveat that a Conviction Integrity Unit should be established. They can be reached via this link http://www.mobilecountyal.gov/government/govt_elected.html. But I also ask that you contact District Attorney Ashley Rich to request that she allows for an independent third party to review Rodney’s case. She can be reached at (251) 574-5000, (251) 574-8400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why District Attorney Ashley Rich Should Allow an Open, Independent Review of Rodney K. Stanberry’s case?
1) Exculpatory evidence withheld- prosecutor travelled from Mobile to Rikers Island Prison in New York to visit the person the DA’s office claimed was the shooter. He stated at Rodney’s Rule 32 post-conviction hearing, which took place a few years AFTER Rodney’s trial, that he was on vacation so no notes were taken. John Tyson, Jr. said in a letter to me that it was part of his investigation. Which is correct? DA Rich could easily conduct an investigation into this, that is if she was serious about what she said during this interview during her campaign about the importance of not withholding exculpatory evidence. (Here is a link to her interview, also from the Uncle Henry Show: http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich.mp3 and a link for more information about exculpatory evidence and Rodney’s case: http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_confession-_testimonial_immunity_agreement)
2) The Confession. The person who confessed to being one of two people at the victim’s home exonerated Rodney. This confession was made in the offices of one of the most powerful and influential attorneys in Mobile, Alabama. This was his attorney and I’m sure this attorney would not have encouraged his client to confess in front of the prosecutor if what he said was not true. This remains amazing to me that prosecutor Buzz Jordan could get this confession suppressed. Here is a WKRG interview and here is the confession: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI and http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_confession-_testimonial_immunity_agreement
3) Law Enforcement was at the victim’s home, law enforcement was sent to gather evidence. Yet at the trial, there is no physical evidence. Why? The Alabama Department of Forensics was sent material, what happened to it by the time of the trial. A Conviction Integrity Unit would review this. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/prichard_police_captain_frank_dees_and_sergeant_eddie_ragland
While District Attorney Ashley Rich is content with Rodney K. Stanberry remaining in prison for 20 years, the Mobile County Commissioners and the taxpayers of Mobile County should not be content with innocent people spending decades in prison. In the past three years, since Rich has been District Attorney, we have heard about the Toby Priest case and William Zieglar cases due to judicial rulings, two questionable convictions that happened before she became the District Attorney (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/11/21/another-judge-grants-a-new-trial-in-mobile-alabama-a-reaction-to-the-lagniappe-article-on-william-zieglar/). DA Rich has been in that office for more than 16 years (14 as ADA under John Tyson, Jr. and 2 as the District Attorney). It is very much within the realm of possibility that a handful of people are convicted innocents who remain in prison. An innocent person here and there surely adds up when you are talking about the cost of incarceration and the integrity of the judicial system.
Mobile County Commissioners, please stand your ground on this. In your responses to the media and public, you have stated that you’ve provided the necessary funding. Additional funding going to the district attorney’s office should include a Conviction Integrity Unit. I realize that on this your position is that you do not have jurisdiction over criminal matters relating to the DA’s office, but you obviously have jurisdiction over the funding and if it is costing taxpayers of Mobile hundreds of thousands of dollars to prosecute and keep innocent people in prison, then, again, that should be a concern for you. DA Rich said she wanted you all to work together to find a solution that will keep our prosecutors in the courtroom fighting criminals. She should be willing to work with you to use any additional monies given to hire prosecutors and staff to fight against injustice that leads to taxpayers dishing out lots of money to pay for the “mistakes” of prosecutors. As I’ve stated many times before, prosecutors are needed, there are truly a lot of really bad people in this world, but they should not be given a blank check to prosecute people who are likely innocent, and to spend their careers keeping those people in prison. One can be law and order AND supportive of efforts to ensure that innocent people are not in prison. 99% of people prosecuted may be guilty, but what happens when the innocent are incarcerated? District Attorney Ashley Rich and the Mobile County Commission (and the Alabama State Legislative Body) should have a substantial response to this question.
Here is an investigative piece about Rodney’s case: http://www.bostonreview.net/us/who-shot-valerie-finley
*Here is a WKRG
TV (Mobile, AL) segment shortly before his parole hearing, a WKRG
segment after his parole hearing, and a Mobile
Press Register article before and after
his parole hearing. Here is another piece published in the Boston Review
regardin his parole denial. It is entitled Rehabilitation, Remose, and Innocence: Rodney Stanberry Tries for
Parole. The struggle to vindicate and exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry will