(Note, it is Monday, February 10 as I post this blog. I originally wrote it on Nov. 30, but it is one of the many that I wrote, but did not post. As we are approaching the 80th birthday of Rodney’s father (Feb. 12th), this blog is on my mine, so I’m posting it. On March 25th, 2014, Rodney will begin his 18th year in prison for crimes he did not commit, his scheduled release date is March 2017.)
November 30, 2013
Ruthless- We Should Never have to Describe People Paid and Elected to Pursue Justice as Such, But….
Ruthless, that is the word that has been on my mind, it was on my mind as I drifted off to sleep and it was the first thing on my mind when I awoke this morning. Ruthless, how can people be so ruthless? I spent the Thanksgiving Day and the day after watching The House of Cards, the Netflix series about a member of Congress, Francis “Frank” Underwood who will stop at nothing to achieve his goals for more power and prestige. If you look up ruthless in a dictionary, his picture would be there. I spent my teen years as a misanthrope, while at the same time ultimately believing in the goodness of humankind. This is cognitive dissonance on steroids. My thought processes as a young person were the constant wars, starvation of children that could have been prevented, the history of war, violence and cruelty of fellow human beings, animals, and the environment, although, when I was younger, the environment wasn’t the foremost concern, so this is why I labeled myself a misanthrope. As I grew older, the anger I felt was subsided by the goodness I know is within most of us.
In 1997, when I was began advocating for my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit, I believed the district attorneys in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would respond to moral persuasion, that they would respond with a sense of what is just and what is fair. People who believe this do not operate in a ruthless way; they continue to try to appeal to the better angels of man and continue to believe in a system, even when the system has let them down. I mentioned after Rodney’s 1st parole hearing in 2004 that I felt a sort of naivete in believing that providing the parole board with everything that they look for would result in Rodney being granted parole*, but after his second parole hearing in 2009, I said that the idea that people working within the system actually cares about justice over the conviction had been removed (I sent out a long email to our followers in ‘04 and ‘09 following the hearing about these thoughts). But I am not a ruthless person and I believe in the basic humanity of man- even though in dealing with Rodney’s wrongful conviction I have witnessed that the conviction is king and district attorneys are servants to it, even as it blinds them. I don’t think I’ve used the word ruthless to describe this before, but after seeing how Frank Underwood behaved in the House of Cards, it is a name that I would give to the behavior of those who would convict innocent people and work to keep those innocent people in prison- not just the prosecutors but those within the system who sanction and help to perpetuate this situation to satisfy career goals. When I spoke to someone who deals with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles about how the three members would respond to a moral appeal based on Rodney being innocent, the person mentioned that those members of the parole board want to be reappointed, and their reappointment isn’t based on granting paroles, especially when there is media attached to record their actions. A conscious decision made based on politics, maintaining employment, without consideration of what is right, fair and just can be said to be careerist. But their decision could have been made for other reasons so they should state the reason (s). The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles was asked in this article why the parole board doesn’t provide a reason for denying paroles in general and Rodney’s in particular (http://www.bostonreview.net/blog/schwartzapfel-stanberry-parole). I believe the parole board should state a reason for his parole denial and to provide a rationale for Rodney not being able to appear before the parole board again- from where did this decision originate. An individual with experience with the parole board stated that it was likely that if he were denied parole this time, that it would be reset for a year before his sentence ended. Keep reading.
A Wrongful Conviction leads to an inadvertent death sentence
In House of Cards, Frank Underwood, to achieve a plan he had set out, murdered a man. This man had two young children, but Frank didn’t care, his ends justified the means. He wanted to be the Vice President of these United States. Maybe in Season 2 he will be punished for it, but we know that the punishment for those in power- such as a district attorney, a judge, or a US Congressman, in Frank Underwood’s case- is miniscule compared to the damage they have done. The prosecutor who convicted Timothy Cole knowing he had evidence that placed doubt in Cole’s conviction went unpunished. The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, did grant Timothy Cole a pardon, but not before Cole died 13 years into his prison sentence of an asthma attack (See journalist Beth Schwartzapfel’s piece on this: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/12/tim-cole-rick-perry). The pardon was a posthumous pardon, Cole didn’t know, and Perry gets applauded during a Republican Presidential primary debate for the number of people his state has executed (I write about it here in this blog entitled The State Doesn’t Cry, But Maybe it Should-http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/01/17/the-state-doesn%E2%80%99t-cry-maybe-it-should-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/).
A wrongful conviction leads to 25 years in prison
Michael Morton spent nearly 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He was accused and convicted of murdering his wife. District Attorney Ken Anderson of the Williamson County, Texas District Attorney’s Office prosecuted Anderson. He had exculpatory information that he withheld and went on to get the conviction. He would later become a judge and in the 25 years that Morton spent languishing in prison, Ken Anderson built a successful career- a prosecutor who gets convictions moves up to becoming a judge, the path to success that requires a bit of ruthless behavior. You have a high profile case, a man killing his wife, well that’s big news, if it later turns out that he is innocent, perhaps you know before his trial, well, the ruthless person can’t turn back now, so what if he has a son, so what if he will go to prison with the label of murderer, I got a career to think about. Anderson’s ruthless behavior finally caught up to him (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/04/22/when-texas-gets-it-right-former-prosecutor-held-criminally-responsible-for-putting-innocent-man-in-prison/), but the punishment didn’t fit the crime- in a plea bargain to end civil and criminal charges against him http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/ken-anderson-begins-serving-jail-sentence-in-micha/nbrck/, he had to give up his law license and spend less than 10 days in jail- mind you, this was at the tail end of his career. So you may say he is embarrassed and this took away from his reputation. Mike Morton’s own son believed what the District Attorney’s Office fed him, he changed his last name when he turned 18; Morton had to spend years in prison dealing with that reality. Anderson’s successor John Bradley mocked Morton for maintaining his innocence. Morton endured more than 25 years of mental torture, from his arrest, conviction, sentence, and even his life today, while Anderson suffers from what? People who are ruthless and who work within the system know that the punishment won’t fit the crime, so it continues.
Rodney K. Stanberry- Still in Prison for Crimes he did not commit
As I was sitting in Rodney K. Stanberry’s third parole hearing on August 28th, 2013 and for the three months following his hearing that I’ve had to think about it, I couldn’t quite put into words how I felt about many of the players involved. The members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles took less than 2 minutes to deliberate before saying that Rodney would remain with them, but the decision, I believe, was made well before that day. When Joe Carl “Buzz” Jordan, the prosecutor in Rodney’s case, made a decision to let a theory outweigh any evidence contradicting his theory, he established the baseline of ruthless behavior as it related to Rodney K. Stanberry’s case. He just had to convince the victim and the victim’s family that Rodney was involved and they he should be punished even though he was at work when the crimes occurred, even as there is a confession by another individual. What conversations did he have in private? Rodney was convicted based on eyewitness testimony of the victim, who was brutally attacked and shot in the head. (For more information read: Who Shot Valerie Finley: Why One Man’s Innocence is Difficult to Prove by Beth Schwartzapfel). 75% of those exonerated with DNA were convicted based on eyewitness misidentification. I don’t blame the victim, I believe she believed what she said, but I know that law enforcement had evidence to show that it was misidentification, but they said nothing, because the conviction was more important. Mike Morgan, the current chief investigator says to this that the victim knew Rodney. Here is his first interview about Rodney’s case. Journalist Kirsten West Savali was able to get this interview with him:
In an exclusive interview with NewsOne, District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Mike Morgan, brushes those facts aside, stating that there is still no reason for Rodney Stanberry to be granted another trial:
“All the evidence was heard by the judge during the trial. A decision was made not to allow the jury to hear Terrell Moore’s testimony. A jury found Mr. Stanberry guilty after a trial; that’s why we have a jury system. I will agree with your statement that eye-witness testimony is the most unreliable testimony, but not in this case. Valerie Finley identified Stanberry; she knew him.
For there to be a new trial, “new and compelling” testimony would have to be presented. Even if the jury was not allowed to hear Moore’s testimony, that was a decision made by the judge.” http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/
In a follow-up article Kirsten West Savali interviewed an attorney not involved in Rodney’s case who said this:
Attorney Guster also questions the validity of Valerie Finley’s identification of Stanberry so soon after waking from a coma:
“[This] seems to be a flawed identification,” said Guster. “The prosecutor should question whether her ID was valid because of her state of mind when the ID was made, her mental capacity when making the ID and whether she fully understood what she was doing. Being in a coma is a traumatic mental health and physical event. A person’s mind and body have both been essentially shut down for some time.
“She may have been picking anyone familiar to her but who may not have been the true perpetrator of the crime. According to what I have read, she was asked if she saw someone familiar. Of course she would pick Mr. Stanberry; he was a family friend. In my professional opinion, this is a flawed and skewed identification.
Though the case seems to have stalled in the district attorney’s office, Guster insists that by no means equals defeat. (http://www.yourblackworld.net/2012/11/black-news/black-community-rallies-to-re-open-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/)
The Prosecutor Sets the Script for a Wrongful Conviction- Others Follow
Buzz Jordan set the course of action, and what he set into action, former Mobile District John Tyson, Jr., current Assistant District Attorney Martha Tierney, current District Attorney Ashley Rich, Chief Investigator Michael Morgan, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole, the late Judge Ferrell McRae and one other person stayed with the script. Jordan can travel to Rikers Island prison in New York from Mobile, Alabama before Rodney’s trial to visit the person the State says was the person who shot the victim and then say under oath at Rodney’s post conviction hearing that he was on vacation so no notes were taken and, oh, by the way, according to Jordan, the person he visited said to follow the husband (what was said in private by Jordan to keep people from focusing on the facts and the actual culprits, did HE posit and then convince people, including the jury, although this was never an official charge, that this was a murder for hire scheme?). During Rodney’s post-conviction hearing, current ADA Tierney did not question Jordan’s statement regarding his trip to New York, she would have gone off script. I mean to question a prosecutor traveling to a prison to visit a suspect but not taking any notes may result in results better not included in the Rule 32 Hearing? Who believes this? But, when she was confronted with Terell Moore, the person who confessed to Jordan in front of his attorney, one of the best and most well-known attorneys in Mobile, Tierney plays her role, her role to protect the conviction, not to question the prosecutor who got the conviction: to paraphrase slightly- I’m sorry Judge (McRae), but I need to tell Moore that he, you are a young man, and if you say what I think you will say, then it is lights out for you, think about it, Mr. Moore. After hearing this from the person in power who is letting him (Moore) remain free for a crime he committed, he pled the 5th, again. What power does the District Attorney’s Office have over people who want to do the right thing? The power to take away the freedom they’ve granted you so that they can continue to deny freedom to someone who they wrongfully convicted.
Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich
In comes new District Attorney Ashley Rich and her Chief Investigator Michael Morton (see Savali’s article above) and on Rodney’s parole. From Mobile Press Register Brendan Kirby’s article:
Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said she is not sending a representative of her office to personally attend the parole hearing. But she said she opposes it.
“We have always taken the position that we oppose his parole,” she said.
Rich said numerous assistant district attorneys have re-examined the evidence over the years. “Our opinion about the case has not changed,” she said. http://freerodneystanberry.com/the_confession-_testimonial_immunity_agreement
I spent the first years of Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s administration asking her to reopen Rodney’s case and asking if she planned to send an assistant district attorney to Rodney’s parole hearing- I asked the latter because since she was elected as the first female District Attorney in Mobile in 2010 (after working as assistant district attorney for 14 years under John Tyson, Jr.’s leadership and as a colleague with Martha Tierney), that her goal was to block paroles and that she would send someone from the DA’s Office to do so. While I was asking this, I had no idea that the District Attorney’s Office was actually prosecuting a member of the victim’s family and that Buzz Jordan was the defense attorney. Jordan referenced indirectly during this trial that took place Nov. 2013 (I don’t yet have the full transcript). According to Mobile Press Register reporter Michael Dumas in his coverage of the trial that took place a month or so ago:
This case had familial connections for Patrick both outside, and within, the courtroom. Seated beside her during the trial was her brother, Terrell McCants, who appeared as one of her attorneys, working pro bono. Also litigating for free was McCants’ friend, attorney James Harred.
At the start of the trial, Buzz Jordan, who led the defense, introduced himself as someone who had known Patrick since she was 9 years old, when her mother was the victim of a shooting that left her paralyzed. (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html)
Keeping Rodney in prison hasn’t been about justice for the victim, accountability to the taxpayers, and definitely not about justice for Rodney. It has been to keep in place the mistake/decision Jordan made in convicting the innocent while letting the guilty go. In hindsight, what went on during Rodney’s parole hearing wasn’t about Rodney, it was about making sure that the motion that Frank Underwood/Buzz Jordan put into place would stay in place. During the parole hearing, a member of the victim’s family, the attorney working with Buzz Jordan on the case Dumas profiles, said that Rodney should remain in prison for the full sentence and that at that time, the family would not protest his release. I will save my comments about this for a book I am writing about Rodney’s case. But remember Men in Black 3, when we discovered the actual beginning of the relationship between Will Smith’s and Tommy Lee Jones’ characters? I will explain what this reference means to this case in a book.
Justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted. Buzz Jordan could have convicted the individuals actually involved in the crimes. Rodney tried to help the State capture the actual culprits for he did not care if the shooter was a friend of his, he wanted to pursue justice for the victim and for the system. He was an innocent man who cared about justice that ran into a ruthless machine. And for that, he is on his 17th year in prison for crimes he did not commit.
*When we went before the parole board, we had everything that was asked of us; we had counseling for Rodney, a job plan (his former job wrote a letter stating that he has a job upon his release), a supportive family, friends, and a support network. It didn’t matter. His parole was denied. I truly will never forget that day.
Links regarding Rodney’s parole final parole hearing:
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
continue. Please continue to keep this page and our blog bookmarked for various
calls for action.