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January 4th, 2015
Another Year Is Upon Us: The Fight for Justice Must Continue
Well, another year has come and gone and now another birthday has arrived. I haven’t been in the best of moods these past couple of weeks as reflecting on this past year makes one wonder when we will ever, as human beings, have an era of 100 years, a thousand years, or a million years of peace. Humans buying and selling and outright stealing other human beings in the name of war, religion, sexual exploitation, economic gain and so on, and humans who live near one another unable/unwilling to understand one another’s reality. One can’t say “Black Lives Matter” without an “oh, you don’t think all lives matter.” When it comes down to it, we are humans first and foremost and we have more in common than our differences would indicate and that commonality should move us forward as a global community to make the world a better place. But this very naïve, “pollyannaish” even, as there is so much that so easily pulls us apart, intentionally and unintentionally. There are historic factors that shape beliefs, realities and attitudes today. There are systemic structures in place that need to be addressed and reformed. The level of rhetoric is enhanced via social media and it can really make a prisoner of hope lose some of that hope. Who knows, I don’t have the answers and I use social media to discuss my side of the issues of the day and sometimes I do not display a sense of optimism that I almost always display when I am in front of young people, as I hope that in my optimism that they don’t give up believing that they can make a difference in this world.
And then I wake up every morning knowing that my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, still does not have his freedom and it hurts every morning, it is a pain that is similar to a heart ache, knowing that the system failed him and knowing that he should be with his family and friends. Knowing that he should be able to wake up and say “I think I’ll take my son see a movie today,” or whatever he wants to do. That hurts. I spend so many nights tossing and turning wondering what could have been done differently to bring about his freedom and about how some district attorneys/prosecutors so willingly convict innocent people and work to keep those individuals in prison. The sad reality is that once a jury convicts someone, it is very difficult to get an exoneration and prosecutors know this. And they know that there is little accountability. In Michael Morton’s case, his prosecutor was finally held accountable. But this is after Morton spent 25 years in prison and his prosecutor, Ken Anderson, went on to spend a career as a judge. But in the exonerations that we do see, whether an individual served 5 years, 25 years or even the 39 years in prison that Ricky Jackson had to endure (along with the 3 decades that Ronnie and Wiley Bridgeman spent- these three were sent to prison for the same crimes– http://wunc.org/post/three-lifetimes-spent-hope-check-after-wrongful-conviction) you rarely see the prosecutor held accountable.
We need to change the culture among district attorneys who have a “prosecute at all costs” mentality. District Attorneys can be tough on crime, while also recognizing that innocent people have been incarcerated. In fact, as I’ve said repeatedly, we need district attorneys. When current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich (13th Judicial District-Mobile, County Alabama) was running for district attorney to replace John Tyson, Jr. who had retired, she was asked about how the prosecutor behaved in the Duke LaCrosse case and she was adamant that she would not tolerate it. Here is a quote: “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.” She went on to say that she would reopen a case and evidence should be reviewed. You be the judge. (Note Ashley Rich was elected and is now the Mobile County District Attorney-she was sworn in in 2011). Here is a link to the interview: http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich.mp3 The comments begin at the 12 minute mark and is from September 2010). See also http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/key_documents_in_rodneys_case
Since Ashley Rich has been the district attorney, the public was able to see the Toby Priest case overturned by a judge (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/11/16/reaction-to-article-in-lagniappe-about-the-toby-priest-case/) and the William Ziegler case (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/02/how_the_system_failed_william.html). District Attorney Ashley Rich should be out front saying that she will ensure that her prosecutors are informed that there is zero tolerance for this. In the Toby Priest case, as I mentioned previously, Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright, who campaigned for DA Ashley Rich during her election campaign, “says in this Lagniappe article that in her 8 years with the Mobile District Attorney’s Office that she has had over 77 cases and she has never tried a case where she wasn’t sure that someone was 150% guilty (in Priest’s case, she said 90% of her believed he was guilty, 10 percent innocent). Fortunately Priest was granted a Rule 32 Post Conviction hearing by Judge Graddick, of all people!!! Sidenote, no one will accuse him of being soft on crime for paving the way for Priest’s release. Graddick is currently running to be Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court. You can be law and order, but in favor of ensuring that innocent people aren’t convicted.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/11/16/reaction-to-article-in-lagniappe-about-the-toby-priest-case/.
In the William Ziegler case, there is still resistance and the prosecutor, who has worked alongside Ashley Rich, said, well, he should have taken a plea like the others. Elections do matter. Primary Elections matter. Yet, relatively few people pay attention and vote in primary elections. I do not know who plans to challenge District Attorney Ashley Rich or if she plans to run for reelection, but I will be posting about the election throughout this year, to remind you that it is upcoming. Rodney’s continued incarceration for crimes he did not commit should be addressed during the campaign, as should wrongful convictions. During her last campaign, here is an overview of what both she and her challenger said regarding wrongful convictions in response to questions asked: 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/. It is important to recall that in Michael Morton’s case, the successor to Ken Anderson, John Bradley, mocked Morton’s claims of innocence and fought to have possible DNA evidence tested. Bradley was defeated by Jana Duty with wrongful convictions being the center of the campaign. Because Ken Anderson focused on Morton, the actual criminal went on to commit another murder and that family helped to campaign against John Bradley (See http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/04/22/when-texas-gets-it-right-former-prosecutor-held-criminally-responsible-for-putting-innocent-man-in-prison/). Prosecutors spend time convincing the victim’s family that they go the right person, even when they know it isn’t true, so it is worth noting when victim’s families want to pursue the actual truth as justice is never served when the innocent person is convicted. If the Mobile District Attorney’s Office understood that this is an issue that will bring you, the public, out to vote, then perhaps they will work on that convict and maintain convictions at all costs mentality. William Ziegler’s retrial will take place later this year. While the Attorney General of Alabama will prosecute the case, you will see what the Mobile District Attorney’s Office did to get this conviction and the callous attitude they have with regard to Judge Sarah Stewart’s 218 findings/ruling about his case. You will get tremendous insight into how the Mobile District Attorney’s Office can convict innocent people. In the Ziegler case, the state’s theory about where the victim’s body was found was incorrect and the evidence shows it and Judge Stewart criticized from the number of African Americans struck from the jury and, this I did not realize, one of the state’s theories (Mobile Assistant Attorney Deborah Tillman prosecuted the case and maintains that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office did nothing wrong), was that Ziegler murdered the victim because he had been called the “n-word”- the word is actually used in the transcript (see this article about the case http://blog.al.com/live/2013/02/how_the_system_failed_william.html). Here is what Judge Stewart wrote in her order that also justified the need for a new trial for William Ziegler:
“183. Trial counsel’s failure to raise a Batson challenge despite prima facie
record evidence of discrimination requires reversal because the evidence demonstrates that the Mobile County District Attorney used a large number of peremptory challenges to remove African American venirepersons, engaged in little or no voir dire examination of those African American veniremembers, engaged in disparate treatment of similarly situated white and African American veniremembers, and struck veniremembers who had nothing in common other than race. The Alabama Supreme Court in Branch, 526 So. 2d 609, 622-23 (Ala. 1987), established a non-exhaustive list of evidence that can give rise to an inference of discrimination and a prima facie case under Batson. Based upon its review of the evidence at the hearing and the record evidence submitted by Ziegler, the Court finds that many of the Branch categories giving rise to an inference of discrimination existed in Ziegler’s case and would have supported a Batson challenge.
184. First, the crime for which Ziegler was charged “had racial overtones.””
Ziegler was the only non-white defendant in a capital murder trial in which the victim was white, his three co-defendants were white, and most of the State’s witnesses were white. Additionally, one of the prosecution’s theory of a motive was based on the concept that Ziegler became enraged and began striking Baker when he called Ziegler a “nigger,” which the prosecution informed the jury of during voir dire. (T. Tr. 42:15-43:18.) http://media.al.com/live/other/Ziegler%20ruling.pdf (see pages 72-74)
Why would a prosecutor use this tactic if there was no evidence indicating that it was true? Why when asked about Judge Stewart’s ruling, Assistant District Attorney Deborah Tillman continues to say: “I know that our office did not do anything improper, and I did not do anything improper,” [she said].” http://blog.al.com/live/2013/02/how_the_system_failed_william.html Again, in just months before the primaries for the next District Attorney’s race in Mobile, you will hear more about Ziegler’s new trial- I hope. This time, Ziegler has attorneys on his case that can and will challenge the Mobile District Attorney’s Office on his misconduct- even though the Alabama Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case, it will be revealing. As will the George Martin case (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/09/judge_overturns_13-year-old_ca.html). Wrongful convictions must be a key component in the next District Attorney’s race in Mobile, so even if you do not live in Mobile, encourage people that you know in Mobile to organize and to vote.
As we begin another year, we must be aware of the many people who are wrongfully convicted. People who are wrongfully convicted come from various backgrounds and racial groups. I will conclude with a quote from Jeffrey Deskovic, who served 16 years in prison before his exoneration:
” I believe 15-20% of the American prison population has been wrongfully convicted and remains unexonerated as of this Christmas Day.
When a Cleveland judge gave Anthony Lemons that Christmas gift of freedom on Tuesday morning, his mother cried. “I got my baby back today,” she said. “I still trust the system, but I didn’t think it would take this long.”
I still don’t trust the system. And until legislation addressing all the root causes of wrongful conviction gets passed, I never will – and nobody else should either. Merry Christmas.” http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/25/christmas-in-jail-wrongfully-convicted?CMP=share_btn_fb
Peace and Sincerely,
PS Articles of Interest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI (WKRG report includes prosecutor and individual who actually confessed-the confession was made BEFORE Rodney’s trial.