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March 5th, 2015
Congratulations to Excellence in Journalism- Rodney K. Stanberry and Wrongful Convictions
This month I will write a series of blogs about wrongful convictions in general and Rodney K. Stanberry’s case in particular. Why this month? Because it was in March in 1992 that a brutal crime took place and it was in March 1997 when an innocent man began serving a 20 year prison sentence for those crimes. He remains in prison.
On March 2, 1992, a brutal crime was committed against an innocent woman. Law enforcement could have actually arrested the guilty culprits within 48 hours, instead, they settled on an innocent man, who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. If Mobile, Alabama District Attorney Ashley Rich runs for reelection, she should have to address wrongful convictions-frequently.
Congratulations to Excellence in Journalism
I would like to first extend a congratulations to Kirsten West Savali and Gabriel Tynes on the recognition of their reporting on the criminal justice system. They were rewarded a prestigious journalism fellowship by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice that allowed them to attend a conference to engage with reporters, practitioners and policy makers to discuss crucial issues surrounding the criminal justice system. This year’s theme of the conference was entitled “Race, Justice, and Community: Can We All Get Along.” Kirsten and Gabriel were among just 15 recipients of this fellow! http://www.thecrimereport.org/news/articles/2015-02-2015-john-jayhf-guggenheim-reporting-fellows
While Rodney’s case was not the reason for their recognition, both of these reporters have either written about Rodney’s case or work for news outlets that have written about Rodney’s case. Kirsten West Savali has written the following articles about Rodney’s case: http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/ and http://yourblackworld.net/2012/11/14/black-community-rallies-to-re-open-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/. She has also written several articles not specifically about Rodney’s case, but that have included information about his case. I had the pleasure of appearing on a radio show with her as we discussed Rodney’s case. You can hear the discussion beginning at the 1:15 mark.
In addition, Kirsten West Savali was the first to get then newly elected District Attorney Ashley Rich’s office on the record about Rodney’s case (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/). She has been very supportive in the pursuit of justice for Rodney K. Stanberry, including writing this piece that brought in several voices regarding Rodney’s case and/or wrongful convictions. It includes former basketball player and activist Ethan Thomas, Attorney Eric Welsh Guster, economist and author Dr. Julianne Malveaux- http://yourblackworld.net/2012/11/14/black-community-rallies-to-re-open-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/
Gabriel Tynes has written pieces about William Ziegler, an inmate who spent over a decade on death row before being granted a new trial that will take place later this year. And the publication for which he is employed, Lagniappe (Mobile, AL), published the first lengthy investigative pieces about Rodney’s case. It was written by WKRG TV 5 anchor Bill Riales. When ProPublica ( a publication that produces investigative journalism in the public interest (http://www.propublica.org/about/) published an article entitled “Criminal Injustice: The Best Reporting on Wrongful Convictions (#MuckReads)” included Beth Schwartzapfel’s investigative piece for the Boston Review about Rodney’s case, Tynes posted this comment in the comments section: “Gabriel Tynes
March 27, 2013, 9 a.m.
Lagniappe (Mobile, Ala.) previously published a story about Rodney Stanberry http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=2332 and has subsequently questioned the prosecution of death row inmate William John Ziegler for a vicious stabbing death in 2000: http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5961 Ziegler was recently awarded a new trial, an order the Alabama AG is currently fighting. http://www.propublica.org/article/criminal-injustice-the-best-reporting-on-wrongful-convictions
Indeed, in addition to the articles above, Lagniappe has devoted space and investigative reporting to Rodney’s case, Toby Priest’s case, William Ziegler’s case and George Martin’s case, the latter two cases will have new trials this upcoming year, Toby Priest won a Rule 32 appeal and was released from prison and Rodney, well, Rodney remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. It will be 18 years full years on March 24th, with a release date in March 2017. Those years that have been taken cannot be returned, and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing. Here is a piece that Rob Holbert, co-publisher of Lagniappe write about the need to reopen these cases –http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5978 .
A couple of years ago, Beth Schwartzapfel received recognition for her reporting for the Boston Review about Rodney’s case http://www.bostonreview.net/blog/schwartzapfel-stanberry-gugenheim-award. Specifically, she was the runner-up for The John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Prize for Excellence in Criminal Justice Reporting. This year, she again received runner-up honors for a piece entitled: “Modern Day Slavery in America’s Prison Workforce: Why Can’t We Embrace the Idea That Prisoners Have Labor Rights.”
It is heartening to know that of the 15 journalists recognized this year to receive a John Jay/H.F. Guggenheim Fellow, 2 have referenced Rodney K. Stanberry in their writings (or currently work for a publication that did so) and to know that Beth received recognition for her investigative report on Rodney’s case. I so applaud Kirsten West Savali, Gabriel Tynes and Beth Schwartzapfel for their brilliant writing and investigative skills and for publications willing to give them the space and time to work on these types of pieces. I hope their work will encourage others to engage in this type of reporting as they-and journalists like them- are sometimes the only accountability that the power structure will have. Accountability is how reforms may take place. So, kudos to these individuals and to the others who were recognized for their reporting and to those who received a fellowship.
Upcoming Blogs during the month of March:
1) Rodney Remains in Prison, Buzz Jordan Remains in Law (this will about the prosecutor in Rodney’s case, who is a successful defense attorney and what it is like to read about his cases, including one in which he referenced his work on Rodney’s case, and being reminded that there is so little accountability for prosecutors who engage in prosecutorial misconduct. Even in Michael Morton’s case, who spent 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, the prosecutor turned judge built a very successful career before he was finally given what amounts to a slap on the wrist for his role in convicting an innocent man.
2) Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s first term- Using cases in the media, a discussion of the prosecutors she forced to leave v. prosecutors involved with wrongful convictions getting to stay
3) March 24th– March 24th 2015 makes the completion of 18 full years in prison for Rodney K. Stanberry for crimes he did not commit, and the beginning of his 19th year.
4) Activism- Alabama State Legislative Body needs to establish an Innocence Inquiry Commission, Mobile District Attorney’s Office needs to establish a Convictions Integrity Unit.