March 24th, 2015
Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerated, 18 years and Counting
Today, March 24th, marks the 18th year that Rodney K. Stanberry has spent in prison for crimes he did not commit. He is now beginning his 19th year in prison, with a scheduled release date of March 2017. Imagine what it is like to spend 18 years in prison, imagine spending 18 years in prison as an innocent man. It is the epitome of injustice. The sad reality is that in our judicial system, once one is convicted, the chance of obtaining freedom from a wrongful conviction is very high. It is estimated that between 2.3% to 5 % of prisoners are innocent. According to the webpage for the Innocence Project, even if 1% of all prisoners are innocent, that would mean that approximately 20,000 prisoners are innocent (http://www.innocenceproject.org/faqs/how-many-innocent-people-are-there-in-prison) also see http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/07/22/a-step-in-the-right-direction-giving-the-wrongfully-convicted-a-chance-at-justice/. However, the number exonerated has not come even close to the approximate number of wrongful convictions.
Far too many district attorneys are more concerned with upholding a conviction than they are with seeking the truth. It was encouraging when the district attorney in Glenn Ford’s case came forward and apologized for his and his office’s role in convicting an innocent man. Here is a quote from Attorney Marty Stroud, III who prosecuted Glenn Ford. It is a must read as he takes responsibility for his actions and chastises the state for its attempt to deny Ford compensation. Unfortunately, Ford spent 30 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. To quote from Stroud’s editorial:
“Glenn Ford should be completely compensated to every extent possible because of the flaws of a system that effectively destroyed his life. The audacity of the state’s effort to deny Mr. Ford any compensation for the horrors he suffered in the name of Louisiana justice is appalling…..
There was no technicality here. Crafty lawyering did not secure the release of a criminal. Mr. Ford spent 30 years of his life in a small, dingy cell. His surroundings were dire. Lighting was poor, heating and cooling were almost non-existent, food bordered on the uneatable. Nobody wanted to be accused of “coddling” a death row inmate.
But Mr. Ford never gave up. He continued the fight for his innocence. And it finally paid off.
Pursuant to the review and investigation of cold homicide cases, investigators uncovered evidence that exonerated Mr. Ford. Indeed, this evidence was so strong that had it been disclosed during of the investigation there would not have been sufficient evidence to even arrest Mr. Ford!
And yet, despite this grave injustice, the state does not accept any responsibility for the damage suffered by one of its citizens. The bureaucratic response appears to be that nobody did anything intentionally wrong, thus the state has no responsibility. This is nonsensical. Explain that position to Mr. Ford and his family. Facts are stubborn things, they do not go away.”” http://www.shreveporttimes.com/longform/opinion/readers/2015/03/20/lead-prosecutor-offers-apology-in-the-case-of-exonerated-death-row-inmate-glenn-ford/25049063/
If only more prosecutors came forward to talk about a wrongful conviction in an honest way. It was also encouraging to read that the Texas State Bar has “filed a formal accusation of misconduct against the county prosecutor who convicted Cameron Todd Willingham, a Texas man executed in 2004 for the arson murder of his three young daughters.” https://www.themarshallproject.org/2015/03/18/willingham-prosecutor-accused-of-misconduct If Willingham is, indeed, innocent, he will not be able to experience what it feels like to be exonerated for the State of Texas executed him. Like college student Timothy Cole, who died in prison during the 13th year of his incarceration, Willingham and so many others who languished in prison hoping that the system would correct itself got the ultimate sentence, death- for Cole, it was death via an asthma attack in prison and for Willingham, death at the hands of the state. Sadly, I don’t envision the Alabama Bar Association filing such grievances and I can’t come close to envisioning Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich acknowledging the role of the DA’s office in convicting innocent people. When Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich, for example, is presented with evidence that a prosecutor in her office engaged in prosecutorial misconduct, the response is to deny, deny, deny is strong. Keeping the innocent and guilty in prison is part of the game for too many district attorneys who wish to hide behind a jury’s verdict even when prosecutors withhold evidence demonstrating that the accused may actually be innocent. It is worth noting that the prosecutor in Glenn Ford’s case apologized to the victim’s family for giving them a false sense of closure and to the members of the jury for not having all of the information that should have been disclosed to them.The drive to get and to uphold the conviction is so very strong, too strong to really adhere to the notion that it is better to let 10 guilty free than one innocent person to suffer. Too many prosecutors can’t or won’t distinguish between the guilty and the free in the convict at all costs game that is played. The truth becomes a casualty of war in the convict at all costs game.
Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles
It is not just district attorneys, but parole boards make it difficult for the innocent to obtain freedom. Brendan K. Kirby just published a piece entitled “How Do Alabama Parole Board Members Decide Whom to Release? Think ‘American Idol.” http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/03/how_do_alabama_parole_board_me.html#incart_river
I truly wonder how closely parole boards are looking at records of an inmate. Further, decisions regarding whether or not an inmate should be granted parole should not take just a few minutes. I will not rehash Rodney’s parole hearings here, but I did have concern about the number of cases the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles heard on the day of Rodney’s most recent parole hearing. Here is what I wrote:
“On August 28th (2013), the day of Rodney’s parole hearing, there are, by my count, 80 pardon and parole hearings scheduled to be heard by the same 3 people. If they hold hearings from 8-5 and take a lunch break in between, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles will be hearing more than 10 cases and hour! (I know they begin at 8 on a first come first save basis. People start signing up at 6:30/7am, I am not sure if they conclude at 5 or before, but I will check). We can only hope that the members of the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles are carefully reviewing each case before the hearing. By the way, there are more than 40 cases on the previous day- I stopped counting at 40. There are so many reforms that need to be made. The innocent truly has a slim chance at justice once incarcerated.” https://www.facebook.com/groups/freerodneykstanberry/
An “American Idol” reference does not begin to address the serious nature of just three parole members deciding the fate of individuals in a manner similar to a mass production assembly line. These decisions should not be made in this manner; this should not even be the perception. Again, I won’t rehash Rodney’s parole hearings here, but if the wrongfully convicted can’t get relief through the court system, through the parole board, through DA’s who are not conscientious about the innocent who are incarcerated, they end up marking year, after year, after year, after year in prison, while people who are actually guilty get relief, some by telling the parole board that they are remorseful for the crimes they have committed. If you are innocent of committing a crime, you can express sadness over a tragic event, but not remorse in the form of taking ownership of the crime committed. This results in a travesty of justice that persists throughout one’s entire sentence. At Rodney’s parole hearing it was said that Rodney has deluded himself into thinking that he is innocent and that there would be no protests when he served out his full sentence. It is not at all ironic that an inmate who is innocent of the crimes for which he is accused can’t bring up innocence as a condition of parole, but those opposing his parole can make statements that the inmate has not owned up to a crime as part of their plea to keep an inmate in prison.
I would not wish a wrongful conviction on any person or on any family. We need to elect district attorneys who do not wait 30 years after a wrongful conviction to apologize; rather, we need to elect district attorneys who take steps to address wrongful convictions from they day they are sworn into office. When current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich was running for office, I inquired about wrongful convictions with both she and her opponent. It has been disappointing to see the level of denial that has come from her office with regard to wrongful convictions. It is up to the public to elect district attorneys who seek truth and justice, and not to offer a false sense of closure. Reporters in Mobile, Alabama and throughout the nation, must report on wrongful convictions during these campaigns. Here is a sample of my inquiry during the 2010 Mobile District Attorney’s race.
Below is an annual timeline of events that I post each year:
March 24th 1997- March 24th 1998- Year 1 Adjusting to Prison Life- A Foreign Concept to an innocent man who had never been in prison.
March 24th 1998-March 24th 1999- Year2(1st letter from NAACP stating that they could not assist in this case)
March 24th 1999- March 24th 2000- Year 3(1st letter from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office:http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20100914154832.256154014.pdf)
Rodney “celebrates” his 30th birthday in prison
March 24th-2000-March 24th 2001- Year 4
March 24th 2001-March 24th 2002– Year 5- Rule 32- Post Conviction Hearing for New trial Denied
March 24th 2002-March 24th 2003– Year 6
March 24th 2003-March 24th 2004- Year 7 “Guilty Until Proven Innocent” WKRG TV- 5 (Mobile, AL Report (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI)
March 24th 2004-March 24th 2005- Year 8(October 18, 2004-Parole Hearing- Parole Denied)
March 24th 2005-March 24th 2006– Year 9
March 24th 2006- March 24th 2007– Year 10 Important Interview on Dr. Wilmer Leon’s show, featuring Rodney’s supervisor who testified and provided work documents during trial that Rodney was at work (he also spoke at Rodney’s second parole hearing):http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?attachment_id=119
March 24th 2007- March 24th 2008- Year 11
March 24th 2008- March 24th 2009– Year 12 Election & Inauguration of First African American President- a lot of change since Rodney’s arrest in 1992.
March 24th 2009-March 24th 2010– Year 13 (July 8, 2009- Parole Hearing- Parole Denied)
Rodney “celebrates” his 40th birthday in prison.
“Time Served, Or Justice Denied in Alabama,” An article in Lagniappe Mobile written by Bill Riales about Rodney’s case. (June 2009,http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=2332 )
March 24th 2010- March 24th 2011Year 14 Ashley Rich is elected to replace Mobile District Attorney John Tyson, Jr.
During the campaign she was asked about what she would do if a prosecutor withheld evidence- You can listen to her response here: http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/u7am0916AshleyRich1.mp3.
She seemed very adamant about the issue and said that the integrity of every conviction is important to her.
March 24th 2011-March 24th-2012Year 15
Shortly after her swearing in, Rodney K. Stanberry supporters from around the country called her office and signed a petition in support of his release.This put Rodney’s case on her radar screen as District Attorney, not simply as candidate for the office.As stated:[District Attorney Ashley Rich] has received so many calls that she asked her new investigator to call around to see why people were calling. In honor of her first year as DA, I am asking that people call to follow up to see what she is doing with regard to [Rodney’s] case. More importantly, I’m asking people to ask her to take steps to either get the Attorney General to investigate Rodney’s case, retry or release him immediately.http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/
Journalist Kirsten West Savali was able to get District Attorney Ashley Rich’s Office on record to discuss Rodney’s case. You can read that interview here:http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/
March 24th 2012- March 24th 2013Year 16
LagniappeMobile calls for an innocent project, the editorial includes the following: “Another case I believe needs an independent look is that of Rodney Stanberry, who has been in jail for murder for roughly 20 years now. A Lagniappe story in 2009 detailed the very shaky circumstances surrounding his conviction.” (Nov 2012:http://classic.lagniappemobile.com/article.asp?articleID=5978)
March 2013: Investigative Journalist Beth Schwartzapfel completed and published her investigation in the Boston Review.You can read it here: “Who Shot Valerie Finley: Why Is One Man’s Innocence So Hard to Prove” http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.2/beth_schwartzapfel_valerie_finley_innocent_convictions.php
In this article, she includes the confession by Terrell Moore, a confession that the District Attorney’s Office worked to suppress BEFORE Rodney’s trial, even as he confessed in front of the prosecutor and was given immunity from prosecution if he did so, AGAIN, before Rodney’s trial. You can read the confession here:http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20100914155256.256155350.pdf/20100914155256.256155350.pdf.
But here is a portion of investigative journalist Beth Schwartzapfel’s article as it relates Moore appearing before Rodney Rule 32 Post Conviction Hearing:
“Aside from Mike Finley, Taco Jones, Tyrone Dortch, and five of Rodney’s coworkers who testified at Rodney’s trial, there was one additional person who would not have corroborated everything that Valerie said: Terrell Moore. Hoping that Terrell would finally “come clean,” as he had promised Ryan Russell he would, Knizely called him to the stand at the hearing. Terrell seemed prepared to testify.
But Knizely had no sooner asked Terrell his name than Martha Tierney, the assistant district attorney, jumped in. “Judge, I hate to interrupt Mr. Knizely, because I have the world of respect for him,” she began, “but if Mr. Moore is going to testify about the things we anticipate he will testify about, and I’m concerned this is a state forum, and that he would take this stand unrepresented and with no grant of immunity to make statements that could have life consequences for him. I just wish that the Court be apprised of that and our concern about that, sir.”
Knizely was incredulous. “Judge, from our understanding, the State’s [position is that] the man—he has no credibility. And are they are telling us now they are going to prosecute him if he confesses to it?”
It was a good question. If the district attorney’s office truly believed, as it had maintained all along, that Rodney was guilty and Terrell was (for some inscrutable reason) lying about his involvement, then why threaten to prosecute him? To prosecute him, the state would have to believe he was guilty. It would have been almost impossible for both Terrell and Rodney to be guilty, since one story contradicted the other. And yet Tierney was simultaneously defending the verdict against Rodney and threatening to prosecute Terrell. It seemed she was trying to scare Terrell off the stand in order to preserve Rodney’s conviction. The Mobile District Attorney’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment, submitted via email, by phone, and in person.
Tierney pressed on. “If he comes in here and says ‘it’s me pals,’ then it’s goodbye sunlight for the rest of his living life, and he’s young,” she said.
Finally, after some additional back-and-forth, Knizely was allowed to proceed. “Mr. Moore,” he began, “you recall whenever a lady named Mrs. Finley was shot? Do you remember back in those days when you were called as a witness in this case?”
Tierney interrupted again. “Judge, may I object sir, for one minute? Could you just, Your Honor, if I may respectfully ask that at least you instruct him that he does have the right under the Fifth Amendment not to make any statements.”
“I thought I just did that,” McRae said, “but I’ll do it again. Under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution,” he told Terrell again, “you do not have to answer any question which could even possibly incriminate you. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, sir, I understand it.”
“Okay, proceed,” McRae said. But Tierney interrupted again.
“And that the State would use anything he says today, Your Honor, against him.”
“The State can and may,” the Judge said.
“Yes, Your Honor, I understand,” Terrell said, “and I plead the Fifth Amendment.”http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.2/beth_schwartzapfel_valerie_finley_innocent_convictions.php”
Year 18- Parole Hearing/ Parole Denied
After Rodney was denied parole for a second time, it was hoped that he would be granted parole at his 3rd parole hearing. Again, Rodney had everything a parole board would look for, but his not being guilty may have played a role in his remaining in prison. A member of the victim’s family told the parole board that Rodney had deluded himself into believing he is innocent. When inmates come before the parole board, the parole board wants to hear that they are guilty and express remorse .Rodney refuses to say he is guilty for crimes he did not commit. It doesn’t matter that he has jobs lined up, family support, sponsors, supporting letters from co-workers, friends and even, as occurred during his previous parole, a letter from the arresting officer, the parole board wants to hear that a person is guilty. Rodney faces the prison dilemma of the wrongfully convicted: NYTIMES.
Below you will find links to articles and news reports concerning Rodney’s 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 regarding his parole denial. It is entitled Rehabilitation, Remose, and Innocence: Rodney Stanberry Tries for Parole. (Beth Schwartzapfel was runner up for a prestigious journalism award for her investigative piece about Rodney’s case)
As Rodney begins his 18th year of incarceration, will Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich work to release Rodney K. Stanberry?
This is a true travesty of justice.
Peace and Sincerely,
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