December 25th, 2015
Mistakes of the (Miss) Universe: Why Won’t District Attorneys Admit Their Mistakes?
I know it is the holiday season and people justly want to focus on family members and friends, but please keep those who are innocent and incarcerated in mind, and support innocence projects around the world. For the innocent and incarcerated, major holidays such as Christmas is a reminder of the precious years lost- precious years that one cannot back, precious years away from family members, and the recognition that one may never have another Christmas with a loved one.
The Internet was recently abuzz with the Steve Harvey incident, you know which one. He inadvertently crowns Ms. Colombia as Miss Universe instead of Miss. Philippines, the apparent winner. Steve Harvey returned to the stage within two minutes and owned up to his mistake. Now, it may have been easier if the pageant organizers and Steve Harvey pretended that a mistake was not made, it may have prevented the negative publicity, but it certainly would not have been ethical. The best policy would have been to own up to the mistake. Steve Harvey did so and said, as I recall, that it was all on him, that the right person is listed on the card; he just read it wrong. Now I know that so many people are seeing this as a publicity stunt, but one can only imagine what our judicial system would be like if prosecutors recognized that they are investigating the wrong person and therefore, they need to focus on the actual perpetrator. When a prosecutor has a theory and/or if he/she has spent several months on an investigation, he/she may not want to acknowledge the mistake, rather, the temptation may be to let the jury figure it out and leave it up to the defendant’s attorney to present the best defense possible.
Take, for example, Anthony Hinton, who spent nearly 30 years on death row from crimes he did not commit. Although it was physically impossible for him to be at the scene of the crime, he was arrested, convicted, and made his home on Alabama’s death row for three decades. The prosecutor in his case had a documented history of racial bias, according to the Equal Justice Initiative, “and said he could tell Mr. Hinton was guilty and “evil” solely from his appearance. http://www.eji.org/deathpenalty/innocence/hinton Instead of owning up to the reality of his potential innocence, the temptation was too strong to get the conviction, in this case, not based on a theory, but based on how someone looked.
Take, for example, Timothy Cole, who died in prison, when another person later confessed, the prosecutor was not willing to admit/acknowledge a wrongdoing, instead he allowed Cole to spend more years in prison where he eventually died due to a health complication.
Take, for example, Michael Morton, the prosecutor had evidence before his trial indicating that he was innocent, but the sensational nature of the case was too strong, there was a strong need to convict. In Morton’s case, the prosecutor’s mea culpa came nearly 3 decades after Morton’s arrest and conviction and after the Texas Bar saw his actions to be so egregious that they put him on trial. Unfortunately, I can give you so many cases like this, including the case of William Ziegler, prosecuted by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. There are so many cases where if the prosecutor just admitted his/her mistake, an innocent person may have avoided spending years in prison. Imagine a world where prosecutors did not mind returning to the center of the stage and saying, my mistake, we saw the evidence, we opted not to withhold it, we want to do what is right by the judicial system. Imagine.
Rodney K. Stanberry was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995 and sentenced in 1997 for crimes he did not commit. He remains in prison, another Christmas, another holiday that he has missed with his family and friends. The prosecutor in his case had a confession by one of the individuals who committed the crimes. The prosecutor opted to not believe the confession because it interfered with his theory, and he suppressed the confession before Rodney’s trial. This same prosecutor travelled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York to interview the person he says was the shooter only to claim that he did not take any notes to share because he was on vacation. The prosecutor (Buzz Jordan) could have at any point before Rodney’s trial pursued the truth and actual justice for the victim of the brutal crime committed, but, instead, he took the “easy” route to convict an innocent man. Another Assistant District Attorney in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, when confronted by the person who confessed (he was on the witness stand ready to confess-again), opted to ignore his confession- she gave him this warning: If you say what we think you will say, then it lights up for you. This is after an exchange where she is pretending (my opinion) to express concern that Moore should consult with an attorney before he confesses AGAIN. Rodney’s attorney reminds her that he had an attorney (one of the most well-known in Mobile, if I may add) when he confessed in front of Jordan. The bottom line, Tierney wanted to make absolute certain that Moore would not confess again, thus throwing the state’s theory out. You see, it is the conviction and not the truth that matters (you can read the exchange here (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/tierny_redo.9113550.pdf). This sounds to me the opposite of saying “our bad, we made a mistake, we knew it for a while, now we will move to remedy it- after all, the truth and justice are what we are concerned with in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. Unfortunately, we know how the District Attorney’s Office views Rule 32 hearings. A Rule 32 hearing is a chance for a convicted inmate to have an opportunity for a new trial after appeals have been exhausted, usually for ineffective counsel. A current Assistant District Attorney (Adero Marshall) in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office posted a YouTube video about these Rule 32 hearings. Here is a quote from a YouTube video sponsored by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office: I find myself in a unique position of defending the defense attorneys and their actions in hearings to ensure that these convicted felons remain convicted and that justice is truly served. It requires research, writing, and understanding the law as well as being able to effectively communicate with and work with the defense bar. ” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pT3WRvG4hLk There is no admitting or acknowledging a mistake by far too many prosecutors, including those under the leadership of Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich. You heard ADA Marshall, it is about upholding the conviction, to prosecutors, justice is served when the conviction is upheld. A prosecutor withheld evidence- no problem, we will uphold the conviction. The person whose confession we suppressed wants to confess- no problem, we will be sure to scare him out of doing so. Where is the justice in this!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Finally, after Rodney was convicted, he remained out on appeal. He met with a probation officer and this is from the report:
“Probation & Parole Officer’s Remarks:
Subject made a good impression on this officer. He was very concerned about the situation and stated continuously that he had nothing to do with these cases. He did tell me that Terrell Moore had confessed to these crimes and had given a confession to the District Attorney and to the police department. I spoke with Mr. Moore and Mr. Moore stated that he knows for certainty that Rodney Karl Stanberry did not commit these offenses ….Rodney Stanberry was very polite during the course of this interview and supplied this officer with all the necessary information needed. (Note, this is from a report written by A. Lewis II, Alabama Probation and Parole Officer, on May 3rd, 1995- the complete report (about 3 pages) is available to the media and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office upon request)
This is who Rodney was. He was a law abiding citizen who worked at the same job up until just before he entered prison on March 24th, 1997.
In contrast, here is what the people we trust to pursue justice behave:
Buzz Jordan on Terrell Moore- I Never Believed He Was Involved with these crimes and never will believe it.
Terrell Moore on Terrell Moore- I was involved, I was at the house, I saw who shot Ms. Finley, and it was Angel Wish Melendez– we were the only two at the house, Rodney had nothing to do with this.
It is a sad day when the person who commits a crime is more truthful than the people paid by taxpayers to uphold the law. http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/moore_in_court_more_on_can_he_testify_and_his_pleading_the_5th-_pgs_664-687testimony_by_victims_sister_688-705
During Rodney’s trial in 1995 Assistant District Attorney Buzz Jordan’s statement to the jury asking if they’d be willing to convict an individual based on no physical and scientific evidence, no weapons, no fingerprints and so on.
On page 687 of the transcript, the jury appears restless and sends a message to the judge that they are ready for this case to end. Two days later when the jury is set to deliberate, they get the case just before noon. The judge says before you get this case, it is noon, so go get lunch first. The jury said that lunch wasn’t necessary. 48 minutes later, they gave a unanimous guilty verdict on all three counts (attempted murder, attempted burglary, attempted robbery. During the sentencing phase, Jordan reiterated his belief that this was a murder for hire and that he would be bringing Rene Whitecloud and possibly one other person to trial. It never happened. Why, because the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would have been exposed, they convicted an innocent man and the people with knowledge of the crimes stated so, even though it meant that they may have gotten prison time.
Far too many prosecutors do the total opposite of acknowledging a mistake. They lose sight that this is about justice, including justice for the victim. Justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted. The conviction and upholding the conviction are far more important than the pursuit of justice. It must have been very difficult for Steve Harvey to return to the stage, look at the person who is not actually the “winner’ and say in front of a worldwide audience that he read the card wrong. As I discuss in this blog entitled “The Prosecutor and the Criminal,” too many prosecutors will look at a defendant that they know are likely innocent, and pursue the case anyway. The truth becomes a casualty of war. And with that, they likely look at Steve Harvey’s acknowledgement of his mistake and say, well, that guy certainly would not be a good fit for our office. I’m being a bit facetious. Nevertheless, too few prosecutors are like Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson and too many are like the prosecutors who prosecuted the aforementioned cases. As I’ve written before, there are so few prosecutors that would acknowledge what DA Kenneth Thompson acknowledged: “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.” http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/10/09/to-be-free-and-exonerated-in-a-fair-and-just-world/ If Steve Harvey were acting like many prosecutors, when he announced Miss Colombia as the winner of the Miss Universe title, he would have ignored evidence that he knew to be true (the actual name on the card). He would leave it up to someone else to the right thing, the head of the Miss Universe pageant, for example, but not him. In our judicial system, too many prosecutors are rewarded for not pursuing actual justice. Steve Harvey is apparently being rewarded with a new contract with the Miss Universe organization by acknowledging that he made a mistake. What’s wrong with this picture?