Mr. and Ms. October- Prosecutors Who Win at All Cost-Even Convicting the Innocent


October 1, 2016

Mr. and Ms. October- Prosecutors Who Win at All Cost-Even Convicting the Innocent

I am not a big baseball fan; I do prefer to watch and play soccer. So forgive me for using the term Mr. October and forgive me if the use in this case isn’t the best analogy. But when I think of Mr. October, I think of the player who will shine in the baseball playoffs; the person who will get that World Series win for his team.  A solid athlete who exemplifies what the best athletes in the sport are about.  For prosecutors, winning a case is important. District Attorneys win elections off of the number of convictions they were able to get.  Winning is everything because, they believe, they are making the community safer by putting away the bad people. Win, win, win. The problem is that sometimes in an effort to win a case; they ignore evidence that a person may be innocent.  Far too many prosecutors, pursuing the innocence when there is overwhelming evidence if innocence, instead of focusing on the actual guilty party seems to be the norm when one reviews the cases of those exonerated.

Marty Shroud was a young attorney when he was able to convict Glen Ford, who spent three decades on death row for a murder that he did not commit.  Here is what Shroud said in his now apologetic years: “In 1984, I was 33 years old. I was arrogant, judgmental, narcissistic and very full of myself. I was not as interested in justice as I was in winning. To borrow a phrase from Al Pacino in the movie “And Justice for All,” “Winning became everything.” http://www.shreveporttimes.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/03/20/lead-prosecutor-offers-apology-in-the-case-of-exonerated-death-row-inmate-glenn-ford/25049063/  While Shroud likely has a nice retirement plan, Glen ford was not compensated for the 30 years of his life that was taken away- he was given a 20 dollar gift card upon his release and exoneration. He has since died without receiving anything beyond that 20 dollar gift card from the state. http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2015/11/30/the-sport-of-boxing-and-the-arena-of-prosecutors-fighting-against-wrongful-convictions/  Far too many prosecutors are like Shroud was in 1984. Further, they are given the tools, the players, and the power to convict innocent people, without repercussion, without being held accountable.  Their careers are built on this.  Their Mr. October-like  performance build their careers, and, unfortunately, undermines the system of justice.

If there were a World Series for occupations that are successful in winning performances,  district attorneys would be in the World Series each and every year.  In fact, when one looks at the annual Nappie Awards delivered by Mobile local, alternative newspaper (Lagniappe Mobile), which has written positive stores about Rodney’s case), Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich is a winner in her category often.  In the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, Mr. October would be Joe Carl Buzz Jordan and his co MVPs would be former Mobile District Attorneys Chris Galanos, John Tyson, Jr. and current Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich.  Prosecutor Buzz Jordan, in the case of Rodney K. Stanberry, is Mr. October.  He was able to convict an innocent man, even as someone else confessed BEFORE Rodney’s trial, exonerating Rodney, he was get away with withholding evidence- claiming that he was on vacation when he traveled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island prison in New York to interview someone he claims was the guilty party, thus he did not take notes, he was able to convince the victim and the victim’s family that the crimes were a murder for hire even though he presented and had no evidence to make this conclusion, and after seeing documentation and hearing from witnesses before Rodney’s trial that he was at work, he moved forward with convicting an innocent man and the system has worked to protect the work on Joe Carl Buzz Jordan.  He remains Mr. October.  While Rodney will soon be on his 20th year of incarceration for crimes he did not commit, Jordan would leave the Mobile District Attorney’s Office shortly after Rodney’s trial and continue to make a career practicing law.  Prosecutorial misconduct is rewarded, and, as mentioned, the system sanctions it.

I recall receiving a letter from an attorney in response to one of the many letters I sent out over two decades seeking assistance with his case.  Here is a paragraph.”… Unfortunately, it is very expensive to do post-conviction procedures.  Due to the procedural problems that Rodney faces, as well as the fact that less than 1 percent pf Rule 32s are won in the first place, it is extremely unlikely that Rodney will win.”  The letter is dated March 13, 2002.

 

Mr. October, he is solid at bat, no one can overturn his record, and sadly, his co-MVPs did not and do not care to do so.

Sleep Nights and Heartaches

For so many years I’ve had sleepless nights, mainly thinking about my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, who remains in prison for crimes he did not commit. He has approximately 5 months left on his sentence. He began serving a 20 year sentence for attempted murder, burglary and robbery. From 1997 on, it’s been an obsession, a series of frustrations and heartbreaks. There have been times when all I literally could do is to stare at the ceiling in the darkness wondering why and what more can be done.  I often think about the years he has been in prison and I have spent as an activist as I find myself staring towards the ceiling, in the darkness, feeling the pain of his ongoing incarceration. I often do what I’ve done so many times over the years; I write about it in the form of a blog at 3am- that I may not post- it is cathartic, to some extent. As we will continue to pursue exoneration, one thinks about the next steps and about previous steps, including attorneys I’ve spoken with over the years.  Recently, I heard a powerful message from a current police chief who earlier in her career became a police officer, dropped out of college over a guy, returned to college to receive a degree in criminal justice, while serving as a law enforcement officer, and is now the first African American female police chief in her town.  Recently, I spoke with a friend in his fifties who has returned to law school. And, recently, I spoke with a close friend of mine about family, career and so on. All of this weighed on my mind during one of those staring at the ceiling sessions.  At a “women in law enforcement” event, I spoke with someone who remembers my discussions about my cousin’s case. We talked about how much we assume that if someone has been arrested and convicted that they are actually guilty. I shared with him that I used to be that way. When I heard about my cousin’s arrest and conviction, I assumed that he must be guilty if the jury said he was guilty. Little did I know about the journey that I would embark upon in 1997 when I did a lot of reading about his trial- via trial transcripts and so on. As I said before, if I knew then what I know now, I may have pursued a law degree.  I believed for so many years that justice would prevail, that prosecutors would respond to moralsuasion, if not that, to doing what is right, even though there was a conviction by the jury.  I was wrong in thinking that as prosecutors continue to prove that the conviction is sacred and that a conviction is a conviction, right or wrong, that they would respond to evidence of innocence.  I spoke with numerous attorneys over the years, including high profile ones that you would know about. They were sympathetic but could not devote the time and resources necessary to pursue his case when he likely would get parole. I learned several things from this experience- two that I will share- that there is what is akin to a triage when it comes to getting help (unless you, yourself have tons of money to devote) and that is DNA cases, death penalty cases, and juveniles sentenced to life get the priority- which I totally understand.  I learned that if you are innocent and you go before the parole board declaring your innocence, then you are unlikely to get parole ( (http://www.nytimes.com/video/nyregion/1247467961918/the-innocent-prisoner-s-dilemma.html)  – and https://bostonreview.net/blog/schwartzapfel-stanberry-parole andhttps://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-power-and-politics-of-parole-boards/2015/07/10/49c1844e-1f71-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html). In fact a member of the victim’s family may say to the parole board that the defendant did not own up to what he did and that is that-no chance (and in Alabama- as former and long term parole board member longshore stated: “In Alabama, it’s almost unheard of for the board to grant parole over victim opposition. The board also routinely receives letters opposing parole from the governor, the attorney general and other elected officials.

“That’s going to impact the disposition when they protest, almost universally,” Alabama board Chairman Robert Longshore said. “You’ve got a very politicized victim community in the state of Alabama.”” https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/the-power-and-politics-of-parole-boards/2015/07/10/49c1844e-1f71-11e5-84d5-eb37ee8eaa61_story.html

Again, Mr. October has no fear that his actions will be overturned.

District Attorneys, even when faced with evidence of prosecutorial misconduct, will stick by a prosecutor’s actions no matter what- that integrity of the system to them is different from what you and I would think is integrity of the system. We would think that it is about seeking justice, they think it is about pursuing a conviction, even though they are sanctioning unjust acts.  The pursuit of injustice is not too harsh to say, for some District Attorneys- they justify it by putting away really bad guys while recognizing, but doing nothing, about the ones that fall through the crack.  I did attempt to pursue law school in recent years- one year before my cousin’s second parole when we were sure that we could lead a strong effort, learning from his first parole hearing, of getting his parole. Between my dedication to my job, my cousin, and family matters, I just did not make law school a priority, and when my cousin was denied parole, it hurt so badly that I knew that I would focus on law school even less. I still did not realize at the time that moralsuasion does not work on people more concerned about the conviction than the truth. I opted to dedicate as much time as possible to his third parole, to highlighting to Mobile District Attorney’s election in the hopes that wrongful convictions would be an issue, and to bringing about more attention to Rodney’s case.  But on August 28th, 2013, he was denied parole again. Another crushing blow. So like Sisyphus one has no choice but to continue put that rock on one’s shoulders and role it up the hill knowing the outcome but knowing that it was not an option to not do so, an innocent man remained in prison.

Rodney’s punishment is that he is innocent and, thus, maintains his innocence. Prosecutors and parole boards would rather than an innocent man say that he is guilty, rather than do what is right on behalf of the innocent. If I had pursued a law degree back in 1997, perhaps there would have been a different outcome- if I’d moved back to Alabama with the law degree- all of these things run through one’s mind when one reflects back on these years.  The feeling that you have failed someone is a powerful feeling- I would not wish it, nor a wrongful conviction on any person or on any family. Do you think it gets easier with time? It doesn’t.  There have been days these past two years when I tried to add more balance to my life, but only a few days as this is too much a part of one’s psyche. I also recognize that there have been so many cases where the innocent and incarcerated had very powerful attorneys handling their appeals, but it still took a decade or two, or even three before exoneration.  And there are those who are innocent and incarcerated whose cases are never heard about (https://researchnews.osu.edu/archive/ronhuff.htm) We need to seriously address wrongful convictions in this nation. We need these MVPs of prosecutorial misconduct to be held accountable via the system.  Yeah, the prosecutor may have hit a home run with a conviction, but what did he do to get that home run? Did he withhold exculpatory evidence?

Holding Prosecutors Accountable

Several people sent me an article about the California State legislature considering a bill that would hold prosecutors accountable. Here is just the first paragraph of the article:

“Responding to several highly publicized district attorney scandals that have tainted numerous murder cases, a California state legislator has introduced bill that would make it a felony crime for prosecutors to intentionally withhold or falsify evidence.”                       http://reason.com/blog/2016/08/16/california-bill-would-make-it-a-felony-f

And here are a few lines from the bill (AB 1909 Falsifying Evidence):

“This bill would make it a felony punishable by imprisonment for 16 months or 2 or 3 years for a prosecuting attorney to intentionally and in bad faith alter, modify, or withhold any physical matter, digital image, video recording, or relevant exculpatory material or information, knowing that it is relevant and material to the outcome of the case, with the specific intent that the physical matter, digital image, video recording, or relevant exculpatory material or information will be concealed or destroyed, or fraudulently represented as the original evidence upon a trial, proceeding, or inquiry.

By creating a new crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local    program.”  http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB1909

And, congratulations to the California General Assembly for passing the legislation and sending it to Governor Brown’s desk.  Here is a paragraph from Assemblywoman Patti Lopez’s press release:

““I firmly believe in holding these officers of the court to a higher legal and ethical standard,” López explained. “What many fail to realize is that the decisions made by our criminal justice system can change people’s lives and the lives of those around them forever. No matter what the circumstances, prosecutors cannot and should not be allowed to trample on the rights of others or to pursue justice by committing their own acts of injustice.”” http://asmdc.org/members/a39/news-room/press-releases/assemblywoman-patty-lopez-s-prosecutorial-misconduct-bill-passed-by-state-senate

 

I’d already read the article and had been following what was happening in Orange County, but I appreciated the fact that people think about Rodney’s case and want to share with me helpful articles.  That is definitely a step in the right direction, but the culture within District Attorney Offices has to change, and the culture of state bar associations that could do more to hold prosecutors accountable.  Allow me if you will to use a baseball analogy that is not perfect, I will admit.

Mr. October- Joe Carl Buzz Jordan- and the case of Rodney K. Stanberry

Jordan started his time up at bat with a theory and then he pursued the theory, in a subtle way even as he knew that he had neither evidence nor basis for the theory.  He would get the conviction with the help of his team.  On first base is the police officer/detective assigned to the case. His or her actions are very crucial.  Detective Fletcher (then with the Prichard Police department), although the crimes for which Rodney is accused, took place on March 2nd, he asked Rodney’s job if he were at work on March 3rd and told the victim’s family that he confirmed that Rodney was not at work on March 2nd (Rodney’s work records, testimony- in court, under oath-  by his co-workers place him and his truck at work on March 2nd and even a city landfill work order places him at work (see my blog how can one person be two places at once)- nevertheless, this major mistake by the police helped to plant the seed that Rodney was guilty.  And when Rodney did take off work on the 3rd to help law enforcement apprehend the people he thought were involved and were on their way to New York, the detective refused to call a detective in New York to help them to apprehend two individuals, including the shooter, involved saying that he and the Prichard Police Dept. could handle this; when Rodney provided Detective Fletcher with photos of the shooter, which included Rodney in the photo, the same detective showed the photo to the victim while she was recovering from a coma that resulted from her being brutally shot in the head, and asked which of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house- practically every Sunday. Even though the victim and victim’s family member indicated to law enforcement in the hospital room that she did not know who did this, he used this line-up of a picture provided by Rodney, with the question of which of these individuals could have been at your house.  Once she said Rodney, no amount of evidence was going to change the mind of the prosecutor (see Who shot Valerie Finley).  Detective Fletcher would soon be replaced by Lebaron Smith, who, on April (1992) accompanied prosecutor Buzz Jordan to Rodney’s job for a long interview (here is the transcript—- http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/1-31Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162359.pdf and http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/32-52Rodney_interview1992_ppa1.289162441.pdf)

. Although Smith was a detective with the Prichard Police Department, it was Buzz Jordan who conducted practically the entire interview, without mirandizing Rodney.  Again, Rodney thought that they were seeking his help and he assumed that they had already cleared him as he was at work and they knew it. It is sad that towards the end of the interview, Rodney finally realizes that Jordan actually thought he was guilty and Rodney he essentially says he understands that it is routine to suspect everyone, but the questions are about him and it has been established that he was not at the victim’s house.  Rodney was naïve, he actually believed that prosecutor Buzz Jordan and Prichard Police Detective Lebarron Smith were trying to solicit his help to catch the actual culprits- he realizes towards the end of the interview that Jordan believes that he is the guilty party.  This shocks him because he knew he was innocent and knew that they could easily exclude him from being a suspect. Rookie mistake.  This is why Rodney said during the trial that Jordan is operating on some JFK conspiracy theory thinking he could be two places at once.  What Rodney did not know then is what we all know now, prosecutors have the power to suppress evidence and to withhold evidence- and in the process get a conviction and avoid being convicted.  It is a magical game where only the conviction matters, and neither state bar associations, judges, nor subsequent district attorneys care.   Soon after the April 1992 interview with Buzz Jordan and Lebarron Smith,  Rodney was arrested and charged with crimes he did not commit.  This 23 year old man who was making $300 dollars a week at a major company with no incentive to steal the very weapons he either had or could purchase (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2013/02/20/gun-control-what-happened-when-a-gun-enthusiast-tried-to-stop-the-sale-of-weapons-the-case-of-rodney-k-stanberry/), would go to trial and then after losing his immediate post trial appeals, would spend 20 years in prison (he is 6 months away from 20 years of incarceration. His trial would take place in 1995 and he would begin his prison sentence on March 17th, 1997.

The Mobile County Police Department’s Eddie Ragland’s and Captain Frank Dees contradiction one another about which officer were at the scene of the crime after it occurred ; Raglan insisted that he went to the victim’s home later, took photos, including a photo of a mask and glove that may have been used in the commission of the crime, but claims to not have collected said items- even though he photographed it, even though the victim’s husband testified that he did take them (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/prichard_police_captain_frank_dees_and_sergeant_eddie_ragland.)

Everyone plays a part in this convict at all costs culture.

Second Base

No one should blame the victim for a wrongful conviction for it is the prosecutor that withholds critical information even from the victim for the purpose of getting an easy conviction.  The prosecutor understands that role he has to play in convincing the victim and the victim’s family that an innocent person is actually guilty. Prosecutors mislead- maybe even lie- to them and keep this up forever. In Rodney’s case, the prosecutor defended a close member of the victim’s family (shortly after Rodney’s 3rd parole was denied) citing Rodney’s case in the courtroom as to how long he has known the defendant as he was trying to make sure that she did not serve time in prison (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html ).  There is more to say on this point, but while I was asking the Mobile DA’s office and asking reporters to ask if DA Ashley Rich was going to send someone to Rodney’s parole hearing in 2013 to protest his parole, as DA Rich said she would do as part of her tenure as DA, I had no idea that 1) the DA’s office was prosecuting a member of the victim’s family and 2)  that a member of the victim’s family speaking out against Rodney during Rodney’s parole, was working with Buzz Jordan at the time on this case to ensure that his close family member did not go to prison.  It is so ironic.  While the representative with the Alabama Attorney General’s office put on a case against Rodney before the parole board and saying that the victim’s family (she was referring to the son who is an attorney) is a good family, a civil rights attorney and so on, I wondered after I learned about the pending trial what would the same representative had said had she been arguing against parole of the family member who was on trial.  You can’t make this stuff up. But, Jordan did his thing. Here is a quote from him: “”I think it was a difficult case,” said her attorney Buzz Jordan, who had cause to celebrate on Friday afternoon, but not as much as he’d hoped. He said he would be representing Patrick again once her hearing date is set on the lesser charge.” http://blog.al.com/live/2013/11/jury_rules_maysville_woman_was.html

If prosecutors who convict innocent people want to be sure that the victim’s family never questions them on it, use Jordan’s playbook.

Third Base and Pre-Game player- The Judge

Judge Ferrill McRae (http://prospect.org/article/judge-lynch-mob ), to his credit, expressed concern about Jordan interviewing Rodney without reading him his rights, but only lectured him about it, but nothing else.  A confession was made before Rodney’s trial, but McRae allowed Jordan to suppress it. And at Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing, McRae was mocking Rodney’s claims of ineffective counsel.  The same judge should not be a part of the trial and the Rule 32 hearings, at least not in this case.

Home plate- a homerun, Jordan has the judge and the jury on his side.  Another conviction, another home run. Mr. October.

Coach and Team Managers- DA’s who stand by a conviction no matter what and state bar associations that refuse to hold one of their own accountable even when they blatantly violate ethics laws.

It is almost October 2016 as I write this blog.  Rodney has spent approximately 19 years and 7 months in prison.  Mr. October, Buzz Jordan, has spent as much time on his law career.  Where is the justice?  Not in Alabama as it relates to Rodney’s case. (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/ ).

Peace,

Prof Stanberry

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