Time Served-Justice Still Denied: the Wrongful Conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry


Title: Time Served: Justice Still Denied, the wrongful conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry

 

John Thompson spent 18 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Fourteen of those years were spent on death row.   The prosecutor in his case withheld exculpatory evidence that would likely have prevented him from spending so many years in prison. Had it not been for an investigator hired by his attorney,  he would still be on death row or either executed by now (https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/opinion/10thompson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). When he first arrived on death row at Angola Prison in Louisiana, he was placed in the cell of someone who had just been executed.  He was arrested in front of his family, including young children.  When his appeals were exhausted, he told his attorneys that although he is innocent, the fight is over. But then he remembered that his son was to graduate from high school; Thompson did not want to be executed before his son’s graduation. His son found out his execution date from a teacher who had read about the case and used Thompson, who she apparently thought was guilty, as a lesson to not do bad things. Imagine that-his son is sitting in a classroom listening to a teacher talk about his father’s upcoming execution. The teacher did not know that Thompson was the father of the student;  she was offering a cautionary tale.  But you know what cautionary tale she and others will not offer? The cautionary tale of prosecutors who knowingly withhold evidence that send innocent people to prison spending time in prison themselves.  The system doesn’t work that way, the system lets prosecutors off the hook, even when they act like criminals.

The prosecutor in Michael Morton’s case  served less than ten days in prison for his role in the wrongful conviction but that was after Michael Morton spent over 25 years in prison for a crime he did not commit- he was accused of murdering his wife. The prosecutor in his case went on to become a judge- he had a fruitful career.  Mike Nifong of the Duke Lacrosse case was disbarred for ethical violations stemming from  his handling of the Duke Lacrosse case  but these are exceptions to the rule for as John Thompson wrote in an editorial about his case where the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a jury’s verdict to give  Thompson 1 million dollars for each year spent on death row : “I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.” https://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/10/opinion/10thompson.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Prosecutors have too much immunity and while they ruin lives in the pursuit of what they view as justice, they are rarely held accountable, rarely apologize, and seem to rationalize it as the cost of doing business.

42 Years In Prison- Innocent and Incarcerated

By now you have heard about the uncle and nephew who were just released from prison after spending 42 years in prison. Yes, 42 years in prison.  Even though evidence did not show that Clifford Williams, Jr.  and Hubert Nathan Myers committed the crimes for which they were accused,  they were convicted of murder and attempted murder in a two day trial.  An individual believed to have committed the crimes confessed years later before dying in prison, but not even that confession could not prevent these men from spending decades in prison.  Were it not for the State Attorney’s Office in Florida establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit in 2017 and reviewing their case, these men would have died in prison.  Williams and Myers petitioned the unit to review their case. According to an article posted on CNN:

 

“Among the findings: Another man reportedly confessed to people that he committed the murders and felt bad Williams and Myers were imprisoned for it, the Conviction Integrity Review investigation report said. That man died in 1994.

The new unit’s review led to the first-of-its-kind result, with the cases being tossed.

The Conviction Integrity Review unit determined that “it no longer has confidence in the integrity of the convictions,” according to a press release from State Attorney Melissa W. Nelson.

Williams, now 76, and Myers, 61, were wrongfully convicted in the murder of Jeanette Williams (no relation) and attempted murder of Nina Marshall, Nelson’s office said.” https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/29/us/florida-wrongful-imprisonment-42-years-murder/index.html

 

Where do they go to get those years back? More importantly, do the prosecutors in their case care? How many more did they send away in this manner? Careers built, while lives were ruined. This is not justice for the victim, nor is it justice for taxpaying citizens who deserve more from the very people who take an oath to uphold the law and to protect the integrity of the conviction.

Rodney K. Stanberry- Innocent and Incarcerated for 20 Years

Rodney K. Stanberry spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He received three 20 year sentences to be served concurrently for burglary, attempted murder, and robbery.   He was arrested in 1992, convicted in 1995 and began serving a prison sentence in 1997.   He left prison on March 13th, 2017.  Like Thompson, like Williams and Myers, like Michael Morton, like so many others, his case should have been an open and shut case.  The prosecutor had a confession from another individual who was actually present when the crimes took place. The individual who confessed did so BEFORE Rodney’s trial.  He had one of the best attorneys in Mobile, AL as his attorney and his attorney told the prosecutor that he would tell him everything.  Why would he do this? Because the person who confessed thought the prosecutor was actually interested in arresting and convicting the actual culprits. He knew an eyewitness on the ground saw him as he was exiting the victim’s home. He thought he was caught.  He, the person who actually was one of the two people present when the victim was brutally shot, got a firsthand view of how prosecutors will let the guilty go free in order to convict the innocent. And less he thought it was just one prosecutor, Joe Carl Buzz Jordan, he would discover that on Rodney’s appeal, another prosecutor also with the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would go out of her way to ensure that he did not say in court what she knew he would say. So she said if you talk, you are going to get life. She did not want him to go on record to tell the truth, for that would mean that the record further reflected that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office convicted an innocent man.  Upholding the conviction should not be more important than letting an innocent man out of prison.   http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/tierny_redo.9113550.pdf)

He  (the person who confessed) must have been really shocked. He did not voluntary appear in court during Rodney’s Rule 32 hearing; rather, Rodney’s attorney discovered that he was in the local lock up and had him to come to court.  He was going to tell the truth again, but the truth would reveal what Rodney, an innocent man, knew, and that is that the system, the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, knowingly prosecuted an innocent man and knowingly went out of their way to keep that innocent man in prison- for twenty years! FOR 20 YEARS!!!!!!!!!!!

The current District Attorney for Mobile County is Ashley Rich. She has been the district attorney since around 2011, but she worked in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office as an Assistant District Attorney for 14 years prior to becoming DA.  She owns Rodney’s conviction just as much as anyone else. As such, she should allow for objective parties to review his case and to accept the conclusion, even if it reveals what is known, that they convicted an innocent man.  I have called on the Mobile District Attorney’s Office for many years to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit. Although Rodney is now a free man, he deserves vindication and an apology from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. In addition, District Attorney Ashley Rich must publicly state that she will work to ensure that past cases of wrongful convictions are addressed and that the attorneys working under her will reveal exculpatory evidence, even if it does not go along with a theory. The victim in Rodney’s case never received true justice as justice is never served when the wrong person, when the innocent person is convicted.  Buzz Jordan and the Prichard Police Department could have gotten true justice, but they did everything that justice seeking people would not do as it relates to Rodney’s case.  You can go to www.freerodneystanberry.com for additional information about this.

Rodney was not a criminal before he went to prison and he did not return from prison a criminal. He worked every day prior to being incarcerated, making a decent living for a young, African American male.  His co-workers and supervisors testified on his behalf. He was at work when the crimes took place and could not have been two places at once. He was penalized for being too helpful and who knows what else went through Jordan’s mind to make him want to target Rodney (we have our theories).  With regard to exculpatory evidence, Jordan went to Rikers Island Prison to interview the second person the DA’s office claims was at the victim’s house but he did not turn over notes from that interview claiming that he was in New York on vacation and just happened to visit the prison.  Yeah, this is what District Attorney Ashley Rich is apparently ok with, as well as then DA John Tyson, Jr.  It would not be difficult for a Conviction Integrity Unit to review Rodney’s case and show that he is an innocent man who was wrongfully convicted by a flawed system and by an individual who pursued injustice.  So when one thinks all these years later about who should serve the time that Rodney served, I think the prosecutor in Rodney’s case should be held accountable by the system.  He is at fault. He is the reason why justice was never served. He is the reason why an innocent man spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He is the reason why people distrust the system.  He is the one who should be held accountable, along with then ADA Tierney as she could have done the right thing in 2001 which would have avoided Rodney spending an additional 16 years in prison.  As John Thompson stated with regard to his case: ““I don’t care about the money. I just want to know why the prosecutors who hid evidence, sent me to prison for something I didn’t do and nearly had me killed are not in jail themselves. There were no ethics charges against them, no criminal charges, no one was fired and now, according to the Supreme Court, no one can be sued.” While I don’t advocate prison, bar associations must review these cases and act accordingly. Michael NiFong was disbarred, should that be the standard for prosecutors not associated with THAT case? Where there is no accountability, there is no second thought about cutting corners to send and keep innocent people in prison.

Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich still has time to do the right thing.  One can be tough on crime while also pursuing a fair and just system for all.  So, I call on each of you to contact the Mobile District Attorney’s Office and request (nicely, please) that she  1) allows for an independent third party to review Rodney’s case, 2) establish a Conviction Integrity Unit to review serious claims of wrongful conviction cases tried by her office and 3) offer a public apology to Rodney K. Stanberry.

Rodney will be 50 years old later this month (April 27th). More than half of his life has been consumed by a wrongful arrest, conviction, and prison sentence.  During his birthday month, please make the call. Here is the contact information:     Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-5000  and (251) 574-8400  or via email at ashleyrich@mobileda.org.

Again, please be respectful.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration. The pursuit of justice for Rodney should continue, even if it takes another 20 years.  Never forget about his case and 5, ten, 20, 30 years from now when you read about an exoneration in the news, think about Rodney and his case and tell someone about it.  We must never forget what the Mobile District Attorney’s Office did to convict an innocent man and to ensure that he spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Justice is never served, when the innocent are convicted.

Peace,

Artemesia Stanberry

artemesia@freerodneystanberry.com

PS Here is what I recently posted on twitter that includes gloves and a mask that were “lost” which means that they could not be tested for hair samples which would have further proved Rodney’s case and, with DNA available to be tested, may have heled to get an Innocence Project involved: https://twitter.com/artiestan/status/1115056276801773568

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