Justice is Denied, When Justice is Delayed: Holding District Attorneys Accountable

November 22, 2011

 Justice is Denied, When Justice is Delayed: Holding District Attorneys Accountable  


This is a very good editorial written by staff at The Statesman that one would love to see in the Mobile Press Register.  Many of the practices carried out to get the conviction of Michael Morton, who spent 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit, are similar to tactics engaged by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to get a conviction of Rodney K. Stanberry, who is in his 15th year in prison for crimes he did not commit. Rodney is about to spend his 15th Thanksgiving in prison and his 15th Christmas in prison.  I am sure that when Michael Morton reached his 15th year, the  prosecutor in his case (Williamson County (TX) District Attorney’s Office), no doubt, cared nothing about him and if someone mentioned Morton to the prosecutor, he may have said something about doing the time for doing the crime.  Well, to quote Gov. Rick Perry, “oops,” for Morton actually did not do the crime, but he certainly did the time.   The same for Rodney, he is doing the time because the prosecutor did not care to prosecute those who did the crime.    Below are three highlights from the The Statesman editorial as it relates to Rodney’s case.

State Bar Associations Must Act Forcefully in Pursuit of Justice

“….  Certainly, there are many district attorneys who abide by the rules and take seriously their duties to seek justice, even when it means losing a case. But there are those who have abused their authority, and they have become emboldened by a weak State Bar that has not acted forcefully enough to address misconduct in the legal profession.” 

The Alabama Bar Association and the Mobile Bar Association have not responded to letters I’ve written to them in the past about Rodney’s case (click here to see one of the letters sent to them: http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/sample_letters_to_rileytyson_alabama_and_mobile_bar_associations). These letters have been to inform them about Rodney’s case and to urge them to encourage District Attorney Offices in Alabama to implement Conviction Integrity Units designed to address prior cases where evidence of wrongful convictions exists and to help prevent wrongful convictions.  While I have received one response from the American Bar Association essentially directing me to the state bar association, I’ve never received any form of communication from the Alabama and Mobile Bar Associations.  The last line of the article from The Statesmen is very important to sink in for those who truly believe in justice and fairness: “The Texas legal system certainly needs the State Bar watchdog to bark. But a watchdog that is unwilling to bite cannot effectively protect the house.” 

Arrogance of Prosecutors, Discarding Ethical Rules to get a Conviction

“….But Morton’s case denies us that comfort. We’re learning that mistakes or unintentional errors were not the cause of an unjust outcome. Instead, we’re seeing through court records the actions of an arrogant legal team that bent, broke or entirely discarded ethical rules to convict Morton.”

 The editorial speaks about the arrogance of former Williamson County District Attorney  Ken Anderson (prosecutor in Morton’s case and now Judge) and his team that “bent, broke or entirely discarded ethical rules to convict Morton (who spent 25 years in prison for crimes he did not commit). Rodney’s case was listed as a victory for former Mobile DA John Tyson, Jr.’s “Murder Team.” His prosecutor, Joe Carl “Buzz” Jordan, one can easily argue, bent, broke and/or entirely discarded ethical rules to convict Rodney K. Stanberry. Go to www.freerodneystanberry.com and read what even the late Judge Ferrill McRae said in court about Jordan’s practices when interviewing Rodney at his work site, Jordan’s Motion in Limine- which made hearsay everything that could have exonerated Rodney- and see what Mr. Jordan himself says about visiting someone he (and Mobile DA’s Office) says was the shooter of the victim at a prison in Riker’s Island New York while on vacation, he says, so he didn’t take notes, meaning the notes from this visit was not given to Rodney’s lawyers. On the other hand, he claimed that Rene Whitecloud (the person the DA’s Office says was the shooter) said to “follow the husband” so he tainted the trial with some sort of murder for hire scheme, but he did not pursue this as a charge against anyone, not even the husband, but used this to get a conviction of Rodney. But again, there will likely be no editorial such as the one written by The Statesman written by the Mobile Press Register and Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich, like Mobile District Attorney John Tyson, Jr, will continue to sanction practices pursued to convict Rodney K. Stanberry.  The Mobile District Attorney’s Office is not being held accountable for practices that have, can and will continue to produce wrongful convictions.

 Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich

 Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich should do more to address wrongful convictions by her office in the past and to put in mechanisms to help prevent wrongful convictions in the future.  During the campaign, she said in response to a question that if you withhold exculpatory evidence, then your career is over. She talked about the importance of operating within ethical rules (go to http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/exculpatory_evidence to listen to her radio interview during the campaign). As District Attorney she must be held accountable.  She shouldn’t develop the mentality that once you are convicted, we are going to make sure that that conviction is maintained at all costs, no matter if there is evidence of a wrongful conviction, and/or evidence of prosecutorial misconduct.  She has been the District Attorney for less than a year (and the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) under John Tyson, Jr. for 14 years).  Just as she feels honored to receive an award for sending people to death row http://blog.al.com/live/2011/07/mobile_da_ashley_rich_wins_awa.html),                she should also implement a Conviction Integrity Unit similar to the one established by Dallas County, TX District Attorney Craig Watkins and feel equally honored for being recognized for doing so.  Just as she feels proud that her Assistant District Attorney’s are blocking paroles, she should feel proud when she creates an environment where cases will be reopened and seriously reviewed by independent investigations when there is evidence of wrongful convictions. (The latest tweet from the Mobile District Attorney’s Office about blocking paroles was posted on approximately Nov. 8th and read like this:  MobileDA Happy to report that Chief Assistant Tillman was successful in stopping the early release of 4 prisoners today at the Parole Board), courtesy of www.mobileda.org.

 In Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s upcoming election in 2016, she may have a tougher primary opponent who does not get caught up in a high profile murder case and a general election opponent who does more than put up a website.  In the event of this occurring, she wants high conviction rates to go along with awards for putting people to death, and the high number of paroles blocked to secure her reelection.  And in this scenario, the high conviction rate, in my opinion, trumps how those convictions are gotten!  Again, I refer you to the case of Michael Morton where the prosecutor in his case went on to become a judge: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Texas_Man_Freed_After_Serving_Nearly_25_Years_for_Murdering_His_Wife_That_New_DNA_Evidence_Shows_He_Didnt_Commit.php.

 Toby Priest: 3 Years in Prison Before Mobile DA Dropped His Case

  “I still fell 90 percent sure that he did it, I feel there is a 10 percent (chance) he didn’t, and I’ve been in the D.A.’s office about eight years, and I’ve prosecuted a lot of cases, and I’ve never tried a case where I wasn’t 150 percent sure that the person committed the crime. I just didn’t feel comfortable going forth, although a big portion of me in my heart of hearts believes he did it, but I didn’t feel comfortable going forward.” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright (www.lagniappemobile.com the November 16th-29, 2011 edition. Article is entitled” Did Toby Priest Spend Three Years in Jail  for a crime He Didn’t Commit?” and it is written by Ashley Trice)

 As what point did ADA Wright’s belief percentages about Priest’s guilt move from 150% to 90%?  Was it when she tried him in the first trial, before Judge Graddick overturned his conviction, or after the DA’s office dropped the robbery charge and she was asked about it by Lagniappe? This matters because the defendant’s rights, especially if they are innocent, shouldn’t begin and end with a trial. Even if all of Priest’s appeals were exhausted, if a prosecutor believes that there is a chance that he may be innocent, then the prosecutor should work to ensure that the individual is not serving time in prison for crimes he did not commit!

In a previous blog post, I wrote about the case of Toby Priest  (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/11/16/reaction-to-article-in-lagniappe-about-the-toby-priest-case/). Priest spent three years (some consider him fortunate given the number of years so many released had to serve, but one day is too many if you’re innocent) in prison for crimes he may not have committed.  From the Mobile Register:

MOBILE, Alabama —  In an unusual move today, prosecutors abruptly dropped a robbery charge against a Mobile man in the middle of his trial.

Toby Priest, 42, said he spent more than three years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit.

Priest’s mother, Shirley Cato, hugged him and wept after he walked free. “The DA’s Office failed the city of Mobile, failed the state of Alabama, and they failed my son,” Cato said. (http://blog.al.com/live/2011/10/prosecution_drops_robbery_case.html)

Circuit Court Judge Charles Graddick and former Mobile District Attorney, who is also running for the position of Chief Justice of the Alabama State Supreme Court, overturned this conviction, which is surprising (take a look at my blog post on Toby Priest for my rationale).  Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright was the prosecutor for Priest’s trial and for his second trial granted by Graddick.  From the Mobile Press Register: “Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Wright said that she still believed Priest committed the crime, but she wasn’t prepared to move forward on a case with doubts.”  (I hope that if a judge other than Graddick had overturned the conviction that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office would have acted in the same manner). Wright, by the way, is also Rich’s Protégé, according to the Mobile Bay Times, and may have ambitions to be a judge.   Rodney K. Stanberry and so many others who were wrongfully convicted by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office do not have a chance of having their cases reopened with an honest and open investigation when the mentality that I believe he is guilty, regardless of what the evidence may show, is prevalent.  

When DA’s are seeking reelection and ADA’s are seeking judgeships, the conviction trumps everything.  Exculpatory evidence withheld? Doesn’t matter; Prosecutors tainting the jury with murder for hire charge to get a conviction, doesn’t matter; prosecutor misleading the public, press, and jury (ie victim said Rodney shot her from the moment she awoke from a coma, when he knows that isn’t true, prosecutor misleading jury, media and public about the shooter being brought to Mobile for a trial)? Doesn’t matter; Getting a conviction so that prosecutors can have a high conviction rate? Priceless and Does matter.  Getting a high conviction rate in the hopes that you’ll be the next District Attorney? Priceless! That mentality will not change as long as District Attorney’s Offices are not held accountable.  

As I’ve said many, many, many times before, one can be law and order and tough on crime, while also ensuring that there is integrity in every conviction. And as I also said before, I truly wish District Attorney Ashley Rich success in her role as District Attorney. I just think that part of her success has to be an effort to seriously address cases where there is evidence of a wrongful conviction, addressing cases by allowing an independent investigator to review said cases, even if all appeals have been exhausted. One can be as tough as nails on crime, while also ensuring the integrity of every conviction.  


Artemesia Stanberry

PS — 

To read more about Michel Morton’s case, please go to: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Texas_Man_Freed_After_Serving_Nearly_25_Years_for_Murdering_His_Wife_That_New_DNA_Evidence_Shows_He_Didnt_Commit.php

Please read: http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_shooter-_what_they_want_to_wish_away

Finally: Please contact Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich at (251) 574-8400 or ashleyrich@mobileda.org or chadtucker@mobileda,org to request that she reopens Rodney’s case.

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