When Texas Gets it Right: Former Prosecutor Held Criminally Responsible for Putting Innocent Man in Prison

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEVURKsGoMI (a news report about Rodney’s case)

April 21, 2013

I want to bring to your attention this very important occurrence, a prosecutor who is being held criminally responsible for withholding evidence that led to Michael Morton spending 25 years of his life in prison for crimes he did not commit ( http://www.statesman.com/news/news/local/ken-anderson-court-of-inquiry-resumes/nXRLm/). A warrant was issued for now Judge Ken Anderson following a hearing by the Texas Court of Inquiry hearing about whether Anderson withheld key evidence that could have prevented Morton from spending 25 years of his life behind bars for crimes he did not commit. The judge made a very brave and necessary ruling, he made a ruling not just in favor of Michael Morton, but in favor of the system of justice that far too many prosecutors corrupt when they opt to cut corners to get a wrongful conviction and then work for years, even decades, to be sure that the wrongful conviction isn’t overturned or that the wrongfully convicted isn’t granted parole.

Michael Morton has gotten justice, although this can’t possibly take away the 25 years he spent in prison, being disowned by his own family because the Williamson County, Texas District Attorney’s Office convinced them that Morton was guilty. He has gotten compensated, a bill named after him by the Texas Legislature designed to help prevent prosecutors from withholding exculpatory material, the Texas Bar Association’s ongoing lawsuit against Ken Anderson, a hearing by the Texas Court of Inquiry, and now the prosecutor in his case having to be held accountable, as a criminal would be held accountable for his crimes (by the way, I wrote this blog a couple of years ago entitled “The Prosecutor and the Criminal, the blog isn’t against prosecutors as I think most are good, decent, hard working people who truly want to stamp out crime and put away the bad people, but some prosecutors act like criminals- read to see my rationale http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/08/11/the-prosecutor-and-the-criminal/-). But for Morton, the “sense of justice” he received did not stop with what is happening to the original prosecutor in his case, Ken Anderson, but Anderson’s successor, John Bradley, was defeated by Jana Duty, who had support of the family of the victim of the same man who murdered Morton’s wife. When prosecutors do not get the right person, that person goes on to commit other crimes. As District Attorney, Bradley mocked Morton’s quest to get a bandana containing DNA tested, mocked Morton for claiming he is innocent, and continued to convince Morton’s in-laws that they had the right man. Bradley was defeated by Jana Duty, in part, because the victim’s family (the second victim) supported Duty, frustrated that the Williamson District Attorney’s Office, in pursuit of Morton, let the actual killer free to kill again (that man was just found guilty by a jury, but not before Morton spent the 25 years in prison.) Michael Morton was innocent and incarcerated AND he was the victim’s family, it was his wife who was murdered. Let that sink in for a moment.

Rodney K. Stanberry and the Withholding of Evidence

My interest in wrongful convictions comes from the fact that my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, is in his 17th year of a wrongful conviction. He will be 44 on April 27, 2013. He was nearly 23 when arrested for the crimes for which he is currently serving time. He has had to spend half of his life living a nightmare, innocent, wrongfully accused, arrested and convicted. Wrongfully accused in that Rodney did everything a law abiding citizen is asked to do, he went to law enforcement to help them locate the people he knew to be involved, including providing photos and a telephone number for a detective in New York to help the people from New York to be brought back to answer from the crimes he committed. Because he was perceived to be too helpful, he became a suspect. Rodney worked at the same job from 1989 until just before he began serving his prison sentence in 1997. On March 3, 1992, the day after the brutal crime against the victim were committed, he took the only personal day that he’d taken off to go to the police knowing that they still had time to apprehend the people from New York before they left the bus station as they jumped on the bus from Mobile back to New York as Rodney confronted them. The detective told the victim’s family that he wasn’t at work on March 2nd, instead of March 3rd. This could have been easily been corrected, but when they let the guys in New York go and when Jordan gave immunity to the person who confessed, it became convenient to ignore Rodney’s work records and supervisor/co-workers placing him at work.

Wrongfully arrested in that prosecutor Buzz Jordan conducted a full interview with Rodney without reading him his Miranda rights (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Jordan20bfi1.161162558.pdf – at the end Rodney actually you are starting to act as if I am the one who did this, you’ve already established that I was here at work and interaction between Rodney’s trial attorney and Judge McRae about the interview: http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/mcrae1.161162953.pdf). Wrongfully convicted in that the confession was kept from the jury and evidence of innocence was ignored or suppressed by the Mobile District Attorney’s Office because the District Attorney’s Office had a murder-for hire theory that they could not prove, because there was no such plot. But, as it relates to the purpose of informing you of the judge’s ruling to hold former prosecutor, now judge Ken Anderson criminally responsible for withholding evidence that led to the conviction of Michael Morton. The prosecutor in Rodney’s case travelled from Mobile, Alabama to Rikers Island Prison in New York to interview the person he claims shot the victim in Rodney’s case. He said, under oath at Rodney’s Rule 32 Post Conviction hearing, that he was in New York while on vacation and just went to the prison to see if Rene Whitecloud, known as “Ponytail” existed He says no notes were taken, even though he talked to him (http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/20100914155013.256151941.pdf). If there were an Alabama Court of Inquiry, and if the Alabama Bar Association took interest in this case, I’m sure you’d see similar headlines that you see in Michael Morton’s case (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/exculpatory_evidence). It isn’t just that the original prosecutor pursues a wrongful conviction, but it is the subsequent district attorneys in the office that work hard to uphold the conviction and to convince the victim’s family that the person convicted is guilty. In Michael Morton’s case, his own son, when he turned 18, changed his name to distance himself from a father that the prosecutor had told his family killed his mother.

When District Attorney Ashley Rich was running to replace John Tyson, Jr., she talked about the integrity of the conviction. She said that if an attorney withheld exculpatory evidence then that prosecutor’s career would be over, it is something that she would not tolerate (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/key_documents_in_rodneys_case)

But as District Attorney, she is following into the pattern that many fall into (you can see here for a statement from her office about Rodney’s case: (http://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/). Part of the problem, I believe, beyond the convict and uphold the conviction at all cost culture is that she has worked closely over the 14 years that she served as ADA before becoming District Attorney with the people that she would have to talk about these wrongful conviction. I explain it here (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2012/11/21/another-judge-grants-a-new-trial-in-mobile-alabama-a-reaction-to-the-lagniappe-article-on-william-zieglar/ and http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/2011/11/16/reaction-to-article-in-lagniappe-about-the-toby-priest-case/. When former Assistant District Attorney Eucellis Sullivan was fired by Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich it was done so because she didn’t win enough cases (http://www.local15tv.com/news/local/story/Ousted-Asst-D-A-Says-Firing-was-Unjust-D-A/_k_jw7YebUuoBnZ-_2FUAg.cspx). She’d worked in the District Attorney’s Office for just a few years, as I recall. Can you imagine Rich going to the head of her White Collar Crimes division (Martha Tierney, the ADA on Rodney’s Rule 32) and saying what was your ACTUAL rationale for making sure that the person who confessed to being with the person who shot our victim when he was shot didn’t say anything? Did you really remain quiet when Jordan said he was on vacation when he interviewed the person we said killed our victim? Imagine. Or if she went to her protégée Jennifer Wright (see Toby Priest case) and say were you really sure he was 100 percent guilty before you prosecuted him? Or if she went to long-term ADA Deborah Tillman with Judge Sarah Stewart’s order in the William Zieglar case and said, can you explain this to me (http://blog.al.com/live/2013/02/how_the_system_failed_william.html). And then go to her personal office, think about why she fired Sullivan and then show the same sense of outrage she felt that this person couldn’t win cases would be directed towards those involved in putting innocent people in prison. Imagine that mentality. But, it is just a pipedream- and, by the way, I don’t want people to be fired, I want a recognition that wrongful convictions have occurred and that she needs to put a mechanism in place to address past cases and to prevent them from happening again. In Williamson County, Texas, Jana Duty, a Republican, defeated Bradley and her Democratic general election challenger, the issue of Michael Morton’s case was front and center. Listen to what DA Jana Duty has to say about the need to pursue justice, open files, and prevent wrongful convictions: http://news.msn.com/crime-justice/video?videoid=2ece7fae-8e7e-4ec7-a623-f9fd0b53ca11#tscptmt. Simply a breath of fresh air.


Rodney is about to spend his 44th birthday in prison. He has another parole date in July and because he will not say he is guilty and remorseful for crimes he did not commit, he likely will be denied parole. His mother died last year; hopefully his 79 year old father will live long enough to see his son a free man. If Rodney were guilty, he likely would be out of prison right now, either he would have taken a plea or he would have been paroled- it seems that going before a parole board as a guilty person who shows remorse is preferable to the parole board than going before the parole board as an innocent man.

It is rare that I will say this, but if Texas Justice, as practiced in aftermath of Morton’s release of prison, would come to Alabama, there will be fewer innocent people in prison and more prosecutors instituting reforms in their respective offices. It is never too late to do what is right, fair, and just.


Artemesia Stanberry

For more information about Rodney’s case, please read this Boston Review investigative article http://www.bostonreview.net/BR38.2/beth_schwartzapfel_valerie_finley_innocent_convictions.php

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