First of all, I implore everyone to be safe, to be kind to one another, and to think about the safety of others as we get through this painful pandemic. We are in difficult times but as a nation, we will get through it.
This blog is about the need to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry who spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. Rodney began his prison sentence on March 24th, 1997 and concluded his 20 year prison sentence on March 13, 2017. Before serving one day in prison he was a hardworking, law abiding citizen and in the three years since he was released from prison, he remains a hardworking, law abiding citizen. He can’t get those 20 years back that the Mobile District Attorney’s Office stole from him, but District Attorney Ashley Rich can 1) apologize to Rodney K. Stanberry on behalf of the office, 2) work to exonerate him and 3) implement reforms such as establishing a Conviction Integrity Unit to address wrongful convictions. While she was not the district attorney when then Assistant DA Buzz Jordan prosecuted Rodney, as the leader of the office who has been asked to address Rodney’s case for many years now, she can do right by his case before she seeks an additional term in 2022.
On March 2, 2020 Rodney posted the following on his Facebook page:
2 March ·
For those that REALLY know me, know that 28 years ago, my 25 year long Nightmare began. Through Family and Friends I not only survived, but I maintained my morals and values, and returned to society as a contributor and family man as I was the day I drove MYSELF to the prison gates, with a sole letter saying my 2 year appeal was denied, and to turn myself in to start my sentence. @SURVIVOR! Artemesia Stanberry/ Marc Powe and many many more thank you so so much!
Rodney was arrested in March 1992, convicted in 1995, and began serving his prison sentence in March 1997. So while he spent 20 years in prison, he had to experience what it was like to be falsely accused and arrested since 1992. No amount of evidence, not even a confession by an actual guilty party would prevent the prosecutor from pursuing a wrongful conviction and no amount of evidence would prevent the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from ensuring that Rodney served every moment of his 20 year sentence.
March 2nd , 1992 is when a nightmare began for two families. An innocent mother and wife was brutally attacked and shot and an innocent man served 20 years of his life in prison for these crimes (robbery, burglary and attempted murder) that he did not commit. Rodney received a lot of comments and likes on the above post ranging from individuals who were incarcerated with him expressing how much he supported and motivated them while incarcerated, friends from the past, friends from today, and family members, all of whom remained by his side. What you will learn just from reading their responses to his post is the type of person Rodney was before his incarceration during his incarceration and to the present day. Rodney rarely, if ever, missed a day of work prior to the days before he surrendered to the state on March 24th 1997, after being arrested in 1992, and convicted in 1995, and his prison sentence in 1997 following the loss of an appeal. Keep in mind that his company kept him employed throughout this ordeal as they knew he was working when the brutal crimes took place. The company had no incentive to protect, nor lie for Rodney and his supervisor not only testified in court that Rodney was at work, but also went before the parole board during one of three of Rodney’s parole hearings to help to secure his release. As Rodney was a hardworking, law abiding citizen before he was incarcerated, once he was released after serving every day of his 20 year sentence, what was immediately on his mind was 1) to stage a protest at the Mobile Municipal Government building where the Mobile District Attorney’s Office is located to highlight his wrongful conviction and 2) to find a job. He was not content with not working because that is what he was doing when Assistant District Attorney Buzz Jordan opted to pursue an innocent man. Fortunately he was able to find a job and to continue to demonstrate the type of person Rodney is, his new coworkers, after he was out of prison for less than a year, celebrated his first birthday after he was released from prison with him. Rodney was not and is not a criminal; everyone who has met him understands this. It is criminal that the system failed him.
I’ve written this before but one of the many painful moments was when prosecutor Buzz Jordan interviewed Rodney at his job without reading him his Miranda Rights; it dawned on Rodney that Jordan and the officer accompanying Jordan, though Jordan did all of the talking, was treating him as a suspect with the line of questions asked. Rodney essentially told them that they are acting like he is a suspect when it has already been established that he was not at the victim’s home (pg 49- http://freerodneystanberry.com/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/Jordan20bfi1.161162558.pdf) Jordan and his pursuit of a wrongful conviction won the day and the Mobile District Attorney’s Office from Chris Galanos, John Tyson, Jr. to current DA Ashley Rich worked to keep him in prison. This is not justice for the victim as no one wins, except for prosecutors enhancing their careers, when the wrong and innocent person is convicted. Rodney spent 20 years in prison for crimes he did not commit. He walked out of prison on March 13, 2017 and was interviewed within an hour of his exit from prison by Bill Riales who wrote an investigative piece about Rodney’s case. We are three years from his release and Rodney 1) continues to be a hardworking , law abiding citizen and 2) continues to have a conviction on his record. It is time for the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to acknowledge Rodney’s wrongful conviction, work to get his record expunged and implement reforms in the Mobile District Attorney’s Office. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich’s reelection, should she run for a third term, is in 2022 and whether she, or one of her protégé’s run for the seat, Rodney’s case needs to be front and center should she not act to do the right thing.
Just Mercy-The Book, The Movie, The Lived Experience
Many of you may have either read Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption a book written by Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, or have seen the movie. The movie Just Mercy highlights one of the major cases in his book, the wrongful conviction of Walter McMillan, who was put on death row before he even had a trial, who was convicted even though he was not at the scene of the crime. I wrote this blog after reading the book and was very emotional after watching the movie. Rodney also saw the movie (and read the book) and here are his thoughts about. He sent this to me on March 23rd, 2020 at 10:20pm
Rodney Stanberry: “How I felt watching Just Mercy? Wow, the book does the movie no justice. The part that took my breath was the part where they were waiting on word from the Alabama Supreme Court, which sent the case back to the Circuit court for retrial. Even though I read the book twice, watching this scene sent shivers down my spine. The fact that I wrote Mr. McMillan. In which he wrote me a short letter, telling me TO HOLD ON AND NEVER GIVE UP. Waiting for the DA to tell the court that he did not have an objective to the case being dismissed caused me to shake uncontrollably, as if it was me myself.”
No one can truly understand what it is like to be wrongfully convicted unless one has actually experienced it, which is the case with Rodney and McMillan. The latter was exonerated, but it is not too late to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry. In future posts I will highlight some cases where district attorney offices that have established a Conviction Integrity Unity have worked to overturn a conviction, even after an individual had served out his term. Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich needs to do this for Rodney’s case. As we are experiencing this global pandemic, we continue to understand how short and fragile life is. Rodney had 20 years of his life stolen from him, more if you included the day in 1992 when he was accused and arrested for crimes he did not commit. His mother did not live to see him a free man, fortunately his now 86 year old father did. And the victim, who is also no longer alive, never received true justice as justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted.
In conclusion, I watch Westerns from time to time. I am not sure which one it was, perhaps The Virginian as that is a show that is often airing. There were cattle rustlers in an up and coming town. There did not seem to be a real way to hold them accountable and the sheriff seemed to turn the other eye to the lawbreaking. A line uttered by one of the cattle rustlers when talking to a partner was that they need to thank the sheriff. Why, his partner asked, he hasn’t done anything. Exactly, was the response. The judge in the town tasked the main character to go after the cattle rustlers and to make it be known that it will not be tolerated because if the cattle rustlers continue their behavior, then it will lead to continued lawlessness. The main character and his posse, a group of law abiding townsmen, went after the cattle rustlers. They found them. One of them was a close friend of the main character. The friend thought he would be allowed to go free because of the relationship. It did not work out that way, he met the ultimate penalty. The explanation is that friend or not, if I let him get away with it, then lawlessness will win. The main character sent a message that he is pursuing justice against thieves and his friend was a thief, he made the choice and he has to suffer the consequence (on a personal note, I did think the consequence was a bit harsh, but that for another debate). Anyway, when District Attorneys are presented with evidence that prosecutors working in their offices past and present engaged in prosecutorial conduct that led to the conviction of an innocent man, the response should not be to uphold the conviction at all cost; rather, it should be to pursue justice even if against a comrade, so to speak. Otherwise, prosecutorial conduct will continue with impunity. If a prosecutor knows he can get away with convicting the innocent because he is “friends” with other prosecutors and because convictions are gold, it makes the gold rush worth it. The more gold, the wealthier, even if risks and shortcuts are taken. The more convictions, the more likely one is to climb the career ladder and this makes the convictions worth it, even if risks and shortcuts are taken, even if the innocent are convicted. This, of course, devalues what the public views as justice.
A Travesty of Justice Can’t Be Taken Back, But Justice Can Still Be Pursued
What happened to Rodney K. Stanberry is truly a travesty of justice. Prosecutor Buzz Jordan had a confession from the actual culprit but he dismissed it because it did not fit his theory, Jordan said under oath at Rodney’s Rule 32 Post conviction hearing that he went to visited Rikers Island Prison in New York where he visited someone the state says was Rodney’s accomplice but he did not take notes because he claims he was on vacation, Jordan had evidence that Rodney was at work and could not have been able to be at the victim’s home, and I can go on. Jordan will say that he relied on the testimony of the victim, but he knows that she said she did not know who shot her and that Rodney was identified when the police put pictures provided by Rodney to help the police identify one of the guilty culprits in front of the victim as she was recovering from a coma and said which one of these individuals could have been at your house. Rodney was frequently at her house. Buzz Jordan could have pursued justice and the truth, instead, he took a hardworking, law abiding individual from a two parent household off the streets for 20 years. Rodney deserves justice and it is never too late to do the right thing. When the guilty know they can easily go free because the prosecutor opts to pursue the innocent, it does not generate a sense of justice and fairness within the system. And it should not generate a sense of safety and comfort among the public. When the innocent are incarcerated, the guilty remain free.
You can call the Mobile District Attorney’s Office to request, respectfully, that she works to overturn Rodney K. Stanberry’s conviction and to institute a Conviction Integrity Unit to address wrongful convictions. The number for the office is (251) 574- 8400 the email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please always be respectful.
Articles of Interest about Rodney’s case:
Who Shot Valerie Finley by Beth Schwartzapfel
Is Alabama Still the Land of Jim Crow, by Kirsten West Savali, which includes a comment from the Mobile DA’s Office chief investigator about Jordan’s trip to Rikers Prison https://newsone.com/1809115/rodney-k-stanberry-is-alabama-still-the-land-of-jim-crow/
Website: www.freerodneystanberry.com and www.freerodneystanberry.com/blog