October 6, 2020
The Relentless Pursuit of Justice v The Relentless Pursuit of Injustice- Exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry
I began writing this blog on September 24th but then I set it aside. When I began writing it, my emotional level was very intense. When I think about wrongful convictions in general and the wrongful conviction of my cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, in particular, it is sometimes difficult to remain calm, as is my character. This blog is not a commentary on Don Siegleman’s case, but as I am reading his book, I am reliving some of Rodney’s case and thinking about the nature of people who will use the system to perpetuate an injustice to pursue a political gain. Far too many prosecutors do this- get a lot of convictions, be a tough on crime prosecutor, get reelected. The formula has worked for far too long. In this era of heightened awareness about the criminal justice system and the role of prosecutors, it is time to hold prosecutors accountable at the ballot box. If a prosecutor refuses to address and acknowledge wrongful convictions and refuses to establish a Conviction Integrity Unit, then it is time to put in a prosecutor who understands that keeping the public safe does not mean convicting the innocent and then working to ensure that the innocent person remains in prison for years, even decades. One can be tough on crime while also addressing past and current cases of wrongful convictions. The Mobile District Attorney’s Office must embrace a model of pursuing justice even if it means acknowledging wrongs of the past.
Don Siegleman is a former governor of Alabama who spent 5 years in prison on a bribery charge. I’ve read a book several years ago about his case written by a journalist who made the case for his possible guilt, I’ve read and seen reports over the years about his case and in reading his book, it is difficult to believe that politics did not drive his conviction. We must stop this type of behavior as life is too short to have someone to take years from it to pursue a political agenda. I highly recommend that you read his book, Stealing Our Democracy: How the Political Assassination of a Governor Threatens Our Nation as you can judge for yourself, but I don’t think you will walk away from reading his book without seeing a political agenda. Throughout my reading of the book, I’ve paused to look up sources and other articles to review some of what he has written. I also developed a great respect for Siegleman’s family as I intimately know what it is like to experience a loved one going through this process and spending time in prison when you firmly believe he/she is innocent. My cousin, Rodney K. Stanberry, spent 20 years of his life in prison for crimes he did not commit and I welcome the Mobile DA’s Office to allow non interested third parties to review his case and prove that he is guilty. I’ve welcomed this for many, many, many years as the truth is on our side. For the Mobile District Attorney’s Office, as it relates to my cousin’s case, the truth is a casualty of the convict at all costs war against justice. My cousin has been out of prison for three years and he continues to be a law abiding, hard-working, family man . The Mobile DA’s Office could not break him. It is amazing what knowing you are innocent will do and it is amazing that far too many District Attorneys will engage in a relentless pursuit of injustice.
Back to Don Siegleman’s Book
There are some figures in Siegleman’s book that have had some connection to Rodney’s case- including one or two that we reached out to but to no avail. I won’t mention the person’s name in this blog, but I will in a book about Rodney’s case, but one person in particular generated a strong flashback. Let’s just say that what the person did to help Siegleman was not the same experience we had. In fact, my Uncle (Rodney’s dad) was so frustrated by the lack of attention to Rodney’s case by the person that he asked me to ride with him to Montgomery to retrieve Rodney’s files. We went to the attorney’s office, piled the files (boxes of files) in my car and drove back to Mobile, another lost cause in the fight for justice, one of many that we would experience, from Rodney’s arrest in 1992, his conviction in 1995 and first day of prison March 24, 1997, to his release on March 13th 2017, to now, three years after his release. I hadn’t thought about that day when we travelled to Montgomery to retrieve Rodney’s files until reading Siegleman’s book; the emotions returned. You do not know what it is like to look in a father’s eyes as he is living another disappointment and setback to free his son from a wrongful conviction. It hurts, it hurts a lot and the hurt does not go away.
Siegleman mentions another person that I am quite fond of. I consider him to be a stand up person. I will write more about how I was introduced to Chip Hill in 2011 and his initial reactions in the book that I’m working on, but from that very first contact, he showed that he actually cared. I was heartened by this tweet that he sent out last year:
Mar 31, 2019
I registered to donate monthly to the
Project. Almost daily we hear the stories of their success in freeing the wrongfully convicted. My monthly contribution was given in honor of Alabama’s Rodney Stanberry. Learn about this case and follow his cousin
The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles
Rodney had three parole hearings, each one more disappointing than the previous. I remain convinced that if Rodney were guilty, he would have been paroled. But the arrogance of maintaining one’s innocence trumps everything he had to bring to the table, job opportunities awaiting him, a strong family, a relatively clean record and so on. The innocent prisoner’s dilemma must be a thing of the past . The Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles lists its rules for pardons. I reviewed them again recently. Three years after an inmate has concluded his sentence he can apply. Here is a portion of what is on the website:
“Alabama law allows convicted persons to apply for a pardon with or without remission, subject to the procedures specified by law. These procedures give the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles the discretionary authority to grant or deny pardon and remission applications.
To be considered for a pardon or remission, an applicant must have either completed his or her sentence or have successfully served at least three (3) years on parole for the sentence for which the applicant seeks a pardon.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, a pardon based on innocence may be granted upon the unanimous affirmative of the Board following receipt and filing of clear proof of his or her innocence of the crime for which he or she was convicted and the written approval of the judge who tried his or her case or district attorney or with the approval of a circuit judge in the circuit where he or she was convicted if the judge who tried his or her case is no longer serving. https://paroles.alabama.gov/resources/faqs-pardons/
Without Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich doing the right thing and helping to overturn Rodney’s conviction, a pardon is likely out of the question. I also see that Cliff Walker remains on the parole board, he has been on the parole board denying Rodney’s parole two of the three times that Rodney has come up for parole. Do you think he will support a pardon? I’ve said this before, but I don’t think that members of the parole board should also serve on the pardon side. I am also not confident with Charles Graddick in charge. Here is an article that features both the judge in Rodney’s trial and Rule 32 hearing (the late Judge Ferrill McRae) and Charles Graddick- https://prospect.org/features/judge-lynch-mob/.
The Struggle is Real
Reading Governor Don Siegleman’s book triggers so much within me. After I concluded reading one chapter, I decided to read an article about what leads to wrongful convictions are often not televised the way police shootings are (see https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/09/other-police-violence/616363/?fbclid=IwAR2SJHsaqWPaRWy2q28vDs80grIPb7LLE0NvAoLpfmMVnq7uJ5c7Q1F3Yf0). It led me to review Rodney’s trial transcripts for the umpteenth time as a police officer responsible for gathering evidence claims he took a picture of a mask and gloves but did not collect them for evidence. The mask and gloves, which would have contained DNA evidence in the form of hair samples from one of the actual culprits, ended up being “lost.” Again, the police officer claims he did not collect them but it was listed in documents that were lost. Rodney sent me a text at around 5:30 am that morning- he has early work days. He would have been retired from a job had the state not taken 20 years of his life for crimes he did not commit. I told him just like old times I am agonizing over trial transcripts. He informed me that he had recently read Terrell Moore’s confession again (http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/the_confession-_testimonial_immunity_agreement). His wrongful conviction remains with us for life. I would not wish a wrongful conviction on any person nor on any family. Rodney worked practically every day from early adulthood to the days before he began serving his sentence. His company kept him employed from the arrest, trial and conviction and appeals before he had to serve. His supervisors knew he was innocent, they knew he could not have committed the crimes, he was at work (http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/?attachment_id=119 – from 2006 and http://freerodneystanberry.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/062709-RS.mp3 from 2009). In turn, they knew the DA’s office was being untruthful and had no qualms about convicting an innocent man. The person who confessed knew that the prosecutor was being untruthful. What message does this continue to send? They don’t care. I don’t know which is worse, a prosecutor who gets a conviction at all costs- innocent or guilty- for the purpose of being tough on crime and getting reelected or a prosecutor who has tough on crime credentials, who is loved by the Government, Attorney General, local officials and does not have to worry about being viewed soft on crime but refuses to address wrongful convictions. Mobile DA Ashley Rich is beloved by the establishment and she has her tough on crime credentials intact.
DA Ashley Rich said during her first campaign to serve as DA and I will quote this again from our website:
“Ashley Rich, a Mobile Assistant DA for 14 years and current candidate to replace John Tyson, Jr. said on a radio show in Mobile, AL on September 16, 2010 during the 7am (cst) hour in response to a question about the Duke LaCrosse case and prosecutors withholding exculpatory evidence: “If as a prosecutor you do not disclose exculpatory evidence, your career is over. Integrity is something that is so important because when you are a prosecutor, you not only have the duty to prosecute people and to put people in jail, but you also have a duty to uphold the law. You have the duty to do that with integrity and with the ethical standards in place… You must disclose exculpatory evidence because if you don’t, nothing good comes from it and essentially you have prosecuted someone who may not have committed the crimes because you didn’t disclose exculpatory evidence. It is good that we have the Duke LaCrosse case as an example of what not to do.” She went on to say that she would reopen a case and evidence should be reviewed. You be the judge. (Note Ashley Rich was elected and is now the Mobile County District Attorney). http://www.freerodneystanberry.com/key_documents_in_rodneys_case
If she is running again, which is likely, the next election is in 2022. She needs to adhere to what she said and do right by Rodney K. Stanberry and in doing so, doing right by the taxpayers, the victim and the victim’s family as justice is never served when the wrong person is convicted. She should establish a Conviction Integrity Unit and before or when it is established allow outside folks selected by her and trusted people in the media to review Rodney’s case. Here is what a state attorney in Florida said after his conviction review unit reviewed a case that led to the exoneration of a man who spent 37 years in prison: ““Today is an important day for justice — justice for the family of a victim and a man convicted of killing her,” Warren said. “This is painful and tragic. But it’s the truth, and when you tell the truth, justice is done.” https://www.tampabay.com/news/hillsborough/2020/08/26/state-attorney-dna-exonerates-man-in-1983-tampa-murder/.
Back to Gov. Don Siegleman’s book
I had to take a break from Siegleman’s book but I will return to it soon. I stopped when he was let out of prison after serving 9 months. His case was undergoing appeal and pressure following the airing of a segment on 60 Minutes helped to shed more light on his case. By the way, I’ve watched 60 Minutes every Sunday since I was a teenager and many Sundays during my cousin’s incarceration I’ve sent a lot of emails and letters to the producers- only once, maybe twice did I make a contact that responded- but we didn’t get on 60 Minutes to share with the public about what the Mobile District Attorney’s Office did to get a wrongful conviction and to maintain it over the years. But I digress. I had to put the book aside because Governor Siegleman returned to prison to serve out the remaining years of his sentence following the loss of his appeals. I needed to brace myself for this portion of the book as I know it will be a difficult read. This is where I really feel for his family, what they will experience after watching him return, the four years of absolute mental torture and the total consumption of one’s life as one can’t rest a day when a loved one is incarcerated, particularly when the person is innocent. I am not making commentary on Siegleman’s case, I will recommend the book, but I know what it was like when my cousin was incarcerated. For me being awake in the wee hours of the morning reading transcripts, sending emails, thinking about what’s next, or just staring in the dark with the most awful feeling of helplessness was the norm. I’ve said this before, I would not wish a wrongful conviction on any person nor on any family. The sad reality is that far too many district attorneys/prosecutors do not care, the conviction matters more than anything and the truth is a casualty of war in the convict at all costs mentality of prosecutors.
In conclusion, do the right thing, DA Ashley Rich. As the state prosecutor in Florida stated in the quote above, when you tell the truth, justice is done. If you agree, please contact Mobile District Attorney Ashley Rich asking that she 1) establish a Conviction Integrity Unit and 2) work to exonerate Rodney K. Stanberry. Her contact information is (251) 574-8400 or Ashley Rich – District Attorney – 251-574-5000 – firstname.lastname@example.org— https://www.mobileda.org/list-of-teams/