After more than seven years in jail, another African American man was released after being convicted for a crime which he did not commit and a conviction obtained by dubious prosecutorial conduct. Erick Daniels was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to ten to 14 years, although no forensics evidence connected him to the crime, he did not fit the initial description given by the eyewitness victim, and another incarcerated man (who did fit the description) was offering to confess to the crime. And despite being a juvenile at the time (14 years old), the prosecutor (with the court’s acquiescence) tried him as an adult. Contributing to young Daniels’s misfortune was a defense attorney who allowed the prosecutor to introduce inadmissible evidence, and who allowed the prosecutor to take pock shots at his defendant by placing his immature defendant on the stand (an extraordinarily flagrant tactic in such a weak circumstantial case).
Late in 2004, Durham Attorney Carlos Mahoney took over Daniels’s case, and although losing on one appeal, he persisted in his attempts to have the courts take another look. In its May 23, 2007, edition, the “Independent Weekly” had an in-depth investigative cover story titled “Stolen Youth: How a 15 year-old was railroaded by Durham justice”. This article was the impetus for me to plead his case (while arguing for justice for former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong) before the governor, the attorney general, the executive director of the State Bar, and others.
Nearly a year and a half after the “Independent Weekly” article, on Friday, September 19, 2008, following a day and a half of hearings, Judge Orlando Hudson threw the case out, ordered the release of Mr. Daniels (now 22 years old), and did not pursue the option of ordering a new trial, stating [that he] “had no confidence in the jury’s verdict that this defendant committed the crime. I think he did not.”
During the more than seven years that Erick Daniels was wrongfully incarcerated, I am unaware of an editorial or opinion piece by the “News & Observer” editorial staff questioning justice in the case. Even following the “Independent Weekly’s” explosive May 2007 cover story article, the “N & O” editorial staff remained silent. Why? I believe that it is because they, along with the majority of their readership, share an apathy or ambivalence when it comes to issues of selective justice that accrue to the detriment of the poor, disenfranchised, and people of color. The moral outrage at this grave injustice, which in my opinion far outweighs that to the Duke lacrosse defendants, is not even palpable. I do not expect that Attorney General Roy Cooper will proclaim Erick Daniels to be “innocent” of the crime, nor do I have faith that Governor Mike Easley will take steps necessary to see that Erick Daniels receives the paltry sum of $20,000.00 per year for each year of wrongful incarceration (that he deserves).
Very few people know the name of the prosecutor who sent Erick Daniels to jail, and her name was buried deep in the “News & Observer” article “Defendant walks free after 7 years in prison,” of September 20, 2008. No one is clamoring for her, Freda Black, to be ousted from her job or to be disbarred by the State Bar. The state of North Carolina is willing to condone her actions because the victim of the injustice is not from a family of wealth, status, and privilege. Mike Nifong’s defendants were, and that is why he was prosecuted, persecuted, and used to set an example for other prosecutors.
It is about time that the editorial staff of the “News & Observer” takes a courageous stand and makes a comment about the gross injustice represented by the fact that Mike Nifong (who gave the state 27 years of exemplary service as a prosecutor) is the only prosecutor to be disbarred (or severely disciplined) by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception. If all prosecutors were held to the standards used to disbar Mr. Nifong, then Freda Black, Michael Parker, David Hoke, Debra Graves, Ken Honeycutt, Scott Brewer, Bill Wolfe (who the State is currently protecting against a complaint for his misconduct in the case against James Arthur Johnson), and probably 99% of all prosecutors in the state would be disbarred.