In today’s issue (Thursday, December 11, 2008) of the News & Observer, the newspaper had a nice column that featured its news team. Joseph Neff, a veteran investigative reporter was cited for his stories which helped lead to the exoneration of Alan Gell. There, however, was no mention of the fact that the prosecutors in that case, David Hoke (who is currently Assistant Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts) and Debra Graves withheld exculpatory evidence from Gell’s defense team that proved that he could not have possibly committed the crime of murder for which he was charged. The article failed also to mention that Mr. Gell is currently back in jail serving a five year sentence for a case which barely made the limits for a statutory rape charge, after having served nearly ten years wrongly incarcerated for murder (half of it on death row). This sentence against Gell is nothing more than payback because after being exonerated for the murder conviction, he sued (unsuccessfully) the state. It seems that Mr. Neff is perfectly content to allow Mr. Gell to languish in jail because of retribution by the state.
Today’s column also mentioned that Mr. Neff’s five part series about the Duke Lacrosse case and the “prosecutorial misconduct of Mike Nifong” garnered honors by the NC Bar Association and the NC Press Association, and was a finalist for an Investigative Reporters and Editors Award. I do not consider that much of an accomplishment. All that is required is to write or do something negative against Mr. Nifong and that will automatically qualify one for an award. The taxi cab driver who vouched that he had given Reid Seligman a ride home from the lacrosse party received a Heroes award (from the Reader’s Digest, I believe).
The person who deserves an award for being a hero is James Arthur Johnson, the African American young man who risked breaking the “no snitch” rule of the streets in order to turn over a violent criminal to the Wilson police. Instead, due to prosecutorial misconduct of Bill Wolfe, Johnson was incarcerated for 39 months on murder charges for which he was threatened with execution. The prosecution team, which had no case, used plan B to extricate themselves from their predicament. Plan B consisted of having an “independent” special prosecutor come in and drop the charges of murder, kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery, and then lodge a charge of “accessory after the fact” because Johnson had stated that while under duress he had wiped fingerprint off of the victim’s SUV.
The News & Observer has been purposely holding back coverage of what has recently transpired in the case. (Because the Administrative Office of the Courts had been unable to find a state salaried prosecutor willing to prosecute the frivolous “accessory” case against Johnson, Private Sector Special Prosecutor W. David McFadyen was hired at extra taxpayer expense to pursue this case.) The Brittany Willis murder case, which by consensus has been considered to have been terribly mismanaged by the Wilson police and prosecutors has racially divided the city (the confessed killer is an African American, and the teenage female victim is white). In November 2008, Johnson’s defense attorney requested a change of venue from the city of Wilson, and the private sector prosecutor was agreeable to the motion. However, Judge Milton F. Fitch, Jr., without giving any explanation, refused, stating that he wanted to keep the trial in Wilson, and that he also wanted to be the judge for the trial. His so-called remedy to give appearances of an unbiased jury was to bring in jurors selected from outside Wilson’s county. He initially agreed to have a jury selected from Wake County, and then he changed his mind and decided to have the jurors picked from Edgecombe County, a neighboring county. All of these actions are of major significance, are unjust, and do not bode well for the defendant or justice. The News & Observer’s position is to keep its readers ignorant about the state’s justice system malfeasance that is taking place in this case. To date they have refused to write about these recent developments.
Another issue in the Johnson case that warrants attention is the twenty thousand dollar ($20,000.00) reward that was offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis for information leading to Ms. Willis’s murderer. James Johnson earned that reward because he turned in the murderer who later confessed to the crime. The killer, after learning from police investigators that Johnson had “snitched” on him, then implicated Johnson in the crime out of anger. The Wilson police even used the reward as a motive for Johnson coming forward to the police. The initial Wilson police version is as follows: James Johnson, with a friend, robs, kidnaps, and rapes Brittany Willis. James then kills her. Days later, when the $20,000 reward is offered by family and friends of Brittany Willis, James (who had never been in trouble with the police, had no criminal record, and was considering soccer athletic scholarships to college at the time) decided to accuse his friend of the crime in order to collect the reward. About four and a half years after Johnson gave information to the police that resulted in the arrest and conviction of the confessed perpetrator, Mr. Johnson has not been paid the reward that was offered.
Why? Is it possible that the prosecution team requested that the reward not be paid, for by doing so, it would be favorable to Johnson’s public perception, and make the prosecution against him more difficult? I asked reporters at the Wilson Times to look into the matter, but they refused. The News & Observer likewise refused to investigate or offer and editorial opinion about the matter. One News & Observer editor did tell me, however, that it was not against the law for a private citizen to offer a reward and then renege on it.
The bottom line is that the local media, especially the News & Observer is as selective in the stories that it publishes, as the Attorney General’s Office and state prosecutors are in their application of the law. The application of justice in North Carolina is selective, based on Class and Color, and that is why an attorney, of Mike Nifong’s stature, reputation, and 27 years of exemplary service to the state of North Carolina, has been disbarred (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the NC State Bar since its inception), prosecuted, persecuted, and sentenced to jail. Selective justice is also why the state is going out of its way, at taxpayer expense, to protect Wilson prosecutor Bill Wolfe while vilifying the hero James Arthur Johnson. Selective justice is also why the North Carolina State Bar will not take any action on a complaint (filed with it on December 9, 2008) of prosecutorial misconduct against former Mike Petereson prosecutor Jame “Jim” E. Hardin, Jr. (currently serving as a Superior Court judge) and Durham prosecutor Freda Black for withholding exculpatory evidence from the defendant’s legal team (the existence of a possible murder weapon and tests its lab ran on it).
The media, by its selective coverage of news events and subjects of editorial it chooses to publish, is complicit in the injustice that continues to be administered in the state of North Carolina.