Mark September 18, 2009, on your calendar because that is when the North Carolina State Bar is going to have its Grievance Commission weigh in on Johnston County prosecutor Gregory C. Butler’s conduct in a murder trial. This grievance, which was initiated by the N.C. State Bar’s own attorneys, accuses the Roseboro attorney of failing to gather and hand over potentially exculpatory evidence in the murder case against Tiffany Ann Bassett.
Butler, who was assigned to the case a year after the crime, was specifically faulted for turning over a 437 page report from the police department to the defense attorneys a week before trial was to begin, in violation the state’s “open file discovery law.” Although the bulk of information within the report had been previously disclosed, it did contain exculpatory evidence, according to Bassett’s defense attorney Bob Denning. A delay in the trial resulted, but the defendant subsequently pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of second degree murder, and was sentenced to 18 years.
Prosecutors of the following cases (James Arthur Johnson, Erick Daniels, Theodore Jerry Williams, and Floyd Brown) have acted far more egregiously and their actions have resulted in a far greater injustice to their defendants than actions by prosecutor Gregory Butler. Yet, the N.C. State Bar failed to initiate actions against these prosecutors.
Prosecutor Bill Wolfe charged James Arthur Johnson as an accomplice in the murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery of Brittany Willis. This was after Johnson, who had nothing to do with the crime, told the police the identity of the perpetrator who had confided in him. Johnson spent 39 months in jail on these charges before they were dropped by a special prosecutor. In a pre-arranged scheme, the special prosecutor then charged Johnson with an “accessory after the fact,” all in an attempt to protect Wolfe from a complaint of prosecutorial misconduct filed by the NAACP. Eventually, Johnson ended up making a Alford plea to avoid the possibility of further incarceration on a “misprision of felony” charge (failure to tell police knowledge of a crime… he waited three days before going to police with information which solved a heinous crime that would most likely have remained unsolved without his intervention). Bill Wolfe had no physical evidence tying Johnson to the crime, and attempted to employ two eyewitnesses (with ties to the police department) after the person identified by Johnson recanted his statement made in anger that implicated Johnson. Yet the N.C. State Bar took no action against Prosecutor Bill Wolfe.
Prosecutor Freda Black charged 14 year old Erick Daniels with armed robbery, based solely on the victim’s identification of his eyebrows in a middle school year book. Although he did not have the hair style or complexion of the robbery suspect, nor any physical evidence linking him to the crime, Prosecutor Black convicted him of the crime in an adult court, with the aid of a defense attorney who made the mistake of putting the young man on the stand. Although another young man, who was later arrested and fit the description of the perpetrator in the armed robbery, and had a history of armed robbery was willing to confess to the crime, Prosecutor Black did not interview him. Erick Daniels wrongfully spent seven years of a fourteen year sentence in jail for a crime he did not commit, after being charged without probable cause. The N.C. State Bar took no action against Prosecutor Black.
A prosecutor, who has not been named by the media, destroyed crucial, exculpatory evidence in the case of Theodore Jerry Williams. He was charged with assaulting a prison guard, although the charges were trumped up by authorities as a vendetta because Williams had the audacity to complain about the local district attorney. When a judge learned that the evidence which was requested by the defendant was destroyed by the prosecutor, he dropped the charges against the defendant. Attorney General Roy Cooper used his office to appeal the judge’s ruling, with full knowledge that the prosecutor destroyed evidence so crucial to the case that charges were dropped. The Attorney General’s Office failed to get the appeal overturned, and rightfully so. However, the N.C. State Bar took no action against the prosecutor(s) involved in destruction of evidence.
Anson County Prosecutor Michael Parker charged a retarded man, Floyd Brown, for murder. His primary evidence against Brown was a confession which mental health experts testified Brown was so mentally retarded that he could not have possibly authored such a statement. Parker held Brown in custody without a trial for over fourteen years, until a judge finally dropped the charges against him. The N.C. State Bar took no initiative to take actions against Prosecutor Parker.
It is extremely curious to me as to why the N.C. State Bar would go to such lengths to go after a prosecutor in which justice may have been delayed somewhat, yet ignore cases in which justice has been shredded and trampled upon by prosecutors. The rationale of going after Butler while ignoring the shenanigans of Wolfe, Black, Parker, and others escapes me.
Regardless, I doubt that Gregory Butler will be disbarred. Nor do I believe that he should, knowing what I do about the complaint filed against him. But whether or not future prosecutors are disciplined or disbarred by the State Bar, the Bar’s actions will not ameliorate the stains of injustice wrought by the unjust and selective disbarment of Mike Nifong.
By September 19th, we should have a better idea of what the North Carolina State Bar is up to regarding its complaint against Gregory C. Butler, prosecutor.