News & Observer staff writer Joseph Neff is at it again, in his headline article in today’s (Friday, October 2, 2009) paper titled, “State pays $3.9 million for wrongful conviction.” Author of the infamous News & Observer series titled “Rush to Judgment” which unjustly skewered former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case, Neff turns his patented brand of “scapegoatism” from prosecutor David Hoke to the lead investigator in the Alan Gell case, Dwight Ransome. Whereas Special Agent Dwight Ransome’s name is referenced fourteen times in the article, the names of David Hoke and Debra Graves (who prosecuted the case against Alan Gell) are not even mentioned once in the article. Mr. Neff wants the public to believe that the lead investigator is responsible for Alan Gell being wrongfully incarcerated for nine years, half on death row. The article leaves prosecutors Hoke and Graves, who according to Gell high-fived in court when the death sentence was announced, totally blameless.
Joseph Neff begins his Jedi-mind trick on the public with the article’s subtitle “ ‘I see it as an admission of guilt’ from the SBI, Gell says.” But, according to the quotation marks, what Gell actually said was, “I see it as an admission of guilt.” Joseph Neff, by adding “from the SBI,” takes creative liberty in suggesting that Gell’s reference was limited to the SBI when he made that statement. Neff repeated this statement in paragraph four, implying again that Gell’s statement was directed at the SBI only. This tabloid trickery used by Neff and achieved by the fraudulent placement of quotation marks is the same bold and misleading tactic used by “The National Inquirer” back in the day… before it became a respectable publication.
The misinterpretation used to fool the public in the article, is similar in nature to that used against Mike Nifong by the North Carolina State Bar in its pathetic attempt to justify his disbarment (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception in 1933).
Also of note, is the misleading assertion that the state paid Gell $3.9 million. Actually, if you read the article carefully, two insurance companies paid Gell $3.4 million and the state paid the remaining $500,000. What makes this so ridiculous is the fact that nearly 150% more of that amount ($731,062.40) was spent by the state under the tutelage of the Attorney General’s Office to defend against the lawsuit, not to mention the costs to re-try Gell after a judge ordered a new trial.
As Mr. Neff put it in his article, a judge “ordered a new trial because prosecutors withheld evidence that was favorable to Gell.” Here, Mr. Neff is trying to water down the seriousness of the withheld evidence by stating it was “favorable,” rather than calling it what it really was… “exculpatory.” The evidence, that seventeen eyewitnesses saw the murdered victim alive after Gell was in jail on an unrelated charge, absolutely excluded Gell from being a suspect in the crime. Yet, the state, instead of dropping the charges when this exculpatory evidence came to light, spent taxpayer money trying to re-convict a man who could not possibly be guilty of the crime. The only scenario the prosecutors could logically offer under the circumstances would be as follows:
1. Alan Gell is arrested and placed in jail;
2. days later, Allen Ray Jenkins, the eventual murder victim, is seen alive by at least 17 individuals;
3. Later, Alan Gell escapes from jail unnoticed;
4. Alan Gell then kills Allen Ray Jenkins;
5. Alan Gell sneaks back into jail without being noticed and without anyone being aware of his absence.
The aforementioned scenario is unreasonable, and thus the logic and argument for the prosecution re-trying Mr. Gell escapes me.
Mr. Neff wrote that “Cooper declined to say whether he thought Gell is innocent of Jenkins’ murder.” Gell was locked in jail when the murder took place, and the attorney general doesn’t know whether Gell committed the crime? Attorney General Cooper had no problem proclaiming that the three Duke Lacrosse players were “innocent,” even though the Duke Lacrosse players were known for their raucous parties, the Duke lacrosse coach was warned by the university president to rein in his players’ party-going ways beforehand, there was under-aged drinking and drug use at the party, the exotic dancers were hired from an escort service under false pretenses, the partygoers were intoxicated to some degree, the partygoers made lewd and sexually degrading and humiliating comments to the dancers early into their performance, they more likely than not stole the $800 they had earlier paid the two girls when they quit early due to the insults hurled at them, and the partygoers were heard yelling racial epithets at the two dancers who were African American. In addition, DNA evidence from one of the dancer’s false fingernails was linked to David Evans, one of the defendants identified by the accuser as an assailant. How is that explained?... possibly from a handshake?
The question is, how much credibility can you place in the SBI’s investigation into the Duke Lacrosse case when it can’t figure out how Timothy Helms received two skull fractures while in solitary confinement that left him a quadriplegic? The SBI couldn’t determine whether a crime had been committed, even though Helms’s body had welts all over it consistent with batons used by corrections officers. Helms said he sustained head trauma when guards picked him up and rammed his head into the concrete wall. Secretary of the Department of Corrections Alvin Keller stated that Helms most likely received his injuries due to a fall in which he struck his head on the floor. Considering the aforementioned, Roy Cooper’s statement that “there was no crime committed” in the Duke Lacrosse case rings hollow.
The Neff article also quotes the attorney general as saying, “…In the Gell case, the prosecutors relied on two eyewitnesses…” Earlier in the same article Neff writes that the case was built on “the stories of two drug-abusing 15 year old girls whose stories changed every time they were interviewed or testified.” Yet, the state, media, and public want to crucify the prosecutor and the witness/accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case for what the Attorney General’s Office claims were discrepancies in her statements. There is a disconnect in logic here. A logic disconnect is what occurs when justice is selectively and unevenly applied in criminal cases, and masterfully woven by fanciful spin-meisters, like Joseph Neff, who are more concerned with molding public opinion than objectively recounting an event.
The article also stated that “the prosecutors were dismissed from the case because they enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution or lawsuits stemming from their official actions.” This same absolute immunity should have applied to Mike Nifong whose actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were official. The North Carolina courts and the Attorney General’s Office denied Mr. Nifong the protection due him by law, as his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were official. Yet another example of the selective and singularly unjust treatment meted out to Mr. Nifong.
Attorney General Cooper hired someone to investigate other cases handled by the scapegoat investigator Dwight Ransome. This is not an uncommon action, often to search for other events to support the spin. There is no reason not to believe that taxpayer money is being wasted to review all of the cases handled by Mike Nifong, even though he is disbarred and no longer practicing law. After all, the malevolent and vindictive carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants promised to make Mr. Nifong “pay every day for the rest of his life.” Ultimately, it is the North Carolina taxpayers who are paying to carry out the carpetbaggers’ misplaced vendetta.
Now, I do not begrudge Mr. Gell his settlement, especially in light of the fact that the Duke Lacrosse defendants each received $7 million in an out-of-court settlement with Duke University and they spent no time in jail (and they are currently seeking an additional $10 million from the cash-strapped city of Durham). In fact, to me no amount of money is worth losing nine years of freedom. But just as Mr. Gell was compensated, and should have been compensated for his wrongful incarceration, others should receive compensation as well. Erick Daniels who was taken from a middle school classroom and arrested at the age of 14, spent seven years in jail after being convicted as an adult for an armed robbery which he did not commit. The best years of his life were taken from him, and he struggles to get by today, helping his family. Just because he is poor, an African American, and disenfranchised, that is no reason not to give him the full measure of the compensation which he deserves. James Arthur Johnson, who heroically solved the heinous murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery of Wilson teen Brittany Willis, also deserves compensation for the 39 months he spent in jail while prosecutor Bill Wolfe tried to force him to plead guilty to something. In addition, Johnson should also be paid the $20,000 reward offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis which he earned by leading police to her killer.
Finally, Alan Gell should not be in prison now. He is currently serving a five year sentence on a charge of indecent liberties for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend after being released from jail. According to my calculations, after being wrongfully incarcerated for nine years, being convicted for a crime with a five year sentence leaves him with four years credit. He should be free, especially on the cockamamie convoluted case on which he was convicted. The charges and conviction are purely vindictive, and a vendetta because he dared to file a complaint against authorities for his wrongful incarceration on the murder charge.
In the coming days, Joseph Neff plans on writing an article about “how Dwight Ransome botched the investigation into the murder of Allen Ray Jenkins.” Readers, beware. Some more scapegoat spin to take attention from the prosecutors (especially David Hoke) and place it on the investigator in the Gell case.
Whenever reading a criminal justice article in the News & Observer, I would strongly suggest that you check the byline. If the article is authored by Joseph Neff, there is the likely possibility that he will be trying to play a Jedi-mind trick on you.