Wednesday, August 11, 2010

N&O columnist joins in scapegoating the SBI

This week, The News & Observer newspaper has been presenting a four-part series about misconduct and malfeasance at the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation and its lab. It is nothing more than a blatant attempt to shift all of the blame for exposed prosecutorial misdeeds upon a few “rogue elements” within the SBI. As in keeping within its adherence of following the PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) Policy, I believe that the name of a prosecutor has been mentioned possibly once in the two parts that have been published to date in the newspaper. Recently, Barry Saunders, the paper’s columnist with the acerbic keyboard, jumped into the fray by dumping on two SBI agents in particular in his column titled “Meet he SBI’s bad guys.”

Following the same tenor as articles in the four-part series, Mr. Saunders lambastes the investigators, while not laying a single kid-gloved hand on the prosecutors. This is yet another example of the strict compliance which the media has when it comes to the PAPEN Policy. To his credit, Mr. Saunders does mention the name of a prosecutor in his article once, but he fails to tie him to the real injustice visited upon defendant Floyd Brown.

Barry wrote the following about the Brown prosecutor: “…Anson County District Attorney Michael Parker spitefully refused Dix workers’ request to take him to the State Fair. Brown would have loved that.” However, nowhere in the article does he attribute Brown’s fourteen years of incarceration without a trial to D.A. Parker. Readers of the Saunders column are supposed to believe that SBI investigator Mark Isley is responsible for that. As a matter of fact, the column doesn’t begin to touch upon the depth of Parker’s malevolence and misconduct. Michael Parker not only denied Dix workers’ request for Mr. Brown to have an occasional lunch with his sister, but he willfully and maliciously interfered with Brown’s disposition after being released from 14 years in custody. This was achieved by Parker surreptitiously finding out the assisted living facility where social workers had arranged for Brown to be sent, then talking with the owners of said facility. Shortly thereafter, there was an abrupt 180 by the owners of the house, and Floyd Brown was denied admittance.

What is terribly misleading about these articles is that they put the onus of the injustice in these criminal cases on the investigators, and not on the prosecutors where it squarely belongs. Surely, District Attorney Parker knew that the lucid confession by a severely retarded defendant was flawed to the point of being fraudulent. And don’t think for a minute that investigators work in a vacuum. They are frequently in contact with the prosecutors. As the articles in the four-part series allude, investigators often work to please the prosecutors on the case. So even if the evidence that is brought by investigators before the prosecutor is not credible, it is accepted by the prosecutor if it supports his/her version of events. These articles printed thus far point to the SBI agents and investigators as being the driving force behind the prosecution of defendants. The prosecutors’ roles have almost been relegated to that of bystanders. “Protect those prosecutors… except Nifong” should be the media’s motto.

What I find to be most disingenuous about castigating remarks about SBI agent Dwight Ransome, is that the media maintains that the investigator zeroed in on a particular defendant and skewed his findings to support his belief. But what about the prosecutor? It begs the question, who is running the prosecution? You would believe the investigator and not the prosecutor after reading this week’s articles in The News & Observer. And what I find curious in Barry’s column is the total omission of the highly publicized case to which Ransome was related… that of Alan Gell. Of course, the identity of the prosecutor of Mr. Gell, David Hoke, would not be expected to be mentioned (in accordance with PAPEN).

As you may remember, in the Gell case, the prosecution withheld from defense attorneys the existence of 17 eyewitness statements wherein the alleged murder victim of Gell was seen alive, after Alan Gell had been locked up on an unrelated charge… clearly and definitively exculpatory evidence. Although these documents were within David Hoke’s folder (and I believe that Hoke maintains that he overlooked them), SBI agent Ransome is the one the media holds responsible for defendants not having access to the evidence. What is even further outrageous is that the media contends that had Prosecutor Hoke and defense attorneys been aware of these witness statements that the charges would have probably been dropped. What the media fails to mention however, is that even with knowledge of the 17 witness statements, the Attorney General’s Office chose to re-try Alan Gell (which resulted in an immediate verdict of not guilty). Now if SBI investigator Ransome’s work was so tarnished at Gell’s initial trial, why would state prosecutors take it upon themselves to take Mr. Gell to court a second time? This is not addressed by the media.

What the media needs to focus on is the vendetta case against Crystal Mangum, the former Duke Lacrosse victim who is currently facing trumped up charges of arson and injury to personal property. The News & Observer needs to sic its top investigative reporters on the Durham Police Department and prosecutors. It needs to delve into the basic question of who started the fire. It needs to ask what credible evidence is in possession of the prosecution to support its claim that Crystal Mangum vandalized a car the night of February 17, 2010. It needs to question the specific basis for the initial charges of attempted first degree murder and identity theft lodged against Mangum. It needs to look into the inactivity of police to clothes ablaze in a bathtub. It needs to try and make sense of a timeline vaguely proffered by police and prosecution regarding events that took place the night of February 17th.

There is plenty for a couple of good investigative reporters to sink their teeth into regarding this case. Not only that, but such an exploration would provide fodder for another highly sarcastic and entertaining column by The News & Observer’s own Barry Saunders. I can’t wait.

Now, it is important to pay attention to these blogs, as you might be tested about them in the future. To get an indication of your apprehension of the topic of Duke Lacrosse’s big connection to the media, click on the following link to access the latest quiz on the topic. Click Quiz 10 on the directory page.



guiowen said...

Too bad, Sidney. It looks like the Carpetbagger puppet masters* have taken control of Barry Saunders.

* The Puppet Masters: a novel by Robert Heinlein, just released (many years after the author's death) in slightly different format. You'd probably enjoy reading it

Anonymous said...

Oh what the hell.

Let's get drunk and hire strippers.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about hiring strippers. Let's steal a car, lead the police on a merry chase and then try to run one of them down

Anonymous said...

How about we get some strippers, steal their clothes and set them on fire (the clothes, not the strippers)....If the strippers try to stop us, we can threaten to kill them....Or vandalize their car....If the cops show up, we can tell them we're Sidney Harr and the merry band of J4N.

Nifong Supporter said...

Have you ever noticed how cruel the State can be when it comes to administering justice? The next blog, posted August 14th, gives a few examples. I invite you to weigh in on the topic.