Like many cases in which a prosecutor has absolutely no case against the defendant (the James Arthur Johnson case comes to mind), the prosecutor, instead of doing the right thing and dismissing all charges against the defendant, will more likely than not try to entice, cajole, force, or use any means necessary to make the defendant accept a plea deal. This strategy is most effective when the wrongfully accused defendant is tucked away safely behind bars, and a plea deal in exchange for imminent freedom looks mighty appetizing to the defendant, especially after spending many months or years behind bars. The prosecution finds the plea deal appealing because it means that he/she will not have to go to trial and risk facing embarrassment and ridicule for bringing a garbage case before the courts. More likely than not, in the majority of these cases, the prosecution is relying on a plea deal to close the case and doesn’t even bother to prepare to go to trial. This is what happened in the James Arthur Johnson case, and this is what the prosecution under Durham Assistant District Attorney Angela Garcia-Lamarca is attempting to do to Crystal Mangum, the victim in the Duke Lacrosse case.
In the fiasco that was the James Arthur Johnson case, Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe charged James Arthur Johnson, the young African American teen who turned over to police the name of the true killer of Wilson teen Brittany Willis, Kenneth Meeks (also an African American male). Clever Wilson investigators managed to get young Meeks to falsely implicate James Arthur Johnson in the crime by telling Meeks that his friend “snitched” on him. Prosecutors charged Johnson with crimes against Brittany Willis, which included murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery, based solely on the statements of the confessed killer who had earlier confided in Johnson about the murder only to later learn from police that it was Johnson who fingered him. There was no forensic evidence and no witness to link Johnson to the victim or the crime scene. The Wilson police theory was that Johnson robbed, kidnapped, raped, and killed Brittany Willis with Meeks as his accomplice, and then when he heard the offer of a $20,000.00 reward for information leading to an arrest in the crime, he went to police to turn in his partner in crime in order to collect the reward. Johnson was held in jail for a couple of years before Meeks, the killer, retracted his statement about Johnson’s involvement, explaining that he made the false accusation out of anger. With its sole witness recanting, did Prosecutor Wolfe dismiss charges against Johnson…? No! Instead, he conjured up two eyewitnesses, who both happened to have connections to the Wilson Police Department (one of whom was a retired Wilson police officer). Before Wolfe could use these false witnesses to convict Johnson, Dr. Rev. William Barber, president of the NAACP made his appearance, and with the media scrutiny he brought, Wolfe and Wilson District Attorney Howard S. Boney, Jr. decided to quickly and silently jettison their two latest eyewitnesses. It was then, without evidence, without witnesses, and without a case that the Wilson prosecution launched its efforts to obtain a plea deal with Johnson. As is typical in this situation, the prosecution proceeded at a snail’s pace and tried to reach a plea deal right up to the time the court date could no longer be delayed. Wolfe and Boney’s bluff failed, and when it came time for the trial to begin, the prosecution folded like an accordion. On the day of court, they announced that they would turn the case over to a special prosecutor.
Special Prosecutor Belinda Foster, an assistant district attorney from Forsyth County, was forced to take over prosecution of the Johnson case by her superior, District Attorney Tom Keith. She agreed to do so only on the condition that she not be required to try the case in court. D.A. Keith agreed, and it was made clear early on that her involvement would be limited. After a couple of months passed, to give people the impression that an investigation was being conducted by the special prosecutor and her diligent crew, Ms. Foster dropped the charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery against Johnson, and, as foreordained, she charged Johnson with “accessory after the fact” for wiping some fingerprints off the victim’s car long after the crime had taken place. Despite having served 39 months in jail on serious charges that were dismissed and now facing only an “accessory” charge, a high, but attainable, bail of $60,000.00 for Johnson was set by the judge. Shortly thereafter, he bonded out.
State prosecutors refused to touch the Johnson case with a twenty foot pole, so the Administrative Office of the Courts ultimately found a special prosecutor from the ranks of the lawyers in private practice. At additional cost to taxpayers, the new Special Prosecutor W. David McFadyen, who used to work as a prosecutor, pretended to conduct a lengthy and complete investigation into the Willis/Johnson case. Special Prosecutor McFadyen threatened Johnson with additional hard time in jail if he was to be convicted for wiping fingerprints off the car (an act which had absolutely no bearing or relevance on what justice transpired with respect to confessed murderer Meeks). With the judge refusing (without explanation) a defense motion for a change of venue from the town of Wilson (which had been racially divided by the prosecution and press), Johnson finally succumbed (not wanting to risk the possibility, however remote, of returning to jail) and pled guilty to “misprision of felony.” Misprision of felony is a rarely invoked charge used against someone who has knowledge of a crime but does not share it with authorities. Although Johnson pleaded guilty to the charge, he was actually not guilty of it because he did, in fact, voluntarily and without legal counsel in tow, tell police everything he knew about the crime. In getting this plea deal in exchange for time served, the prosecution proudly puffed out its chest because it had prevailed in legally justifying locking up James Arthur Johnson for 39 months for the crime he committed of waiting three days before coming to the police to tell them of his knowledge of the crimes against Brittany Willis. For solving the homicidal case, Johnson never received the $20,000 reward that was offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis… the only thing he received was 39 months.
The way in which Prosecutors Wolfe and Boney kept an innocent James Arthur Johnson in jail for 39 months without a shred of credible evidence, is a text-book way of making a person serve a long sentence without being convicted of a crime. This is what Prosecutor Garcia-Lamarca had planned to do with Crystal Mangum, and she got off to a successful start. First serious charges were trumped up against Ms. Mangum, such as attempted first degree murder and arson. These were used to justify the hefty $1 million bail set by Magistrate B. Wakil. When Judge Claude Allen lowered the bail to $250,000.00, he set up a safety net by establishing the condition that if Ms. Mangum did bond out, she would be placed under electronic house arrest. This was a safeguard which the judge and prosecution team felt would not be needed. But when bail was unexpectedly made for Ms. Mangum by a benevolent and generous bail bondsman, her jail sentence was prematurely terminated after serving only several months behind bars. From initial plea offers made shortly after Ms. Mangum’s arrest, it is apparent that the prosecution would have settled for Ms. Mangum spending at least two years behind bars. It was undoubtedly a great disappointment when Mangum bonded out after only three months in the Durham County Detention Center. Once Ms. Mangum was released from strict custody and placed under electronic house arrest, prosecutors lost their main bargaining tool for acquiring a plea deal… incarceration behind bars. The prosecution’s focus turned immediately to trying to arrange a plea deal with Ms. Mangum, so shortly after her release from the detention center to house arrest, Garcia-Lamarca offered through the Public Defender the following plea deal: Admission of guilt to the following charges 1) first degree arson, 2) three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 3) injury to personal property, and 4) resisting a public official, in exchange for a sentence of time served. Wisely, Ms. Mangum refused.
Now, I would not be surprised if the prosecution made the following offer on August 4, 2010, at Ms. Mangum’s hearing: Prosecution will dismiss the first degree arson charge with Ms. Mangum pleading guilty to the following charges 1) three counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, 2) injury to personal property, and 3) resisting a public official, in exchange for time served. (Note, the charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor is based upon the arson count, so prosecutors may offer to dismiss that charge as well.)
Bottom line is that the prosecution is desperately fishing around for a plea deal. It is not preparing to take the case to trial, because like Prosecutor Bill Wolfe and Wilson D.A. Howard S. Boney, Assistant D.A. Angela Garcia-Lamarca has no case against Crystal Mangum. Furthermore, to proceed to trial would involve many members of the Durham Police Department committing perjury. And, if the police are willing to lie in their reports about Ms. Mangum putting clothes in a bathtub, it is not much of a stretch that they would, in fact, have the wherewithal to set the clothes on fire themselves… which is most likely what happened. How else would one explain the police closing the bathroom door on a bathtub with some clothes on fire and calling the fire department? No effort was made by police to even turn on the water in the bathtub. Police allowed smoke damage to accumulate in the apartment to which they most likely set on fire. By placing the midnight call, Durham police brought 25 members of the Durham Fire Department to Ms. Mangum’s apartment in order to put out a few clothes on fire in a bathtub. This just does not make sense. The sparse and vague timelines in the police and fire reports are contradictory, do not make sense and throw a lot of water on the prosecution’s purported story of what took place the night of February 17th.
What Prosecutor Garcia-Lamarca needs to do is stop the madness masquerading as a criminal case against Ms. Mangum… she can accomplish this by dismissing all charges against Ms. Mangum immediately. The prosecutor needs to stop wasting taxpayer money for unwarranted electronic monitoring, and monies being paid to a defense attorney on a case against Mangum that is totally trumped up.
You can bet that if Ms. Garcia-Lamarca had a valid and just case against Ms. Mangum, she would proceed posthaste to trial, and seek the maximum penalties possible. Instead, with only trumped up garbage against Ms. Mangum, Garcia-Lamarca dillydallies desperately trying to eek out a plea deal to any charge with Ms. Mangum. This is a pathetic demonstration of jurisprudence practiced in North Carolina, and is what makes the Tar Heel State the laughing stock of the country.
If the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has anything to say about it, the unjust tragedy that befell James Arthur Johnson will not be revisited upon Crystal Mangum. Assistant D.A. Garcia-Lamarca needs to forget about trying to reach a plea deal with Ms. Mangum (any plea deal requires Ms. Mangum to admit to a crime that she did not commit), and either prepare her garbage case to go to trial (wasting taxpayer money in the process) or dismiss all charges against Ms. Mangum immediately. A plea deal in this case is not in the cards... it's not even on the table.