According to The News & Observer editorial of August 31, 2010, the state’s district attorneys understand that clouds over the SBI hurt their ability to make cases. What the district attorneys should be concerned about is that the clouds interfere with the administration of justice. As so-called “Ministers of Justice,” prosecutors should have their priority as the goal of justice before that of winning a case. For many, if not most North Carolina prosecutors, that has definitely not been the case. The recent case exposed in an article by N &O investigative reporter J. Andrew Curliss about Derrick Allen is a prime example of a prosecutor, Freda Black, placing a conviction ahead of seeking justice. Ms. Black is also the prosecutor responsible for winning an armed robbery conviction against a 14 year-old Erick Daniels. There was no credible evidence or forensic findings tying the young Daniels boy to the crime… only the robbery witness’s linking the shape of Daniels’s eyebrows in a school yearbook to those of the assailant. He served more than half of a 14 to 20 year sentence before he was finally released on appeal. Tom Ford, Wake prosecutor responsible for unapologetically stealing seventeen years of a man’s life (Greg Taylor) because Taylor did not implicate an innocent man in a murder, is unfortunately representative of many of the prosecutors who have no qualms about unjustly incarcerating innocents who are poor, disenfranchised, and people of color.
Although The News & Observer would have you believe otherwise, it is the prosecutors and not the people in the SBI lab who are driving the show. The lab people are merely backseat passengers in the prosecutor’s vehicle. It is the prosecutors who benefit from winning a conviction, not the lab technicians. Even the SBI agents don’t get the glory of convicting the defendant in a heinous crime. Therefore, when a prosecutor’s case is weak, he/she has the built-in incentive to lean on people in the lab in order to force them to skew, omit, fudge, tweak, or otherwise manipulate lab results in hopes of improving their odds at trial. Not all prosecutors take this devious avenue; just the unscrupulous ones such as Tom Ford, Freda Black, Bill Wolfe, and Michael Parker.
The fact that justice is a secondary or tertiary concern of prosecutors is best illustrated in the Alan Gell case. Prosecutor David Hoke was in possession of 17 eyewitness statements that proved beyond doubt that defendant Alan Gell could not possibly have committed the murder for which he was charged. Hoke withheld this information from the defense counsel, and won a capital conviction against Gell. Now, The News & Observer wants to blame this wrongful conviction on the lead investigator in the case, Dwight Ransome. However, a decade after Gell’s conviction when the existence of these witness statements came to light, and the Attorney General’s Office was aware that there were 17 witness statements that proved Gell could not have committed the murder for which he had languished in jail (half on death row), the Attorney General’s Office went ahead and prosecuted the case in a second trial. Roy Cooper didn’t issue an “innocent promulgation” on Gell’s behalf. He tried to keep an innocent man in jail. However, once the jury got the case, they immediately found Gell not guilty. How does The News & Observer explain that? The Attorney General’s Office used SBI agent Ransome’s work to support their case against Gell at re-trial. Somehow, it is not the prosecutors at fault… it’s Ransome.
Currently, Alan Gell is incarcerated on a convoluted vendetta charge concocted by a Johnston County prosecutor. His unreasonable and lengthy sentence is nothing more than payback for having the audacity to file a complaint for the malicious and blatant injustice he suffered with his death penalty conviction. Although he wrongfully served ten years, he was convicted on technical trifle and is serving a five year sentence. According to my math, even with the ridiculous five year sentence, he had five years credit. He should never have served one day of this most recent vindictive sentence.
What is truly tragic is that the prosecutors with integrity who prosecute in good faith and act as “Ministers of Justice” are the ones that are targeted, mainly by the Powers-That-Be, and the unregulated North Carolina State Bar. Gregory Butler was a prosecutor in Johnston County, who when he became aware that the defense attorney lacked some of the prosecutor’s discovery, immediately notified the defense. This act, publicized in The News & Observer, resulted in a delay in the court proceedings while the defense was granted time to review the information presented. It also prompted the North Carolina State Bar to initiate a complaint against Mr. Butler, which forced him to remove himself from the case, causing a further delay. Fortunately, there was no bounty on Mr. Butler’s head, and F. Lane Williamson and his band on the Bar’s grievance panel, did nothing more than give Mr. Butler a slobbery tongue lashing.
But what happened to Mr. Butler pales in comparison to the persecution administered to the prosecutor of the Duke Lacrosse case, Mike Nifong. This prosecutor, with 27 years experience as a prosecutor, and who was appointed to the Durham district attorney position by Governor Mike Easley, had a stellar reputation as a fair and hard-working prosecutor. Since he first practiced as a prosecutor, Mike Nifong had always maintained an open file discovery policy… that is, he provided the defense attorneys with all of the evidentiary information he had in his file. (This was decades before such policy became mandated in the state.) Most of the ardent defense attorneys who sparred with Nifong in courtroom, gave him high marks when it came to opening his files for them and prosecuting fairly. As it is with individuals who possess both high ethical standards and courage, Mr. Nifong was not swayed by pressure applied by peers and higher-ups. He followed his conscience… which made him too independent… which made him too dangerous. Therefore, he was brought down by the big power machine, with assistance from the biased media. The state, along with the Carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants and their attorneys set out to make an example of him, and make him pay, every day, for the rest of his life.
When Mike Nifong was taken down, Durham lost the best district attorney it will most likely ever see. He was a prosecutor who prosecuted cases in good faith based on sound evidence and good science. He did not lobby lab technicians for reports or results favorable to his case, and as a result, the lab technicians and agents did not feel the need to help effect the outcome of his cases. Mike Nifong’s priority was to see justice fairly administered, and to see equal justice for all. He did not subscribe to the state’s tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” If he did abide by that principle, he certainly would not have prosecuted the Duke Lacrosse defendants… especially when doing so severely compromised his chances of winning the election for Durham district attorney.
The News & Observer editorial did get it right. The state’s district attorneys understand that clouds over the SBI hurt their ability to make cases… and that’s what they’re interested in; making their cases. Unfortunately, unlike Mike Nifong, they are less interested in seeing that equal justice prevails for all.