Nearly a half century ago, Timothy Helms was born with severe retardation. Compounding his tragic life was the fact that he had been plagued with mental illness throughout his years. In 1994, he was accused of driving a vehicle which took the lives of three individuals, and later convicted and sentenced to three life sentences. While incarcerated, he racked up many “infractions,” including one for hoarding postage stamps. His retardation and mental illness made Timothy Helms a difficult prisoner to manage, and prior to his 2008 head trauma incident, he complained of abusive treatment he received and pleaded to be released from solitary confinement (euphemistically referred to as “administrative segregation” by authorities, while referred to as “The Hole” by those who have spent time there). Because of the great potential for psychological damage, solitary confinement is restricted to no more than 60 consecutive days. Helms had been in solitary for more than nine times that long (more than a year and a half) when he set his mattress on fire which resulted in his head being used as a battering ram on the concrete walls. Although setting the fire helped effect his release from solitary, it unfortunately resulted in head trauma that left him a quadriplegic who could barely speak. The SBI did its perfunctory investigation and to no one’s surprise could find no wrongdoing on behalf of the guards in solitary… they were stumped as to how Mr. Helms received his injuries (which in addition to two skull fractures and bleeding in the brain, included a fractured nose and welts all over his body consistent with those made by a baton). Department of Corrections Secretary Alvin Keller suggested that Mr. Helms might have sustained those injuries by falling and striking his head on the concrete floor. Paralyzed and unable to feed or take care of himself, Keller considered Helms too serious a threat to society to release from custody, so taxpayers continued to foot the bill for his lodgings and care until his recent, merciful death.
Now, The News & Observer wanting to toot its own horn about its four-part investigative report critical of the SBI lab, wrote an editorial in its September 8, 2010 paper titled “An open case: Recent revelations about the SBI’s work add to questions remaining in the case of Timothy Helms.” As usual, the editorial section in The News & Observer is a Johnny-come-lately… always making comments and observations long after they should have been made. To begin with, the newspaper editorial writers should have questioned the prosecution and conviction of the mentally ill and severely retarded man. Mr. Helms denied driving the car that took three lives, and to my knowledge there was no credible evidence that he did (the man Helms alleged to have been driving died from injuries in the crash). Furthermore, I do not believe that it had been established that Mr. Helms had been drinking or was drunk at the scene of the fatal accident.
Although Mr. Helms passed away some time ago, and the Department of Corrections and the SBI have closed their cases on the death of Mr. Helms, I agree with The News & Observer that the case of Timothy Helms should be opened and seriously investigated. It is obvious that, as Mr. Helms stated, after the brutal assault against him his head was repeatedly bashed into the concrete cell wall. The state, of course does not want to revisit this case anymore than it does other cases which the state closed with full knowledge that their resolution was far from just. In particular is the disbarment of former Durham Prosecutor Mike Nifong by the North Carolina State Bar. The Bar is an unregulated organization without accountability. It has a long-standing history of protecting prosecutors regardless of the magnitude of injustice they mete out. Since its inception in 1933, Mike Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by this organization. What’s worse, is that the was disbarred on trumped up trifle. Other prosecutors, such as David Hoke, Bill Wolfe, Tom Ford, Michael Parker, and Freda Black, have withheld exculpatory evidence, tried to force plea deals, won convictions on perjured testimony obtained in exchange for promises of reduced sentences, fabricated evidence and confessions… the list of unethical and dastardly prosecutorial practices by these state attorneys goes on. But these prosecutors are all protected not only by the state, but by the media which has embraced the PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) Policy.
What did Mr. Nifong do to deserve to be disbarred? Well, according to The News & Observer he was guilty of 20 ethics violations. The only problem is that nobody, especially media types, knows what they were. Media has gone out of its way to mislead the public by inferring that Mr. Nifong withheld exculpatory evidence. Truth of the matter is that Mr. Nifong did not withhold any discovery, and that the DNA lab evidence he has been accused of withholding is not exculpatory. Mr. Nifong has also been accused of lying to the court, which is, itself, a lie. But that is not important to the State Bar’s F. Lane Williamson… death of the truth was considered acceptable collateral damage in the state’s efforts to remove Mr. Nifong from the Duke Lacrosse case. In the Carpetbagger Jihad against Mr. Nifong et al., the truth, facts, morals, and justice are expendable concepts and contrary to their goals of destroying Mike Nifong and anyone and everyone who even had the most peripheral connection with the prosecution in the case.
Open the case regarding the death of inmate Timothy Helms… I agree. But I believe that The News & Observer editorial page should also call for opening the investigation into the trumped up disbarment of Mike Nifong.