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The Independent Weekly, a Triangle area arts and entertainment tabloid out of Durham, has made it clear to me, for reasons which are not, that it doesn't want anything to do with me. I believe its hostility towards me is due to the fact that I am a supporter of Mike Nifong. Despite that, however, I would be remiss to miss an opportunity to look at the publication every chance I get because it does tackle important criminal and social justice issues that other mainstream media avoid like the plague. In fact, I credit its articles about the unjust incarceration of Erick Daniels to be instrumental in public awareness about his plight, and to be responsible for his subsequent release from prison after serving seven of a ten to fourteen year sentence for an armed robbery conviction... a crime he did not commit.
What is particularly tragic about the Daniels case is that he never should have been arrested for the September 21, 2000 armed robbery, let alone convicted and allowed to serve time. Compounding the tragedy is that Erick Daniels was taken into custody at the age of fourteen... hand-cuffed and led away from his middle school class room like a hardened criminal. That the case against him was flawed was evident from the very beginning, but his defense attorney seriously compromised his case by putting the young boy on the witness stand.
Licking her chops, the Durham Prosecutor Freda Black tore into her prey, convincing a pliable jury that Daniels was a threat to society... that he had gang affiliations, etc. She was unable to present credible evidence linking Daniels to the armed robbery, as he differed from the victim's initial description of the perpetrator in hair style and complexion.
The victim’s description of the armed robber was an African American male of light complexion with his hair braided in cornrows. Erick Daniels has a dark complexion and his hair is short cropped.
Fingerprints at the crime scene did not match Daniels's and there was no other forensic evidence to implicate him either. Discrepancies in the lead investigator's records and missing police reports further raised doubts about the legitimacy of the state's case against Daniels. The prosecuting attorney even failed to interview a young man who was later incarcerated who fit the suspect's profile and admitted to committing the robbery.
Perhaps what is most disturbing is that the reason Erick Daniels was deemed to be the most likely suspect was due to the fact that he was picked out of a middle school yearbook based upon the shape of his eyebrows. Daniels appeared before Judge Osmond Smith III, the same judge who sentenced Mike Nifong to 24 hours in jail on a trumped up contempt of court charge. The honorable Judge Smith sentenced Daniels to a sentence of ten to fourteen years. So Daniels languished in jail, year after year, with the state having stolen his youth.
While incarcerated, appeals were filed on his behalf, but all were for naught.
In 2003, after spending several years in jail, Erick Daniels passed a polygraph test which supported his contention that he was not involved in the crime for which he was convicted. It wasn't until the following year that Attorney Carlos Mahoney took over Daniels's case and filed an appeal with Durham Superior Court Judge Orlando Hudson which eventually led to Daniels’s release from prison. In releasing Daniels, the judge dismissed all of the charges against him, and as he is legally empowered to do, declared that Erick Daniels was "innocent."
The News & Observer, a Johnny-come-lately in the travails of Erick Daniels, published a front page article in its Sunday, February 1, 2009, issue titled "After injustice, Durham man's eyes are on the future." However, the article by Anne Blythe was quick to turn its attention and sympathies to the three Duke Lacrosse defendants. Defendants who served no time in jail, who through their avaricious lawyers shook down Duke University for $20 million each, and who are attempting to pry another $10 mil each from the cash-strapped city of Durham. Per mainstream media custom, the Duke three are described as "exonerated” and “declared innocent..." However, writer Blythe failed to mention in the article that they were declared "innocent" by an attorney general... a proclamation which she very well knew carried no legal weight and which was meant to mislead the public.
Comparing the Duke Lacrosse defendants to Erick Daniels is like comparing apples and eggplant... as Daniels was declared "innocent" by a judge, not an attorney general. In addition, the Duke Lacrosse defendants were never convicted of a felony, as was Daniels. Daniels’s record is stained by the unjust felony charge and conviction, whereas the Duke Lacrosse defendants’ record is spotless.
Despite a case in which Daniels did not have a forensic print, had ineffective legal representation, had a confession from another man with a criminal past who fit the description, and had been declared "innocent" by a judge, he has been unsuccessful in receiving a pardon. Under state law, without the pardon he is not eligible to receive compensation that the state legislature has designated to go to the wrongfully incarcerated.
With his current attorney Gladys Harris, Daniels had been in the pursuit of a pardon for years through the North Carolina Office of Executive Clemency, which is charged with granting pardons and commuting sentences. A Pardon of Innocence is granted when an individual has been convicted and criminal charges are subsequently dismissed, as has occurred in Daniels's case. Although, like Gregory Taylor, Erick Daniels has been legally determined to be "innocent," a petition to the Governor for a declaration of innocence to enable him to seek compensation from the State for being erroneously convicted and imprisoned by it has not been granted.
There is no doubt among fair-minded people of good conscientious that Erick Daniels is innocent of the charge of armed robbery for which he was convicted, sentenced, and suffered seven years of incarceration. Neither is their doubt that Daniels deserves to be made whole by all measures at the State's disposal, such as expungement of the crime from his record and financial compensation to which he is rightfully entitled by state law.
In the Gregory Taylor case, Governor Bev Perdue had to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to do the right thing in giving Taylor a pardon for his seventeen years of wrongful incarceration and enabling him to receive the compensation to which he was entitled. For reasons which have no logical answer, the Governor and her Executive Office of Clemency are bracing themselves to deny justice for Erick Daniels.
According to the Independent Weekly, the Clemency Office denied Daniels's pardon in February 2011, and Daniels's attorney Harris stated that she had not received notification from the state office. Harris went on to state that the office informed her that the denial was issued because "those granting pardons from the state do not disturb jury verdicts." Whoever the mysterious people are in the Clemency Office must believe that Attorney Harris is an idiot. If I am not mistaken, practically all innocent people are wrongfully convicted by a jury. Gregory Taylor was convicted by a jury... yet he was pardoned by the Governor's office. Their explanation for refusing to pardon Daniels makes no sense and they know it. That is why the Governor's office and the secretive Office of Clemency rebuffed the Independent Weekly's efforts to contact them. This is the kind of insanity that makes North Carolina the laughing stock of the country.
One reason that the governor and her Executive Office of Clemency believe that they can get away with this egregious and amoral mistreatment of Erick Daniels is because Daniels’s political representatives U.S. Congressman David Price, State Senator Floyd McKissick, and State Representatives Mickey Michaux and Larry Hall keep at arms length when it comes to defending their constituents caught in a system that dispenses selective justice based on Class and Color.
The injustice suffered by Daniels is not a problem restricted to the Durham area, rather it is an issue which plagues the entire state of North Carolina. Representatives, senators, and all politicians who value the concept of “equal justice for all” should not just feel shock and abhorrence at the mistreatment of Erick Daniels, but they should do something about it.
The NAACP’s state organization under its president, Reverend Doctor William Barber, as well as the Durham chapter of the NAACP, has remained silent as dormice. By so doing, this civil rights organization is nothing more than an enabler to the unacceptable and discriminatory status quo and it does a disservice to all people of color who’s civil and constitutional rights it professes to protect.
It is time for Governor Bev Perdue, her administration, and other state officials to start assuring that “equal justice for all” is being dispensed by the state’s criminal justice system instead of bad jokes. Erick Daniels certainly deserves better... and so do all Tar Heelians.