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On Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Durham prosecutors dismissed charges of “accessory after the fact” against Sheilda Evelyn Harris and Sheila Falisha Moses, the mother and sister respectively of Peter Lucas Moses Jr. The day before, Peter Moses pled guilty to the murders of four year-old Jadon Higganbothan and Antoinetta Yvonne McCoy, in her late twenties. Sheilda Harris and Sheila Moses were amongst a group of six people other than Peter Moses who were charged with murder shortly after the bodies of the two victims were discovered a year ago around June 8, 2011.
The reasons the Durham prosecutors had for dismissing the charges against Peter Moses’ mother and sister are unknown to media, and not having access to prosecution discovery, I can supply no reason either, other than the fact that evidence for bringing the charges never existed in the first place. A year ago, when the two were arrested, Sheilda Harris and Sheila Moses were charged with murder and ordered to be held without bail. However, some time during the interval, the charge used to hold them behind bars was changed to “accessory after the fact.”
What is bothersome regarding the others who are charged with “accessory after the fact” in the cult murder case is the probability that much of the prosecutor’s case will rely on testimony from Peter Lucas Moses, who entered into a plea deal to spare him from the death penalty. Surely such testimony from a confessed murderer in cooperation with prosecutors lacks credibility from the git-go.
Dismissal of the accessory charge against them was not of insignificant consequence as both of them in essence served a one year term for committing no crime. In dropping the charges, the Durham prosecutors are admitting to mistakenly arresting and incarcerating Sheilda Harris and Sheila Moses… holding them in jail custody for more than a year… and subjecting them to scorn, shame, and ridicule by media reports spreading their names and faces across the state. Dropping the charges against them will not restore the lost year of their lives, which the prosecutors were all to eager and unapologetically to take from them… neither will it remove the emotional and physical scars they suffered as a result of their unjust incarceration… nor will it cleanse their reputations that have been smeared by the reckless charges and arrests.
The problem with mass arrests and incarcerations based on “accessory after the fact” charges is that it tends to entrap many innocent people who are related to the criminal perpetrator, as in this case, or have a brief interaction with a suspect after the commission of the crime. Prosecutors use the accessory charge to place individuals in jail who are not suspected of taking part in the defining criminal act… they are often implicated solely for their contact with the criminal, not matter how innocent or trivial.
The accessory after the fact charge is too frequently abused by North Carolina prosecutors, often to incarcerate innocent African Americans. This is the charged that was brought by Special Prosecutor Belinda Foster against James Arthur Johnson of Wilson, NC, when prosecutor Bill Wolfe’s bluff was called in his failed attempt to get Johnson to take a plea deal after serving 39 months for murder, rape, and kidnapping charges he obviously did not commit. What is particularly tragic about Johnson’s case is that he provided information which solved the heinous crimes against Brittany Willis. Instead of receiving, from the family and friends of the victim, thanks and the $20,000 reward he earned for going to the police with information that cracked the case open, all Johnson received was more than three years in jail and a criminal record.
However, it is not a rarity in North Carolina for innocent blacks to be arrested and held in jail for lengthy periods of time without there being credible evidence of their being charged. Carletta Alston of Knightdale was recently arrested and charged with the murder of her stepfather. She was imprisoned for a year before the charges against her were dropped. Wake County Prosecutor Tom Ford (who prosecuted an innocent man Gregory Taylor) was evidently unable to find someone to give perjured testimony against Ms. Alston.
The entire North Carolina justice system mentality that approves charging and arresting African Americans first then coming up with credible evidence later, is what nearly led to my arrest at Duke University in April 2010. It was not enough that Duke harassed, humiliated and intimidated me just for being a supporter of Mike Nifong, but it had no compunction about tossing me in jail because I am an African American… fortunately crossing paths with Duke Law Professor James Coleman prevented that.
There is another case in Durham County Prosecutor’s docket that should be immediately dismissed. The murder and larceny charges against Crystal Mangum, the victim/accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case, lack credible evidence and are based on bogus and fraudulent documents… all part of a vendetta prosecution for payback because of her role in the Duke Lacrosse case.
Prosecutor Charlene Coggins-Franks conspired with her predecessor on the case, Kelly Gauger, and medical examiner Clay Nichols to trump up the murder charge against Mangum. Governor Bev Perdue and the Durham district attorney she appointed, Leon Stanback, are aware of the injustice in the charges against Mangum and are in position to rectify them… however, by remaining silent, they are conspirators after the fact.
The fiasco surrounding the charges against Mangum would not be happening if Mike Nifong were the Durham district attorney. Mr. Nifong was a prosecutor of highest integrity who was professionally represented a paragon of a “minister of justice.” Prosecutors and politicians who allow innocent people to remain incarcerated for political reasons are lacking in integrity and morals.
Crystal Mangum has been incarcerated 441 days as of today… a victim of domestic abuse who stabbed Reginald Daye in self defense… a non-fatal stab wound to Daye, who died after elective removal from life support due to an unrelated botched medical procedure by Duke University Hospital staff… a victim of a trumped up larceny charge for cashier’s checks given to her by Daye; cashier’s checks she could not convert for her use; cashier’s checks which Daye retained value of despite lacking physical possession of the paper documents.
It is past time for the state to drop charges against Mangum and release her from jail so that she can reunite with her three young children who have suffered because of her absence in their lives. By dropping charges against Sheilda Harris and Sheila Moses, the state has shown its proficiency in destroying lives of innocent people by taking away years of their liberty. If the state has an ounce of compassion, humanity, ethics, or sense of true justice, it would immediately drop the bogus charges against Crystal Mangum and release her from custody.
Durham prosecutors need to face the fact that Mangum’s freedom is inevitable, and it needs to cut its losses by doing the right thing now, rather than later.