Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Ho-hum. Another day, another convict removed from death row, and another NC prosecutor withholding exculpatory evidence.

Cases of egregious prosecutorial misconduct and convicts being removed from death row in North Carolina have become so commonplace that they barely warrant space on the front page of the “News & Observer.” In Tuesday, November 25, 2008 edition of that newspaper, the article “Judge’s order moves man off death row” barely made the front page, beneath the fold at the bottom of the page. The two articles deemed more newsworthy and that occupied the headlines above the fold were: “Food donations fail to meet greater need,” and an AP article titled, “Boldly hewing to the center: Obama’s team is flexible, not radical.”

Ten years ago, a Halifax County jury sentenced Clinton Cebert Smith to death for allegedly poisoning his own daughter. His attorneys say that Smith, who can’t read or write, is severely retarded, with an IQ of 70, or below, and could not have dreamed up or carried out the plan to poison his daughter and others. Furthermore his attorneys state that the ruling to remove Smith from execution is another sign of his innocence. They contend that evidence has been hidden by the prosecutors from the defense, that an important prosecution witness gave inconsistent testimony, and that the initial defense team offered inadequate representation.

An expert witness, toxicologist Darrell Sumner of Wake Forest University faxed a letter to the original Halifax County prosecutor W. Robert Caudle II, in which he stated that he did not believe that there was sufficient poison to cause illness, much less death in the Smith case. Prosecutor Caudle withheld this exculpatory evidence from the defense team before and during Smith’s trial.

Special Deputy Attorney General Valerie Spaulding, who must have gotten IQ mixed up with GPA, states that Smith has borderline intellectual functioning. With a GPA, a score of 70 is a C average grade, however, that same score is equivalent to severe retardation when applied to an IQ score.

Like other recent cases of prosecutorial misconduct where prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence from defense attorneys, I do not expect the North Carolina State Bar or attorney general to take any action against them. In fact, they will go to extremes to protect them because the defendants they prosecuted were disenfranchised, of color, and/or retarded, unlike the Duke Lacrosse case where three students from families of wealth, status, and privilege faced charges by Durham prosecutor Mike Nifong. (Take, for example, the Floyd Brown case. He was held for 14 years without a trial, on a charge that was based on a false and fabricated confession attributed to Brown by the prosecutors.)

So, where is the justice when former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong is disbarred for allegedly withholding non-exculpatory evidence (unidentified male DNA found in a rape kit) that had absolutely no relevance in the Duke Lacrosse case?

State Superior Court Judge John R. Jolly, Jr. should be commended for doing the right thing and removing Mr. Smith from death row. It is high time that Attorney General Roy Cooper and the North Carolina State Bar do the right thing and re-instate Mike Nifong’s license to practice law, without restrictions, in the state of North Carolina. A heart-felt apology to Mr. Nifong would also be appropriate.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

If you make a mistake, just correct it.

I was heartened to read in today’s (November 22, 2008) “News & Observer” that Orange County Superior Court Judge Carl Fox reconsidered the maximum sentence of 30 years and 6 months that he had given to Michael Troy Lewis for his conviction of robbery involving three UNC-Chapel Hill football players. After giving it additional thought, Judge Fox came to the conclusion that the sentence he had given to Mr. Lewis was excessive, and he reduced the sentence to between approximately 17 and 22 years.

Unfortunately, this is but one of few instances where individuals in position of power and authority have, in essence, realized and admitted that they made a mistake, and took responsibility for it by correcting it. I applaud Judge Fox for doing the right thing.

The executive director of the North Carolina State Bar, Mr. L. Thomas Lunsford and North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper could learn a great deal from the example set by Honorable Judge Fox. They need to take responsibility for the excessively unjust disciplinary action meted out to former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong (disbarment), and correct their actions by re-instating, without conditions, Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state of North Carolina, without restrictions. (Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the NC State Bar since its inception.)

This corrective measure is long overdue, especially when one considers not only past prosecutorial misconduct by other prosecutors which is far more egregious than what Mr. Nifong has been accused of, but of more recent disclosures of serious prosecutorial misconduct. For example, in the November 13, 2008 “News & Observer,” an article by staff writer Anne Blythe revealed that prosecutors withheld from the defense attorneys of Michael Peterson information about a tire iron which had been found near the scene of the murder for which he was convicted. Prosecutors claimed that Mr. Peterson had beaten his wife to death with a fireplace poker, and yet they withheld information from the defense team of a possible murder weapon.

Withholding a possible murder weapon from defense attorneys is markedly more severe than withholding non-exculpatory information about multiple, un-identified DNA found in a rape kit exam, as occurred in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Furthermore, in keeping with its anti-Nifong policy reporter Blythe neglected to mention the names of the prosecutors who withheld that very important evidence. It is my understanding that former Durham District Attorney James Hardin (who has been elevated to a judge) and prosecutor Freda Black prosecuted the case against Mr. Peterson. However, because of the selective nature of North Carolina (based on Class and Color) I do not anticipate that either of them will be brought before the State Bar. Nor do I expect that they will be disbarred.

What I hope is that Mr. Lunsford and Attorney General Cooper would take a page from the Honorable Judge Carl Fox’s book by realizing the errors of their ways, and taking immediate action to correct them. This would amount to the NC State Bar's re-instatement of Mr. Mike Nifong’s license to practice law.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

N & O editorials continue to skirt the real issue: the state’s tenet of "selective justice based on Class and Color."

In the Sunday, November 9, 2008 issue of the News & Observer, the paper’s editorial staff wrote a piece titled " ‘Free’ hate." The article, was at best, a tepid response to inaction taken against four North Carolina State University students who "have admitted painting racist and life-threatening graffiti pertaining to President-elect Obama…" The defense of the four seems to be that they wrote the hateful statements on a wall that was suppose to have graffiti on it. In other words, it is one’s first amendment right to paint threatening and racist remarks on a "graffiti" wall, as readers of the editorial are led to believe. If that is the case, why paint over it? Or, maybe the university could designate a special wall just for "hate speech."

The problem, of course, lies much deeper than what appears on the surface. The core of the North Carolina justice system is based on the tenet of "selective justice based on Class and Color." Such a system encourages the despicable actions of the four students. What those students learned when they were not charged with a crime for threatening the life of the PRESIDENT-ELECT (and using the "n-word" in the process), is that in North Carolina, under head prosecutor Roy Cooper (the attorney general), class and color matter.

The News & Observer, which lionizes the late Senator Jesse Helms (referring to him as an "iconic statesman who spoke his mind"), could take a major step in challenging this state’s selective justice system, but it has opted not to do so. I, personally, have challenged the editorial staff to speak up about the injustice against former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, but they refuse to do so, or give me a reason for their refusal. The newspaper refuses to participate in a questionnaire about the Duke Lacrosse case, for fear that their responses would be favorable to Mr. Nifong. The newspaper’s editorial staff and columnists, refuse to broach the subject, which screams of injustice. How is it possible for Mr. Nifong to be the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception? Especially when other prosecutors, such as Anson County prosecutor Michael Parker used a fabricated confession to charge a mentally retarded African American man (Floyd Brown) with murder (and no physical evidence linking Brown to the crime), and then had him incarcerated for fourteen years without a trial. Mr. Nifong, on the other hand worked for 27 years as a North Carolina state prosecutor under the principle of "equal justice for all." An honorable, Christian family man, he was recommended to fill the Durham district attorney position because of his stellar reputation. However, because Mr. Nifong did not abide by Duke University’s game plan, and proceeded to charge three Duke athletes from families of wealth, status, and privilege, he has been unjustly and severely persecuted and punished by the attorney general and others in order to send a message to other prosecutors.

The message that the state wants to send to its prosecutors is that the state will go out of its way to protect them as long as they follow the "Selective Justice Tenet." The most recent example is the extreme measures undertaken to shield Wilson Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe from a "prosecutorial misconduct" complaint lodged with the State Bar by the NAACP. Despite the current financial crisis that has consumed the nation and this state, no one in the state’s justice department or media (including the News & Observer) is concerned about taxpayer money that is being wasted (in the hiring of private sector prosecutor David McFadyen) to vilify the hero James Arthur Johnson. The News & Observer will not even speak up about how the family and friends of Brittany Willis reneged on the $20,000.00 reward that James Johnson earned by leading Wilson police to the perpetrator, who has confessed. James Johnson was wrongly incarcerated for 39 months, and yet he has not been proclaimed "innocent" by the attorney general. Governor Mike Easley has no problem with spending nine million dollars ($9,000,000.00) for a new jet for the state, but yet he refuses to pay a paltry $20,000.00 per year for the wrongly incarcerated disenfranchised, "underprivileged" and people of color.

The problems with the justice system of North Carolina emanate from its tenet of "selective justice based on Class and Color" and at the heart of the injustice is the horrendous treatment of Mike Nifong. The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong believes that the state of North Carolina should be held accountable for its errors and that at the minimum, Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state of North Carolina should be re-instated.

For some time I have been trying to find out what view the editorial staff of the News & Observer has regarding the aforementioned issues. They have essentially elected to remain silent and ignore me, but by doing so, they are making a mockery of their pledge to be "the tocsin and to devote itself to the policies of equality and justice to the underprivileged."

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Why the "Duke Lacrosse Decision" ad?

Attorney General Roy Cooper, in his re-election television ad, cites "The Duke Lacrosse Decision" prominently, then talks about how the law enforcement lab uses its findings to prove innocence as well as guilt. Instead of promoting the Duke Lacrosse Case, a more accurate ad would have featured the "Erick Daniels Decision," "Floyd Brown Decision," "Charles Munsey Decision," "Alan Gell Decision," "James Arthur Johnson Decision," or other decisions under Attorney General Cooper's watch where the innocent North Carolinians (who were disenfranchised, poor, and mostly of color) were convicted due to severe acts of prosecutorial misconduct. Unlike the defendants in the Duke Lacrosse Decision who did not spend one day in jail, these innocent citizens spent years in custody (some on death row) for crimes they did not commit. Unlike the defendants in the Duke Lacrosse Decision who were proclaimed "innocent" by the attorney general, these victims (who truly suffered) have received no such proclamation.
Unlike the prosecutor in the Duke Lacrosse Decision who was disbarred, fired, forced to serve time in jail, and an unsuccessful attempt was made by Roy Cooper to have the federal government investigate the prosecutor for violating the civil rights of the lacrosse defendants, the prosecutors of the other cases received no disciplinary action or a slap on the wrist at best.

When it comes to social justice and the concept "equal justice for all," Attorney General Cooper does not have an admirable record. If I were his campaign manager I would try to suppress it by not even bringing up the "Duke Lacrosse Decision." But then again, maybe he feels that a tenet of "selective justice based on Class and Color" is what the North Carolinian voting public wants.