Monday, June 22, 2009

Web Site has a new look!

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong’s website,, has an exciting new look. Posted on Sunday, June 21, 2009, the site is much more interactive, and features tons of animation. The design features have also been altered to give it a cleaner look. Constructive criticism from our viewers suggested that the backgrounds, for example, were too busy and tended to distract from the pages themselves. Attention was also given to the colors used on the site to make them more neutral and coordinated. Last, but definitely not least, the web site was re-organized to make it easier to navigate. (Bloggers from some of the misguided blog sites, such as “Durham in Wonderland,” and “LieStoppers” found the previous site too challenging to operate. Now, even they should be able to find their way around this website.)

There are a few glitches with the site, as the Quiz page did not render as designed, but the fix should be easy to attain. Links on the site worked extremely well. The only drawback in bringing the site out as soon as we did, is that there are many pages and programs which are not ready for posting. The information is on file, but there has not been the time to make it available for posting. The Documents, Letters, and Profile programs are just a few of the examples where information has not yet been posted. Our staff is working around the clock to get those pages ready for publication as soon as possible.

Now that the fundamental work on the website has been completed and uploaded, more attention will be shifted to writing blogs and news articles, and, of course, working on “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper.”

As always, I appreciate any feedback that you may have regarding the website. Enter it on comments, or e-mail:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Response to Walt-in-Durham

I would like to thank all those who comment for their insightful and intelligent statements, especially Walt-in-Durham. It is my intention to get a discussion board soon on the web site (it is currently undergoing complete renovation to make it more interesting, more interactive, more entertaining, and easier to navigate) so that these interesting comments can be more widely viewed and provoke more involvement.

There are several issues brought up by Walt with which I strongly disagree. Foremost, I believe that Mr. Nifong’s handling of the Duke Lacrosse case was well within accepted standards practiced by prosecutors throughout the state, and I do not believe that anything that he said or did compromised their ability to get a fair trial. Furthermore, I believe that other prosecutors have conducted themselves far more egregiously. North Carolina prosecutors have destroyed key exculpatory evidence (Theodore Jerry Williams case), fabricated false confessions (Floyd Brown case), produced false eyewitnesses (James Arthur Johnson case), withheld crucial exculpatory evidence in obtaining a capital conviction (Alan Gell case), withheld key exculpatory evidence of possible murder weapon (Michael Peterson case), held people in jail for years on charges without probable cause (Gerardo Vilchez and Victor Hugo Lopez), and much more. Yet none of these prosecutors have been disciplined or disbarred. Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception. And it is this selective and excessively harsh treatment against Mr. Nifong that is the crux of our objection to his disbarment. Discipline of state prosecutors should be equally applied by the State Bar, not selectively. And if all of the prosecutors were held to the standards used to disbar Mr. Nifong, then 95% of the prosecutors in North Carolina would be disbarred.

With regards to my ascertain that the prosecutors, police and media whipped up a frenzy against James Arthur Johnson, Walt-in-Durham attributes Mr. Nifong’s statements to the media about the Duke Lacrosse case to be equally as detrimental to the defendants. I disagree on several fronts because the cases are not that comparable. In the James Arthur Johnson case, it was Johnson who went to the Wilson Police department with information that solved the murder, kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery of Wilson teen Brittany Willis. Johnson had no part in the crime, and the Wilson investigators knew it. However, when James Johnson mentioned that he had wiped fingerprints off the victim’s car, the prosecutors felt they had a charge they could fall back on, and set about to implicate him in the crime. They did this by telling the killer, Kenneth Meeks, that his friend had snitched on him. As they expected, the angry young lad, then implicated James Johnson to get even with him for going to the police. The police then used this statement from the confessed killer as the sole reason for charging Johnson as an accomplice in the crime. Why would they go after Johnson even though they knew he was innocent? The answer is “transference.” Kenneth Meeks and James Johnson are both African Americans, and because one African American lad commits a heinous crime, the urge on the part of police and prosecutors is to punish as many African American boys as possible, without regard to their innocence or guilt. The Wilson Police and prosecutors knew Johnson was innocent, but they tried to convict him and sentence him to death anyway. UNC School of Law Professor Rich Rosen speaks about this specifically in his article “Framing an innocent man: Prosecutor in Johnson case demonstrated racial discrimination.” Something similar happened in the Eve Carson murder. After two young African American boys were arrested and charged with the murder, Governor Mike Easley offered a $10,000.00 reward for anyone who may have had contact with them, using a charge of “accessory after the fact.” It was as if they were trawling for other young African Americans to punish in order to help quench their rage.

The Wilson Police and prosecutors, in arresting Johnson, knew that he was innocent, but persisted, even though he had helped solve the crime. Their reasoning is as follows: Johnson and Meeks kidnapped Brittany, Johnson kills Brittany, then after the family and friends offer a $20,000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator Johnson goes to the police to turn in his accomplice for the crime so that he could collect the reward. Although there is no evidence linking Johnson to the crime, the police and prosecutors by their statements to the public and their actions lead the people of Wilson to believe Johnson was involved in the crime. The media does not question in their editorial or opinion pages why the police would arrest the young man who solved the crime, and they do not question why he did not receive the reward which he had earned.

Had the police, prosecutors and media acted responsibly, James Arthur Johnson would have been considered by the townspeople as being a hero for going against the “no snitch rule” of the streets, held out as a role model to other young black youth, and received the $20,000.00 reward from a grateful Willis family. Instead, he spent 39 months incarcerated, awaiting trial while the prosecutor tried to force him to accept a plea deal. The prosecutor knowing they couldn’t go to trial once Kenneth Meeks recanted his statements which implicated Johnson, then arranged for two eyewitnesses with links to the Wilson Police Department. When Reverend Barber got involved, they had to shelve that and move forward with Johnson’s act of wiping fingerprints off the car. So, they arranged for Belinda Foster to come in as a special prosecutor, drop the charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery (which they knew they couldn’t win), and charged him with “accessory after the fact.” After wasting a considerable amount of taxpayer money with a private sector special prosecutor, Johnson finally accepted an Alford plea to a charge of waiting three days before telling police about his knowledge of a crime. A great injustice caused by gross prosecutorial misconduct, but the Wilson prosecutors are protected by the attorney general, the State Bar, and the media.

The Duke Lacrosse case is much different because the defendants were all present at the party on that fateful evening in March 2006. The defendants were identified by the victim/accuser with 80-100% positive identification. The Duke lacrosse team, in particular, had been known for its raucous parties in the past, and the lacrosse coach had been warned beforehand to rein in his party-going team members. The raucous party of March 2006 was living up to its well-deserved reputation, with drugs, booze, under-aged drinking, and hired strippers when the alleged assault took place. When, the victim/accuser left the party, racial epithets were also alleged to have been hurled at the African American accuser.

Eyewitness identification alone is often grounds used by North Carolina prosecutors to bring sexual assault charges against an individual, even lacking the presence of any physical evidence. Ronald Cotton, an African American male who was picked up off the street and placed in a line up, was identified by a female rape victim as her assailant. After serving a decade or so in jail he was released when exonerated by DNA evidence. Dwayne Dail, was identified by a twelve year old sexual assault victim who believed that she recognized him in a supermarket. Without evidence tying him to the crime, he was convicted and spent nearly two decades in jail before being released by DNA evidence. In these two cases the accuser/victims with absolute certainty got the identification of the assailant wrong, however, the prosecutors prosecuting the cases were not hauled before the North Carolina State Bar, disciplined or disbarred. Nor were the prosecutors’ names dragged through the mud by the media. Finally, the prosecutors were not ostracized by the public. In relying on the victim/accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case, Mr. Nifong was well within the prosecutorial standards of North Carolina prosecutors in charging the three defendants with crimes, as he did.

Now, some may say, as you, Walt, that nothing untoward took place that March evening in 2006... that the complaint lodged by the alleged victim/accuser was nothing more than a hoax. I presume this belief is based on the fact that the State Bureau of Investigation, under Attorney General Roy Cooper investigated and found that no crime had been committed. My response to that is, how can one have credence in anything the SBI says after it investigated the injuries sustained by inmate Timothy Helms while in solitary confinement, and can’t figure out how he sustained two skull fractures (leaving him a quadriplegic) and welts over his torso consistent with those made by billy clubs. No charges were filed against the correctional officers who had contact with Mr. Helms, however, Mr. Helms was charged with setting a fire and destroying state property.

The truth is that we will never know what happened that night in the house on Buchanan Street because the Attorney General took over the investigation, and essentially quashed it. Like others, especially those more familiar with the case than I am, I agree that some wrongdoing took place against the victim at the Duke lacrosse party. The exact nature of the crime(s) I am unsure. But what I am certain of is that Mr. Mike Nifong conducted himself with acceptable standards of prosecutors throughout the state, which makes his selective disbarment all the more outrageous.

I am not exactly certain why the media, locally, nationally, and worldwide, latched onto the Duke Lacrosse case. However, the media chose to zero in on the Duke Lacrosse case, and a slew of reporters were sent to the Bull City to cover it. Mr. Nifong was merely attempting to cooperate with the news media by giving interviews, from what I can tell. I do not recollect any statements he made which were so inflammatory that it would assure a conviction. In my opinion, a jury that is seated for a trial will base its verdict on the evidence that is presented, and not rely on statements made in a television interview. I have confidence in North Carolinians to be more responsible when placed in a position to decide the fate of a defendant. I believe pre-trial interviews by both defendants and prosecutors are far over-hyped in importance… especially in the Duke Lacrosse case. But whether in the Duke Lacrosse case, the James Johnson case, or any other case, once an individual is charged with a crime, he/she is automatically perceived by the public to be guilty, for why else would they be charged in the first place? So any pre-trial statements made by attorneys do not convey the weight of importance as is being suggested in the Duke Lacrosse case.

In summation, the willful charges and actions against James Johnson by prosecutors who knew of his innocence in crimes against Brittany Willis, along with unbalanced coverage by the media, were responsible for turning James Johnson from a hero to a villain, and dividing the town along racial lines. On the other hand, charges entered against the three defendants in the Duke Lacrosse case by Mr. Nifong, were made in good faith, and based, in part, upon statements made by the victim/accuser. It was the media, not Mr. Nifong, who stirred up the public, again, with its unbalanced reporting. If anything, Mr. Nifong can be sited for trying to cooperate with the media by responding straight forwardly and honestly to all of their questions. In the final analysis, the media whipped up a frenzy against defendant James Arthur Johnson, whereas they whipped up a frenzy against prosecutor Mike Nifong in the Duke Lacrosse case. Selectively and unjustly in both instances.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Willis nightmare should have ended five years ago

Buried in the B section of the June 3, 2009 issue of the “News & Observer” is a story reprinted from the “Wilson Daily Times” titled “Third man sentenced in slaying.” Sentenced for WHAT? Just like James Arthur Johnson, the second man involved in the Brittany Willis murder, kidnapping, rape, armed robbery case, the third man, Julian Tyson Deans, entered an Alford plea and was sentenced to 45 days in jail. That sentence, like Johnson’s, was suspended with a prayer for judgment continued (meaning that he would not have to serve the sentence). Although Julian Deans accompanied James Johnson when he went to police to give information leading to the arrest of the crime’s perpetrator, he was convicted of misdemeanor obstruction of justice because he was evidently present when the murderer hid the murder weapon, and because the murderer confessed to him. The murderer, Kenneth Meeks, who was immediately apprehended after Johnson and Deans went to police, was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole (at the time he committed the crime he was too young to receive the death penalty).

According to FOX TV’s special news program “NC’s Most Wanted,” there was yet another person who knew that the crimes against Ms. Willis were committed by Kenneth Meeks. Of the three young men who knew about the Willis murder at the hands of Meeks, he was the only one who did not go to the police. He elected to abide by the “no-snitch” rule of the street, and kept what he knew about the crime to himself. As a result, he was the only one who was not arrested, did not spend time in jail, and does not subsequently have a criminal record related to the crime.

The lead paragraph of the newspaper article reads, “The family and friends of murder victim Brittany Willis can close one chapter of their five-year nightmare.” The fact is that that chapter should have been closed five years ago with the arrest of the killer, Kenneth Meeks. James Arthur Johnson and Julian Tyson Deans had absolutely no involvement in the crimes against Ms. Willis, and were responsible for solving the crimes against her. Without their involvement and going to police with information, it is unlikely that the real perpetrator of the crimes would have ever been brought to justice. Wilson Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe, the Wilson police chief, and the media are responsible for whipping up a public frenzy against Johnson and Deans, and turning them from heroes into villains. The Wilson prosecutors and media are the ones responsible for extending this nightmarish chapter for the Willis family members. The Wilson prosecutors and media are responsible for teaching poor, disenfranchised, and youths of color that when it comes to crime, it is usually best to follow the “no-snitch” rule, because fulfilling one’s civic duty can come at an outrageously unjust cost.

The issue in the Willis case that no one in the media or legal fields wants to address is the $20,000.00 reward offered by the friends and family of Brittany Willis. James Johnson earned the reward money, and it should have been paid to him long ago. It has long since been determined that he had no involvement with the crimes against Brittany Willis. The ridiculous conviction of “not immediately going to the police with information about the commission of a felony” should not be a disqualifier for the reward. The family and friends of Brittany Willis may have offered the reward in good faith, but I have no doubt that the actions of the state and media played in role in their decision to renege on their offer.

And, finally, the Alford plea has once again been used to help “vindicate” Prosecutor Bill Wolfe for his decisions to charge Johnson with murder, rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and Julian Deans with accessory after the fact. Any time a defendant enters an Alford plea, you can bet that the state has absolutely no case against him/her, and that the state is offering it only as a face-saving measure. If the prosecutors had a case against Johnson or Deans, they would have pursued it.

The handling of the Brittany Willis case, in an ideal world where justice always prevailed, there would have been a totally different outcome follow Johnson’s visit to the Wilson police. Meeks would have been arrested and convicted, but Johnson and Deans would have been treated as heroes for going against the “no-snitch” rule. They would have received the reward that was offered for solving the crime, and held out as role models for other young people. Instead, in today’s harsh reality, the youth are much more inclined to follow the “no-snitch” rule of the streets, be less cooperative with the police and investigators, and to fail to respond to reward incentives offered to help solve crimes.

The prosecutors, police, and media, with respect to the Willis case, have greatly contributed to the selective criminal justice nightmare with which North Carolinians are now forced to live.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Abusive staff at psychiatric hospitals are good recruits for police and Department of Corrections

The May 30, 2009 “News & Observer” article titled “Retrial bad news for former Cherry workers,” was very insightful. It told how two male employees at Cherry Hospital, a state psychiatric facility, beat up a thirty year old handicapped man, punching him and kicking him in the head and torso for about three minutes. The assault was witnessed by two female health care technicians who the assailants tried to coerce into remaining silent. At an initial trial, the two were convicted of misdemeanor assault and sentenced to four weekends in jail and 50 hours of community service by a Wayne County judge. They decided to appeal their case before a jury trial and were again convicted, but with a harsher sentence: 60 days in jail, $250.00 fine, and accumulated fees for their court appointed attorneys.

Decent, civilized people of good conscience do not condone the brutal behavior of the employees. However, the article by N&O staff write Michael Biesecker did point out that of 192 cases in 2008, in which internal hospital investigations confirmed that patients were abused by hospital staff, in fewer than 13% of those cases were employees charged with crimes. The article stated that many of these individuals who assaulted patients were allowed to quietly resign or transfer to other government jobs, sometimes as police officers or prison guards. For these people, who are no more than thugs, the police force is the last place they should be allowed to work. It should be an automatic disqualifier.

I guess the rationale for allowing abusive brutes to work as correctional officers is that the people do not care if prisoners (especially those who are poor, disenfranchised, and people of color) are soundly beaten and abused. It certainly would give credence to the severe beating that Timothy Helms sustained while in solitary confinement. (Although Department of Corrections Secretary Alvin W. Keller, Jr. believes Helms sustained two skull fractures and welts over his body, consistent with billy clubs, secondary to falling and hitting his head on the concrete floor.)

The procedure of allowing state employed wrong-doers to quietly resign was evidently offered to an unidentified corrections officer who sprayed pepper foam on quadriplegic Timothy Helms for his refusal to stop banging on a door and cursing. However, since the DOC is withholding the officer’s identity, it is not possible to confirm that any disciplinary action has been, or will be taken.

The article stated that local prosecutors were often reluctant to take cases of assault and abuse to trial, but it did not offer a reason for this reluctance. Maybe it has to do with difficulty in finding someone to fill the position of employees at mental health facilities, or maybe the empathy of the public towards people with mental illness is not much greater than that for inmates.

In an attempt to appear engaged, Attorney General Roy Cooper issued a statement saying his office would continue (implying that it currently is) to pursue state hospital employees who abuse those in their care. State psychiatric patients are not the only ones who are threatened with physical abuse by staff in state facilities. The inmates in the North Carolina prisons are, as well. The attorney general made no statement about the torture and abuse the inmates suffer at the hands of correctional officers. Attorney General Cooper issued no statement about the beating Timothy Helms suffered and the delay in seeking treatment which resulted in quadriplegia. Maybe that is because, like DOC Secretary Keller, he believes that Mr. Helms fell and injured himself. Besides, after an intensive investigation, the State Bureau of Investigation, with all of its state-of-the-art forensics assisted acumen, was unable to determine how Mr. Helms received the two skull fractures and multiple welts to his body (consistent with billy clubs) while in solitary confinement.

Because of the lack of commitment by the state to see that inmates are treated humanely and with respect, heavy-handed attacks, not unlike those against Timothy Helms, Theodore Jerry Williams, and others, will unfortunately persist.