Friday, October 30, 2009

Defense Attorney Johnny S. Gaskins deserves leniency

Raleigh criminal defense attorney Johnny S. Gaskins could be facing jail time himself, according to an article in the News & Observer by Mandy Locke. Her story titled, “Lawyer’s career ends in crime,” explains how his attempts to deposit large sums just under the amount that triggers banks to file reports to the IRS, resulted in a conviction that could land him in prison for up to 35 years. Also he stands to lose his license to practice law in North Carolina.

When considering that Mr. Gaskins reported to the IRS the deposits he made, and paid tax on the total amount, makes it clear that his attempts to shield his large deposits were not made with the intention of evading the payment of taxes. His explanation of his reasons for making large deposits, just under $10,000, sounds reasonable to me. His comment that he does not trust banks, also sounds reasonable, especially in lieu of the high risk investment policies they engage in, and the large salaries and bonuses the upper tier enjoys.

Now, I am no fan of Mr. Gaskins, especially in light of his actions regarding his former client James Arthur Johnson. On a broadly broadcast Fox-50 TV news program, Mr. Gaskins made inflammatory and prejudicial statements about Johnson which decidedly undermined Johnson’s likelihood of prevailing in an upcoming trial against charges trumped up by Wilson District Attorney Howard S. Boney, prosecutor Bill Wolfe, and others. Because of his actions then, which I believe deserved a disciplinary response from the North Carolina State Bar, I filed a complaint with the State Bar (which I am sure that it ignored). I even incorporated Mr. Gaskins’s misfortunes in Episode IV of “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper,” but in a light hearted and non-malicious way, of course. Although I believe Mr. Gaskins’s statements against his former client were a serious breach of attorney client privilege, I do not feel that they were necessarily grounds for disbarment.

Because he tried to deceive bank tellers by making repeated deposits of just under $10,000 at a time, does not merit disbarment by the State Bar, especially when his intent was obviously not to defraud the IRS. Unfortunately, in our capitalistic society, when it comes to money, the consequences for violations are much greater than for violations of injustice towards human beings.

Did Johnny S. Gaskins violate federal law with his depository dealings? Yes. Should his sentence be severe? No. I would definitely rule out any jail time. Some community service might be appropriate. Finally, should he be forced to surrender his law license? Absolutely not. If the unregulated State Bar were to disbar him, it would be an unfair, illogical, and insensitive action. With its 2007 disbarment of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong, the Bar has already demonstrated its capacity to act without reason, justice, consistency, and mercy. Hopefully it will not make another mistake regarding Johnny Gaskins.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Staples Hughes calls out media bias

In the People’s Forum of today’s (October 27, 2009) News & Observer, there is a letter from Appellate Defender Staples Hughes titled “Trumped-up danger." The open letter reinforces what the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has longed complained about… the media bias. He accurately points out how the most subtle change in a headline or article can have monumental influence on how the public perceives the message delivered.

In referring to the imminent release of twenty-some inmates who have served their life sentences (as defined by the General Assembly years ago), Attorney Hughes makes the following statement: “The governor (Bev Perdue) distracts the public from the real problems facing North Carolina. The attorney general, having lost in our cautious and conservative appellate courts, pressures the next elected Superior Court judge before whom the Bowden case comes to make decisions based not on the law, but on the headlines. The strategy would be quaint were it not so irresponsible and dismissive of the rule of law.” Staples Hughes is right on with his assessment.

Manipulation of the media was never used as successfully as it was in the persecution of former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. The prosecutor of the Duke Lacrosse case, Mike Nifong, who was for nearly three decades a conscientious public servant of the highest professional integrity, was blatantly and falsely painted by the media, locally and nationally, as an unethical monster eager to destroy the vulnerable and innocent Duke Lacrosse defendants. Nothing could be further from the truth. However the media has much sway, as is evidenced by its successfully ambitious campaign to malign and destroy Mr. Nifong in the public view.

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong applauds Attorney Staples Hughes for his courageous statements in the interests of justice. He serves as a true role model for attorneys and laypeople who believe in equal justice for all and the rule of law.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Governor Perdue and other State officials will try to circumvent the law regarding prisoner release

Laws and the ability for the government and the people to abide by them define the society in which we live. Recently North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue and other officials stated that they would try and find a way to prevent the release of twenty prisoners the judicial court system stated should be freed. These prisoners who had been convicted of serious crimes and sentenced to life sentences, benefited from laws passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in the 1970’s which first defined a “life” term as 80 years, then halved all sentences. The Court of Appeals, in reaching its 2008 decision to free the inmates sentenced to life, was merely enforcing the law, and on October 9, 2009, the Supreme Court refused to reverse it.

Many individuals are angry and upset with this turn of events, but that hostility should not be directed to the convicts or the state’s judicial system, which acted appropriately in following the law. Members of the 1970’s General Assembly who passed the laws are the ones who should be held accountable for not having the foresight to predict the untoward outcome.

The important issue, however, is that all people, including elected officials, display a respect for the law, even when it favors the poor, disenfranchised, people of color, and even law-breakers. To try and find a way around the law and continue punishment which has been set aside is disingenuous and mocks the very foundation of our justice system… which in North Carolina is already selective and unjust based on Class and Color.

Governor Perdue publicly expressed that she was appalled at the Court’s decision and stated that she would try and find a way to keep the locked up. Attorney Staples Hughes put Perdue’s pronouncement into perspective when he stated, “Anybody that wants to live in a place where the sovereign or the dictator can decide after 30 years… ‘Well, you need more [time behind prison]’… can move to Somalia, Myanmar, and North Korea.”

Even the Opinion/Editorial page of the News & Observer, in its Sunday, October 18, 2009 column, titled “Out and about,” sided with the Court of Appeals, and not Governor Perdue who wants to keep the twenty, deemed to be entitled to freedom under the law, incarcerated in violation of law. The Executive Director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services Thomas Maher, perhaps put it best when he stated: “These inmates were punished because they didn’t abide by the law. Well, we should provide equal respect for the law and expect it to be applied fairly to these inmates.”

This unexpected and unpopular justice system episode exposes an unhealthy disrespect for the law by the very individual in the state who welds the most power. This, in a true democracy and a society based on the rule of law, is unacceptable. What is particularly troublesome is that this disrespect for the rule of law can be applied to other judicial decisions that do not curry favor with the people or the politicians.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Withholding evidence and a rush to judgment… Nifong or Ford-Willoughby?

On the front page of Wednesday, October 14, 2009 News & Observer is the following article by staff writer Mandy Locke, “I killed dozens, inmate claims: Serial confessor clouds N.C. case.” This article covers claims made by inmate Craig Taylor that among many of the victims he claims to have murdered is Jacquetta Thomas; the murder victim for whom another inmate, Greg Taylor is serving time (already sixteen years in custody).

The N.C. Innocence Inquiry Commission, a watchdog agency to review cases of possible wrongful convictions, heard the case of Greg Taylor, including the confession by Craig Taylor. Based on that, along with the debunking of other evidence used to convict him (which mainly consisted of testimony from a prostitute and jailhouse snitch), lack of physical evidence tying him to the crime, the Commission unanimously voted that Gregory Taylor was innocent of the murder of Ms. Thomas.

After the Commission verdict was made public, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said he would not dismiss charges against Greg Taylor because of confessor Craig Taylor’s penchant for making false confessions. D.A. Willoughby cited numerous examples of confessions made by the man, some which were dubious, some unlikely, and others which were impossible (including an Alan Gell-like scenario in which he was incarcerated at the time of a 2000 murder of a Wake County man). However, despite court orders to obtain all of Craig Taylor’s prison records and all information related to the Thomas murder, the prosecutors did not hand over this significant evidence to the Commission for its consideration.

As in the Alan Gell case, D.A. Willoughby withheld evidence from the Commission. Although the unregulated North Carolina State Bar accused former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong of withholding exculpatory evidence (which he didn’t and it wasn’t), and although that secretive and mysterious agency is planning a December 17th disciplinary hearing for Johnston County Prosecutor Gregory C. Butler for withholding evidence from the defense team (which he didn’t), the blatant violation by D.A. Willoughby is ignored by the state and media alike… there is no outrage.

While being interviewed by a television news reporter, Willoughby had the audacity to mention Mike Nifong and his “rush to judgment.” That Johnnie Cochran coined phrase is very vague and has no bearing in the Duke Lacrosse case; but it is applicable in the Greg Taylor case. A law professor who specializes in false confessions stated Craig’s confession to the Thomas murder was “plausible, even likely.” The expert witness went on to say, “The simple fact is [Craig Taylor] was able to provide details about this crime that were never released to the press. An innocent person would be hard pressed to know that kind of information.” That is an excellent point, and D.A. Willoughby would be hard pressed to provide an explanation that would be convincing to objective people of reason.

What is particularly troubling is the fact that D.A. Willoughby would much rather keep an innocent man incarcerated, and release a probable murderer, than admit a “rush to judgment” in the Greg Taylor case. The D.A.’s position appears to be that since Craig Taylor made many false confessions in the past, his confession about the murder of Jacquetta Thomas should not be taken seriously. Or, to put it another way, a person who falsely confesses to murders he/she didn’t commit, is incapable of committing a murder.

It is of interest to note that in the article, the name of Greg Taylor’s prosecutor (Wake County Assistant District Attorney Tom Ford) is mentioned only once, as co-author of a motion to a panel of Superior Court judges arguing against the release of Greg Taylor. Ford, who convicted Greg Taylor despite lack of forensic findings and based solely on testimony of a prostitute and a jailhouse snitch (who received favorable compensation for his courtroom statements), was never identified as the prosecutor in the article. In doing so, this article is in compliance with the publication’s unspoken policy of protecting all prosecutors, except Mike Nifong, from negative and untoward press… a policy in affect with local and national media.

A careful an objective analysis of the situation will find that Wake County D.A. Colon Willoughby’s and Assistant D.A. Tom Ford’s statements and actions are hypocritical in that they withheld evidence despite a court order, not Mr. Nifong, and they rushed to judgment in prosecuting and insisting on Greg Taylor’s guilt in the Jacquetta Thomas murder, not Mr. Nifong in his prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse defendants.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

“No snitch” rule of athletic competitors

Recently the News & Observer newspaper printed an article in which law enforcement authorities were bemoaning the “no snitch” rule of the streets as hampering their investigations into crime. Yes, it is a problem, but as explained previously in depth at this blog site, it is a problem that has been exacerbated by the short-sighted, inept, and discriminatory actions of the Wilson Police Department and its prosecutors in the merit-less criminal case against James Arthur Johnson.

“No snitch” rules, however, are not confined to inner-city streets. They are, no doubt, prevalent throughout our society, and assist in corruption in all levels of society and government. The thin blue line is notorious for its “no snitch” rule, which interferes with investigations of corruption within the ranks of America’s finest. But perhaps nowhere is the “no snitch” rule as strong and as closely adhered to as it is in athletic team sports. First, there is an overwhelming camaraderie that bonds team participants, both on and off the field. Secondly, teammates depend upon one another for their individual and overall success. For example, a lineman on a football field may not block effectively for a running back with whom he might hold a grudge, or a teammate on the basketball court might not get the ball as often if the other members are at odds with him. Universally, most teams, especially the successful ones, are a close knit band of brothers waging war on the field, court, or diamond against a common opponent.

In the Duke Lacrosse case, the majority of partygoers on the night of March 13, 2006, at the house on Buchanan Street in Durham, were members of the highly ranked Duke lacrosse team. They were socializing, as a team in an atmosphere in which their rowdy behavior was not only accepted, but expected. Previous parties had gotten so out of control that the coach of the team, Mike Pressler, had been instructed by the Duke University president Richard Brodhead to rein in his players and their notoriously raucous parties. Caution was thrown to the wind by the lacrosse players and their guests that March night, where booze and drugs diminished what little common sense they possessed and led to the alleged deplorable actions involving an African American psychology student who was performing as an exotic dancer to help support her two children and pay for her education at North Carolina Central University.

When the charges of sexual abuse at the party were leveled and an investigation begun, Duke lacrosse player partygoers huddled, like they would on the field, and went into a defensive mode. They would, without a doubt, present a united front against their common foe, the accuser. If any one of the players were to act individually, and honestly give information about what transpired at the party to the police investigators, there is no doubt that he could kiss his position on the team (with national championship aspirations) good bye. Further, he would be ostracized by his former teammates, the student body, the powerful alumni, and the community. There is no telling the extent of retribution such an individual would face, especially if his testimony resulted in the conviction of his fellow teammate(s).

This is what former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong and the Durham Police Department faced when they began their investigation. Obtaining a party-going witness who was not under the yoke of the team’s “no snitch” rule was an impossible challenge. But if successful, it would give a tremendous boost to the investigation and possibly the prosecution of the case. Because team members would not come forth voluntarily for interviews at the request of the police and investigators, Mr. Nifong tried to appeal to the conscience of the lacrosse partygoer… to appeal to their better angels. He made several statements to the media which were obviously intended to encourage individual witnesses to come forward. Statements, which were mild in tenor, were attempts to cajole, goad, persuade, and even threaten to get witnesses to come forward. The “no snitch” rule of team athletic competitors held strong, and no investigatory breakthrough was forthcoming.

These statements, made prior to any indictments being handed down, and not directed at any one individual, were one of three underpinnings used to bring the cockamamie ethics complaint against Mr. Nifong. The other two merit-less charges brought against Mr. Nifong by the unregulated North Carolina State Bar were that he: 1) withheld evidence from the defense attorneys… which is an outright lie; and 2) lied to the courts… a charge, which itself is a lie.

So, the “no snitch” rule is of relevance when applied to ordinary citizens when it comes to the investigation of a street crime; however, if the witnesses are members of the Duke lacrosse team in which one or more of their teammates may be implicated, then their silence is not a factor. Such is the North Carolina tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Attorney General’s Office yields to reason and logic… for a change

According to the Wednesday, October 14, 2009 News & Observer, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office has decided it would not appeal a Superior Court judge’s decision that June Atkinson the state superintendent of public instruction, has the legal authority to run the state education agency. This is a dramatic turnaround from the position it took immediately after the judge’s ruling, which was that it intended to appeal.

No explanation was given by the A.G.O. spokeswoman Noelle Talley for the dramatic change, but it is a decision that is welcomed by most North Carolinians, as the A.G.O. has in the past wasted time, money and resources appealing many cases and prosecuting cases that defied such attention. Retrying Alan Gell, after exculpatory evidence was unearthed, immediately comes to mind. The unsuccessful appeal to the Court of Appeals seeking not to have the case against Theodore Jerry Williams dropped after prosecutors admitted to destroying evidence invaluable to a case trumped up by police, is yet another. Possibly one of the biggest blights on the A.G.O.’s record is its successful appeal to deny a new trial to Michael Peterson, the novelist who was convicted with the aid of prosecutors withholding the existence of the probable murder weapon from defense attorneys.

The A.G.O. yielded to logic and reason… the logic and reason of Governor Bev Perdue and school board chairman Bill Harrison. The governor realized that her blatant power-grab was destined to fail after the judge’s decision against her, and when it became known to the public that the newly created position to usurp the authority of the publicly elected superintendent of public instruction (June Atkinson) would cost taxpayers an additional quarter of a million dollars a year (more than double that of Ms. Atkinson) to pay the salary of the “school CEO.” Bill Harrison realized his blatant money-grab was doomed when his excessive salary was made public, and he began back-peddling to appear as gracious and conciliatory as possible.

Without the two aforementioned underpinnings of support, based on logic, reason, and reality, Attorney General Roy Cooper backed off his earlier posturing to appeal, and silently changed course. His decision was evidently made last month, but not publicized until today, October 14th.

It would be in the best interests of the residents of the state, and the Attorney General’s Office, itself, if the attorney general would utilize logic and reason within the context of reality before threatening to appeal a decision with which he disagrees, or to re-try a case when so ordered by an appeals court.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Authorities contribute to “no snitching” culture

In the Monday, October 12, 2009 issue of the News & Observer is an article titled “Police fight culture of ‘no snitching’: Witnesses in many areas are reluctant to furnish information, making law enforcement harder.” Is it any wonder that witnesses are reluctant to go to police after what happened to Wilson teen James Arthur Johnson in the Brittany Willis case?

In 2004, James Arthur Johnson was a well-liked African American teenage student and soccer standout who had no police record and had managed to steer clear of trouble. An acquaintance of a few months, Kenneth Meeks, an African American teen younger than James, confided to James that he had murdered Brittany Willis, and he then drove Johnson to the site where he had left the body. For a couple of days, James deliberated about divulging the heinous secret, while the murder case garnered prominent news coverage and the family and friends of Brittany Willis placed a $20,000.00 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her killer. Finally, James relayed to his father what Kenneth had done, and his father took him immediately to the police station… without an attorney. After hearing from James, Wilson police arrested Kenneth Meeks, placed him in jail, and charged him with murder. During interrogations, the police told Meeks that his friend Johnson had “snitched” on him. This made Meeks angry, whereupon he then implicated Johnson as an accomplice and the triggerman in the murder. Without physical evidence linking Johnson to the crime and relying only on the word of the confessed criminal, police arrested James Arthur Johnson and charged him with murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery. In doing so, Wilson prosecutor Bill Wolfe, and Wilson authorities not only passed up a golden opportunity to put a dent in the “no snitch” policy of the streets, but they strengthened it.

According to Fox 50 TV’s “NC’s Wanted” program about the Willis murder, which was markedly biased against James Arthur Johnson, days after the crime only four individuals, all teenagers, knew of the crime… 1) Meeks, the murderer, 2) Johnson, 3) Julian Tyson Deans – a friend of Johnson’s, and 4) another young man. The two individuals who voluntarily went to the Wilson police to report what they knew about the crime were jailed and charged with a crime. The fourth individual who did not “snitch,” remained free and was not investigated by the authorities. And about the $20,000 reward offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis… it was never awarded to James Johnson, the man who had earned it. So, where is the incentive to be a decent and responsible citizen and go to the police with information about a crime?

To make matters worse, Wilson Assistant District Attorney Bill Wolfe, Wilson District Attorney Howard S. Boney Jr., and Wilson police officials, among others, knew that James Arthur Johnson was innocent of the senseless crimes against Brittany Willis. It was their understandable anger at African American Kenneth Meeks, which fueled their irrational actions to vent their hostility against all African American males. This behavior is known as “transference” in psychological jargon, and is a theory which is held by University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill School of Law professor Rich A. Rosen, and is documented in his article “Framing an innocent man.”

Years after the crime, the confessed perpetrator Meeks, who was serving a life without parole sentence, retracted his earlier confession that implicated Johnson in the crime… the only thread that tied Johnson to the crime. Instead of dismissing charges against Johnson, as any “minister of justice” would do, Prosecutor Wolfe managed instead to suddenly come up with two eyewitnesses who linked Johnson with the victim prior to her death. Although both “eyewitnesses” had ties to the Wilson Police Department (one was a retired Wilson police officer), Prosecutor Wolfe was prepared to proceed with the trial. That plan was dropped like a hot potato when Rev. Dr. William Barber of the NAACP became involved, and brought media attention to the case. Wolfe bluffed that he was prepared to go to trial, while he desperately sought a plea deal with Johnson. When none was forthcoming, the prosecution went to plan B which entailed having a special prosecutor drop the charges of murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery (which they knew they could not win), and instead lodge “accessory after the fact” charges. Forsyth County Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster was forced by her superior, Forsyth District Attorney Thomas Keith, to do the dirty deed, and she relented, but only upon the condition that she not be forced to try the case. This “accessory” charge, based on testimony from Johnson that he wiped fingerprints off the victim’s car, was pursued solely to protect Prosecutor Bill Wolfe from complaints lodged against him with the State Bar by the NAACP.

None of the salaried state prosecutors wanted to have any part of this charade against Johnson, and finally a private sector attorney with a prosecutorial background was hired at extra expense to North Carolina taxpayers. Fox 50 News portrayed the new special prosecutor, W. David McFadyen, to be independent and impartial when it was obvious to a rational mind that bringing the “accessory” charge by McFadyen was foreordained. Over many months, McFadyen pretended to be conducting an investigation while he rang up fees at the expense of Tar Heelian taxpayers, and then proceeded to state his intention to bring Johnson to trial. He wanted to put on trial a young man with no prior criminal record and who had wrongfully served 39 months in jail on murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery charges that were dropped… why? Because he wiped finger prints off a car… not even taking into consideration that he also solved the despicable crimes against Willis.

In the screwed up finale of this major state sponsored fiasco, James Arthur Johnson, entered an Alford plea to a “misprision of felony” charge. This rarely used charge is applied to individuals who refuse to come forward to authorities with information they have about a crime in which they are not involved. James did come forth with his knowledge of the crime, but according to the prosecutor, he did not come to the police quickly enough. They could not forgive Johnson for allowing Meeks to enjoy those three extra days of freedom before going to police.

Now, let’s recap:
1) James Arthur Johnson is a popular teenage student considering soccer scholarship offers, and who as stayed out of trouble, and has no criminal record;
2) After three days of deliberating whether or not to break the “no snitch” law of the street, Johnson tells his father his knowledge about the Willis crime, and is taken by his father to the Wilson police station, without a lawyer;
3) Wilson investigators ensnare Johnson by goading Meeker to angrily implicate Johnson by telling him, “Your friend snitched on you.”
4) Prosecutor Bill Wolfe charges Johnson with murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery based solely on claims by suspect Meeks… there is no forensic or physical evidence linking Johnson to the crime;
5) After Meeks, the sole state witness recants his statement about Johnson’s involvement, Prosecutor Wolfe suddenly comes up with two eyewitnesses, both with connections to the Wilson Police Department;
6)Media scrutiny, brought by Rev. Dr. Barber of the NAACP, forces the prosecution to employ stall tactics while trying to obtain a plea deal, and when one is not forthcoming, they go to Plan B on the day trial is set to begin;
7) According to plan B, special prosecutor Belinda Foster drops the murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery charges (which are not winnable without the fabricated eyewitnesses), and imposes an “accessory after the fact” charge;
8) Because Foster, along with all other salaried state prosecutors, refuses to try the case, a private sector former prosecutor, W. David McFadyen, is brought in as special prosecutor, at extra taxpayer expense;
9) McFadyen pretends to conduct an independent and impartial investigation, and then proceeds to go to trial, threatening Johnson with facing additional jail time although he had already spent 39 months in jail on charges that were dropped;
10) To avoid more jail time, Johnson enters an Alford Plea on the rarely, if ever, used “misprision of felony” charge; and
11) Judge Milton Fitch imposes a totally confusing sentence which spares Johnson further incarceration.

Now, let’s compare the cases of the three uninvolved individuals with knowledge of the crime:
James Arthur Johnson – went to the police with information that solved the crime:
1) Charged with murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery;
2) Spent 39 months in jail awaiting trial on charges which were later dropped;
3) Charged with accessory after the fact in crimes against Brittany Willis;
4) Had to pay $60,000.00 bond to get out of jail after serious charges were dropped;
5) Forced to plead guilty to misprision of felony charge to avoid additional jail time;
6) Did not receive $20,000.00 reward offered by Willis family and friends; and
7) Did not receive $50,000.00/year compensation for wrongful incarceration.

Julian Tyson Deans – went to police with Johnson to support his statements:
1) Charged with accessory after the fact;
2) Spent several months in jail;
3)Had to pay $60,000.00 bail to get out of jail while awaiting trial;
4) Made an Alford plea, I believe, which ended a five year ordeal; and
5) Did not receive any reward monies.

Unidentified teenage male who followed the “no snitch” rule of the streets and did
not go to the Wilson police with his knowledge of the crime:
1)Not arrested;
2)Not charged with a crime;
3) Not incarcerated;
4) No charge related to the Willis crime put on his record; and
5) Not adversely linked to the Willis crime for the rest of his life.

Considering the aforementioned, again, is it any wonder that people are not willing to come forward to police with information about crime, especially the poor, disenfranchised and people of color? Another disincentive, that is presented in the news article, is the statement by Durham Police Chief Jose L. Lopez Sr. who said that those people who knew the identity of a shooter in a crime but remain silent are as guilty as the shooter. So, in other words, if you witness a person fatally shooting another person and you do not drop whatever you are doing and immediately go directly to the police and snitch, then you could be charged with murder.

I know that if I were to witness a crime, it would not be the “no snitch” rule of the street that would prevent me from going to authorities; rather it would be the arbitrary and selective nature of the state’s system of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”

What happened to James Arthur Johnson is a cautionary tale of the potential downside associated with acting as a responsible and good-intentioned citizen in a hypocritical society that does not embrace the concept of “equal justice for all.”

The prosecutors, police, and media had the opportunity to justly praise, celebrate, and reward James Arthur Johnson and present him to the inner-city, community, and state as the true hero and role model he was. Authorities and the media had the chance to help stamp out the the flames of "no snitch" on our crime-riddled streets, but they decided instead to pour gasoline on it.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Vincent Edward Clark joins the Committee as Community Director

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is pleased to announce that Vincent Edward Clark, the co-author of “Last Dance for Grace: The Crystal Mangum Story,” has joined the organization as its Communications Director. From the beginning, Mr. Clark has felt that former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was selectively and unjustly mistreated by the state and the North Carolina State Bar. He has enthusiastically joined the group to work towards persuading the State Bar to unilaterally and unconditionally reinstate Mr. Nifong’s license to practice law in the state without restrictions.

Mr. Clark brings with him invaluable firsthand experience and knowledge about the events related to the Duke Lacrosse case and the widespread underhanded campaign to destroy Mike Nifong, the prosecutor of the Duke Lacrosse defendants. His breadth of understanding of the backroom deals and sinister activities of officials of the state of North Carolina, including the State Bar, individuals in the media on the national level, and the well-heeled carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, is unparalleled.

President Victoria B. Peterson, Vice president Myra Kinderknecht, and Douglas J. Register expressed their excitement about Mr. Clark’s involvement. They all agreed that his membership positively adds to the group’s public perception, not to mention the potential value of his contributions in the future. Mr. Clark has the advantage of firsthand knowledge of the Duke Lacrosse case, as well as experience in a media background Attempts to set up interviews with a reluctant media for Mr. Clark are already underway.

Mr. Clark’s induction into the organization recently follows that of Community Activists Jacqueline Wagstaff and Jamie Williford. The potential value of their services in helping achieve the goal of Mr. Nifong’s reinstatement is without bounds. According to Community Activist Steven Matherly, the group is definitely on a roll.

For a more in-depth account, you can go to the website’s News page.

Also, the second part of Episode IV is now available on the Comic Strip page.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Ruth Sheehan’s Gell column falls short

In the October 7, 2009 issue of the News & Observer, columnist Ruth Sheehan falls short in her column titled “Gell gets cash, no apology.” She deserves kudos for accurately placing blame for the Gell fiasco on the prosecutors, David Hoke and Debra Graves. As the lead investigator, Dwight Ransome appears to have had some culpability in the legal events which ended up costing taxpayers $3.9 million to settle with Gell (not counting the $700,000 plus spent defending against the suit). However, there is one name which is conspicuous in its absence from the column… Attorney General Roy Cooper, the self-appointed adjudicator.

In the Joseph Neff article on Gell in the Friday, October 2, 2009 issue, is the following passage about the attorney general, “Cooper declined to say whether he thought Gell is innocent of Jenkins’ murder.” According to seventeen independent eyewitnesses, the murder victim Jenkins was seen alive after Gell had been jailed on auto theft charges. Evidently Cooper and his staff believed Gell was guilty because they took the time, effort, and state resources to re-try the Gell in light of the exculpatory evidence. To its credit, the jury would not dismiss logic, and they immediately found Mr. Gell not guilty of the murder charge (for which he had been wrongfully incarcerated for nine years).

Further in the article Attorney General Roy Cooper is quoted, “… In the Gell case, the prosecutors relied on two eyewitnesses, and medical and scientific evidence.” However earlier in the article, the two eyewitnesses are described as “drug-abusing 15-year old girls whose stories changed every time they were interviewed or testified.” The article never explained the specifics of the “medical and scientific evidence” the prosecutors relied on. What is evident is that Attorney General Cooper and his staff discounted the eyewitness accounts of seventeen (17) independent individuals who provided exculpatory evidence which indicated Alan Gell’s innocence in the murder of Jenkins.

Taking the aforementioned into account, how can anyone give credence to the attorney general’s April 2007 proclamation that the three defendants in the Duke Lacrosse case were innocent? In light of the fact that: 1) the Duke Lacrosse team had been previously warned about its raucous parties: 2) that on the night of March 13, 2006 there had been accounts of under-aged drinking at the Spring Break alcoholic party hosted by the Duke Lacrosse team; 3) two strippers were hired under false pretenses; 4) the partygoers had hurled vulgar and derogatory comments to the strippers shortly after they began to perform (which the Attorney General’s Office referred to as “sexual banter”); 5) racial epithets were shouted at the two African American performers when they left; and 6) that DNA from one of the accuser’s false fingernails was linked to one of the suspects she had earlier identified – David Evans, it does not appear to be an absolute certainty, to a person of reason, that no crime took place that night, as Mr. Cooper would lead the public to believe by his statement, “There was no crime committed...”

A profound problem illuminated by the intractable stance taken by the Attorney General’s Office with respect to Gell’s innocence or guilt, is that the Attorney General’s Office, like the North Carolina State Bar, and other state agencies are extremely reluctant to admit mistakes and wrongdoing. The Gell case is a prime example which shows that undeniable and irrefutable evidence is likely to be dismissed by the state in order to avoid the admission of wrongdoing. Another instance of the state ignoring reality is the incident in which head trauma to a solitary confinement inmate, Timothy Helms, left him a quadriplegic. The state denied any involvement in the incident in which Mr. Helms sustained two skull fractures, out of sight of security cameras in the maximum security facility. Alvin Keller, Secretary of the Department of Corrections, theorized that Mr. Helms might have received the injuries possibly due to a fall in which he may have struck his head on the concrete floor. Mr. Helms, however, gives a more believable account – the corrections officers picked him up and repeatedly rammed his head into the concrete wall.

The denial of reality and accountability by the state officials is what makes the goal of the unilateral and unconditional reinstatement of Mr. Nifong’s law license such a daunting challenge. But it is a challenge that is surmountable. Informing and educating the public plays an important role in achieving equal justice for Mr. Nifong and for all North Carolinians. Ms. Sheehan’s column in today’s paper was helpful in enlightening the lay public on justice issues, but it could have gone much further.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Joseph Neff’s article, Part 2: Additional spin to protect David Hoke

Joseph Neff, the News & Observer’s designated Spin-Meister who masquerades as an investigative reporter, continued his “scapegoatization” of Dwight Ransome, the State Bureau of Investigation lead investigator on the Alan Gell case. Part two of the two part series, which appeared in the Sunday, October 4, 2009 edition of the News & Observer, aimed to distract the reader from Gell prosecutors and focus on the lead investigator of the ill-fated prosecution. The headline which read, “Gell investigator ignored blatant clues,” is an example of the gross bias and lack of objectivity regarding coverage of the wrongful capital murder prosecution of Alan Gell; the headline more objectively should have read, “Gell prosecutors ignored investigator’s report.”

The names of the Gell prosecutors, David Hoke and Debra Graves (from the Attorney General’s Office), appeared only twice in the Sunday article, once when it mentioned that the North Carolina State Bar reprimanded them for “withholding evidence and not reading their files.” Hoke and Graves did not just withhold evidence, they withheld “exculpatory evidence” from the defense; evidence that proved Alan Gell was innocent of the murder for which he was charged. Even a cursory observation of the article will show that the word “exculpatory” is never mentioned in the same sentence with prosecutors Hoke and Graves. However, the exculpatory nature of the evidence is emphasized later in the article when attention is turned to Investigator Ransome.

It has been my observation, from investigating the Duke Lacrosse case and other criminal cases, that the word “exculpatory” is purposely and incorrectly used by the courts, attorneys, and media. For example, former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong was constantly reported to have withheld from the defense “exculpatory” DNA evidence in the Duke Lacrosse case. This is blatantly false, and is a willful deception to impart greater significance to the findings than they warrant. The other media deception used with great frequency against Mr. Nifong is that he “withheld” DNA evidence from the Duke Lacrosse defense team. Nothing could be further from the truth. By October 27, 2009, well before a trial date had even been set, Mr. Nifong had supplied the defense attorneys with all of the laboratory DNA findings. They had ample time to process the information and use it in preparation of their defense, unlike the Alan Gell case, where exculpatory evidence was withheld from the defense team before the trial, during the trial, and nine years after the trial.

What is, perhaps, most curious is that even after the exculpatory evidence (which proved Alan Gell could not have committed the murder) became available, the prosecutors from the Attorney General’s Office proceeded to re-try Mr. Gell, at further taxpayer expense. I firmly see this as an abdication from their prosecutorial roles as “ministers of justice.” Naturally, once the jury got the case, the verdict of “not guilty” was quickly reached… it was a “no brainer.”

The reason the media went out of its way to protect David Hoke (Debra Grave was along for the ride) is because he was with the Attorney General’s Office, and was later promoted to Assistant Director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts. During his hearing before the State Bar’s Grievance Commission, many distinguished character witnesses spoke on Hoke’s behalf, including Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour of Cabarrus County. At Hoke’s hearing he said, “Everyone is appalled that he (Hoke) has had to go through this (disciplinary hearing). My question for the honorable Judge Spainhour is, “Is everyone appalled that Hoke’s misconduct landed an innocent man in prison for nine years, half of it on death row?”

The importance of this blog is to demonstrate that the media has the ability to craft the way an event is covered in order to sway the public’s opinion. Just as the two-parter in the News & Observer shifted the onus of responsibility from the Gell prosecutors to the Gell lead SBI investigator in order to protect David Hoke, media types, on a large scale, have manipulated words, definitions, intentions, and facts to wrongfully portray Mike Nifong in the most negative terms possible. The public needs to stand back and take a fresh and objective look at the Duke Lacrosse case and the disbarment and persecution of Mr. Nifong, a dedicated public servant of the highest integrity.

In the old days, people believed that the world was flat. It took time and education for them to realize the truth. The perceptions widely held by the public at large of Mike Nifong are also inaccurate. To realize the truth about the man, people need to open up their minds with objectivity.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

N & O’s Joseph Neff, the “Scapegoat Spin-Meister”, is at it again…

News & Observer staff writer Joseph Neff is at it again, in his headline article in today’s (Friday, October 2, 2009) paper titled, “State pays $3.9 million for wrongful conviction.” Author of the infamous News & Observer series titled “Rush to Judgment” which unjustly skewered former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong for his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case, Neff turns his patented brand of “scapegoatism” from prosecutor David Hoke to the lead investigator in the Alan Gell case, Dwight Ransome. Whereas Special Agent Dwight Ransome’s name is referenced fourteen times in the article, the names of David Hoke and Debra Graves (who prosecuted the case against Alan Gell) are not even mentioned once in the article. Mr. Neff wants the public to believe that the lead investigator is responsible for Alan Gell being wrongfully incarcerated for nine years, half on death row. The article leaves prosecutors Hoke and Graves, who according to Gell high-fived in court when the death sentence was announced, totally blameless.

Joseph Neff begins his Jedi-mind trick on the public with the article’s subtitle “ ‘I see it as an admission of guilt’ from the SBI, Gell says.” But, according to the quotation marks, what Gell actually said was, “I see it as an admission of guilt.” Joseph Neff, by adding “from the SBI,” takes creative liberty in suggesting that Gell’s reference was limited to the SBI when he made that statement. Neff repeated this statement in paragraph four, implying again that Gell’s statement was directed at the SBI only. This tabloid trickery used by Neff and achieved by the fraudulent placement of quotation marks is the same bold and misleading tactic used by “The National Inquirer” back in the day… before it became a respectable publication.

The misinterpretation used to fool the public in the article, is similar in nature to that used against Mike Nifong by the North Carolina State Bar in its pathetic attempt to justify his disbarment (the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception in 1933).

Also of note, is the misleading assertion that the state paid Gell $3.9 million. Actually, if you read the article carefully, two insurance companies paid Gell $3.4 million and the state paid the remaining $500,000. What makes this so ridiculous is the fact that nearly 150% more of that amount ($731,062.40) was spent by the state under the tutelage of the Attorney General’s Office to defend against the lawsuit, not to mention the costs to re-try Gell after a judge ordered a new trial.

As Mr. Neff put it in his article, a judge “ordered a new trial because prosecutors withheld evidence that was favorable to Gell.” Here, Mr. Neff is trying to water down the seriousness of the withheld evidence by stating it was “favorable,” rather than calling it what it really was… “exculpatory.” The evidence, that seventeen eyewitnesses saw the murdered victim alive after Gell was in jail on an unrelated charge, absolutely excluded Gell from being a suspect in the crime. Yet, the state, instead of dropping the charges when this exculpatory evidence came to light, spent taxpayer money trying to re-convict a man who could not possibly be guilty of the crime. The only scenario the prosecutors could logically offer under the circumstances would be as follows:
1. Alan Gell is arrested and placed in jail;
2. days later, Allen Ray Jenkins, the eventual murder victim, is seen alive by at least 17 individuals;
3. Later, Alan Gell escapes from jail unnoticed;
4. Alan Gell then kills Allen Ray Jenkins;
5. Alan Gell sneaks back into jail without being noticed and without anyone being aware of his absence.

The aforementioned scenario is unreasonable, and thus the logic and argument for the prosecution re-trying Mr. Gell escapes me.

Mr. Neff wrote that “Cooper declined to say whether he thought Gell is innocent of Jenkins’ murder.” Gell was locked in jail when the murder took place, and the attorney general doesn’t know whether Gell committed the crime? Attorney General Cooper had no problem proclaiming that the three Duke Lacrosse players were “innocent,” even though the Duke Lacrosse players were known for their raucous parties, the Duke lacrosse coach was warned by the university president to rein in his players’ party-going ways beforehand, there was under-aged drinking and drug use at the party, the exotic dancers were hired from an escort service under false pretenses, the partygoers were intoxicated to some degree, the partygoers made lewd and sexually degrading and humiliating comments to the dancers early into their performance, they more likely than not stole the $800 they had earlier paid the two girls when they quit early due to the insults hurled at them, and the partygoers were heard yelling racial epithets at the two dancers who were African American. In addition, DNA evidence from one of the dancer’s false fingernails was linked to David Evans, one of the defendants identified by the accuser as an assailant. How is that explained?... possibly from a handshake?

The question is, how much credibility can you place in the SBI’s investigation into the Duke Lacrosse case when it can’t figure out how Timothy Helms received two skull fractures while in solitary confinement that left him a quadriplegic? The SBI couldn’t determine whether a crime had been committed, even though Helms’s body had welts all over it consistent with batons used by corrections officers. Helms said he sustained head trauma when guards picked him up and rammed his head into the concrete wall. Secretary of the Department of Corrections Alvin Keller stated that Helms most likely received his injuries due to a fall in which he struck his head on the floor. Considering the aforementioned, Roy Cooper’s statement that “there was no crime committed” in the Duke Lacrosse case rings hollow.

The Neff article also quotes the attorney general as saying, “…In the Gell case, the prosecutors relied on two eyewitnesses…” Earlier in the same article Neff writes that the case was built on “the stories of two drug-abusing 15 year old girls whose stories changed every time they were interviewed or testified.” Yet, the state, media, and public want to crucify the prosecutor and the witness/accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case for what the Attorney General’s Office claims were discrepancies in her statements. There is a disconnect in logic here. A logic disconnect is what occurs when justice is selectively and unevenly applied in criminal cases, and masterfully woven by fanciful spin-meisters, like Joseph Neff, who are more concerned with molding public opinion than objectively recounting an event.

The article also stated that “the prosecutors were dismissed from the case because they enjoy absolute immunity from prosecution or lawsuits stemming from their official actions.” This same absolute immunity should have applied to Mike Nifong whose actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were official. The North Carolina courts and the Attorney General’s Office denied Mr. Nifong the protection due him by law, as his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were official. Yet another example of the selective and singularly unjust treatment meted out to Mr. Nifong.

Attorney General Cooper hired someone to investigate other cases handled by the scapegoat investigator Dwight Ransome. This is not an uncommon action, often to search for other events to support the spin. There is no reason not to believe that taxpayer money is being wasted to review all of the cases handled by Mike Nifong, even though he is disbarred and no longer practicing law. After all, the malevolent and vindictive carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants promised to make Mr. Nifong “pay every day for the rest of his life.” Ultimately, it is the North Carolina taxpayers who are paying to carry out the carpetbaggers’ misplaced vendetta.

Now, I do not begrudge Mr. Gell his settlement, especially in light of the fact that the Duke Lacrosse defendants each received $7 million in an out-of-court settlement with Duke University and they spent no time in jail (and they are currently seeking an additional $10 million from the cash-strapped city of Durham). In fact, to me no amount of money is worth losing nine years of freedom. But just as Mr. Gell was compensated, and should have been compensated for his wrongful incarceration, others should receive compensation as well. Erick Daniels who was taken from a middle school classroom and arrested at the age of 14, spent seven years in jail after being convicted as an adult for an armed robbery which he did not commit. The best years of his life were taken from him, and he struggles to get by today, helping his family. Just because he is poor, an African American, and disenfranchised, that is no reason not to give him the full measure of the compensation which he deserves. James Arthur Johnson, who heroically solved the heinous murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery of Wilson teen Brittany Willis, also deserves compensation for the 39 months he spent in jail while prosecutor Bill Wolfe tried to force him to plead guilty to something. In addition, Johnson should also be paid the $20,000 reward offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis which he earned by leading police to her killer.

Finally, Alan Gell should not be in prison now. He is currently serving a five year sentence on a charge of indecent liberties for having sex with his 15 year old girlfriend after being released from jail. According to my calculations, after being wrongfully incarcerated for nine years, being convicted for a crime with a five year sentence leaves him with four years credit. He should be free, especially on the cockamamie convoluted case on which he was convicted. The charges and conviction are purely vindictive, and a vendetta because he dared to file a complaint against authorities for his wrongful incarceration on the murder charge.

In the coming days, Joseph Neff plans on writing an article about “how Dwight Ransome botched the investigation into the murder of Allen Ray Jenkins.” Readers, beware. Some more scapegoat spin to take attention from the prosecutors (especially David Hoke) and place it on the investigator in the Gell case.

Whenever reading a criminal justice article in the News & Observer, I would strongly suggest that you check the byline. If the article is authored by Joseph Neff, there is the likely possibility that he will be trying to play a Jedi-mind trick on you.