Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The best way to lose an election… Court the black vote!

If given a little thought, it would come as no surprise that the best, sure fire way to lose an election would be to court the African American vote. Even in cities, counties and districts where they represent a fairly large percentage of the population, the per cent of those who are eligible and registered voters is more likely than not disproportionately small. Of those African Americans who are registered to vote, the likelihood that they will avail themselves of the opportunity is not as great as other blocks of voters. The reasons are many, and include the fact that many blacks feel disenfranchised and have no faith in elected politicians to seriously address their concerns. Others may feel intimidated about voting due to possible outstanding warrants, fines, or other legal snares awaiting them. A larger per cent of African Americans are usually unemployed, with many of voting age being single parents, and many do not have a high school diploma. Statistics have shown that populations that are not highly educated are less likely to vote. African Americans struggling to support their families are less likely to take time to vote, as well. Finally, a disproportionately large number of African Americans are incarcerated, or have been labeled by the courts as being felons. Therefore, a large per cent of African Americans making up a population does not automatically guarantee that a large number of them will be registered to vote, and that of those who are registered, that they will turn out. Therefore, it is a reasonable premise that the best way to lose an election is for a candidate to court the black vote.

This premise is applicable to the city of Durham, and any reasonable person would know that former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong lessened his chances for re-election when he prosecuted the Duke Lacrosse case. He did not try to use the case for political leverage one way or the other. Mr. Nifong prosecuted the case because of the particulars of the alleged attack: 1) gang-like sexual assault; and 2) use of racial epithets by the partygoers against the alleged victim. Mr. Nifong prosecuted the case because it was in his job description as a district attorney to do so. Had Mr. Nifong wanted to play it safe as far as re-election went, he would not have sought an indictment of the Duke Lacrosse defendants. He proceeded with the prosecution with the full knowledge that doing so would actually put his re-election campaign in jeopardy, which it did. In May 2006, he barely won the primary. There is no doubt in my mind that had Mr. Nifong not prosecuted the Duke Lacrosse case, that his margin of victory in the primary race would have been comfortably much larger.

The accusations by the attorneys of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, the State Bar, and the Attorney General’s Office that Mr. Nifong was motivated to pursue criminal charges against the Duke Lacrosse defendants for political gain, is totally unsubstantiated, without merit, and lacks logic when one considers the aforementioned issues. The State Bar, in particular, has nothing on which to base their claims that Mr. Nifong’s actions in the Duke Lacrosse case were politically motivated.

Like so much else associated with actions and attacks against Mr. Nifong in this case, this claim is not only reckless but illogical. It behooves the public to think long and hard about statements made by Mr. Nifong’s detractors. Unfortunately, the biased media is in cahoots with the state and defendants, and it cannot be relied upon to report fairly and objectively about Mr. Nifong and the Duke Lacrosse case.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

N&O SpinMeister Joseph Neff is at it again

News & Observer staff writer Joseph Neff’s December 22, 2009 front page article titled “Agency raps DA’s office” is a prime example of the double standards used by the North Carolina State Bar and by the media. Mr. Neff is quite accurate when he describes the State Bar’s disciplinary actions against the prosecutors of Alan Gell as being “tepid.” Actually, tepid is an understatement. Gell’s prosecutors actually withheld evidence that resulted in a death penalty conviction of an innocent man who was wrongfully incarcerated for nine years due to prosecutorial misconduct. Mr. Neff goes on to describe the State Bar’s disciplinary action against former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong as “vigorous,” again, an understatement. The reason for the discrepancy in the degree with which the State Bar goes after its prosecutors, I believe, has to do in large measure to the autonomy of the attorney. Mike Nifong, in pursuing the principle of “equal justice for all,” went against the attorney general, and the Duke University fixer when he would not drop charges in the Duke Lacrosse case. That made Mr. Nifong a target, not unlike Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett who defied England’s King Henry II. Like Beckett, Mr. Nifong was made to pay a steep price for not kowtowing to the wishes of the powers that be.

What is troubling is that the North Carolina State Bar, as stated by Mr. Neff, would selectively discipline some prosecutors tepidly, while vigorously disciplining others. It is the inconsistency and selective nature of the Bar’s actions that brings its fairness into question. There is no question that Mr. Nifong was given the end-stage disciplinary punishment for trumped up, merit-less accusations of trivial minutiae, and that the prosecutors of Alan Gell were given the mildest sanction possible (a reprimand) for falsely putting a man on death row, and having him spend nearly a decade wrongly in prison. It is not surprising that the prosecutors of Gell, unlike Mr. Nifong, went along with the state’s playbook of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”

Now the double standard use by the media is the blatant act of withholding the identity of the prosecutors of Alan Gell from the public. Those prosecutors, David Hoke and Debra Graves, did not have their names mentioned anywhere in the article. That is because of the conscientious effort by the newspaper to shield them from bad press. This is a tact that is commonly used by the media, especially the News & Observer and Mr. Neff. In many articles on issues of social injustice wherein prosecutors have not acted as “ministers of justice,” the media will refer to their “bad deeds” but not publish their names. It is the absolute contrary when it comes to Mr. Nifong. As in this article, Mr. Nifong’s name is mentioned twice whereas the names of Hoke and Graves are never mentioned, period.

The media further goes out of its way to minimize the egregious actions of prosecutor David Hoke by writing that he “failed to hand over favorable evidence to Alan Gell…”

“Failed to hand over” sounds much more innocuous and more accidental that “withholding” (term used in the article to describe Mr. Nifong’s alleged misconduct). Furthermore, the Meister of Spin describes evidence that Mr. Hoke withheld from the defense as being “favorable.” This is, itself, a joke, because the evidence was prima-facie example of “exculpatory evidence.” Hoke withheld evidence that proved beyond doubt that Mr. Gell could not have committed the murder for which he was eventually convicted. At re-trial when the exculpatory evidence was introduced in the proceedings, the jury, when handed the case, immediately found defendant Gell not guilty.

Mr. Neff states that the Bar prosecuted Mr. Nifong for withholding evidence. The media, in general, has consistently disseminated and perpetuated this lie. Mr. Nifong did not withhold evidence. Like Gregory C. Butler, the Johnston County prosecutor in the Tiffany Bassett case, Mr. Nifong turned over all evidence to the defend attorneys, and he did so well before a trial date was even set. The defense team had plenty of time to work with all the DNA evidence in preparing a defense for their clients. Defendants in the Duke Lacrosse case were not prejudiced in the least by DNA evidence being presented to them in October 2006, instead of May 2006.

The fact is that Mr. Nifong has always utilized an open file discovery policy as a practicing prosecutor, doing so 25 years prior to it being mandated into law. On May 17, 2006, the Duke Lacrosse attorneys asked the courts for a discovery motion. On May 18, 2006, the following day, Mr. Nifong’s office had provided each of the three defense attorney teams with 1,267 pages of documents, a cassette, and a CD. The gathering of these items was not supervised by Mr. Nifong, and was undertaken by staff members who had no inkling of the relevance or value of the items that they were copying in compliance with the discovery motion. In essence, Mr. Nifong would provide the defense with all evidence at his disposal as soon as he became aware of it (not unlike prosecutor Butler).

Mr. Neff also wrongly claims that the Mr. Nifong withheld evidence that the Duke Lacrosse defendants were falsely charged with rape. Although the rape charge was later dismissed by Mr. Nifong, there was no evidence in the possession of the prosecutor or defense that was exculpatory in ruling out the possibility of a sexual assault.

To his credit, Mr. Neff does include the following paragraph: “This failure to produce evidence happens in virtually all complicated cases, said Jim Woodall, district attorney for Orange and Chatham counties, and president of the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys.” However, it begs the question that if it happens all the time in complicated cases, then why is it that Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred? The answer has to do with the nature of the “selective and unjust system of justice based on Class and Color.”

The article by Joseph Neff has many problems as referenced to above, but despite the spin, the newspaper does deserve kudos for bringing this matter to the attention of the people. Like all media covering legal issues and referring to the Duke Lacrosse case, it needs to be more objective in its reporting (such as being consistent in mentioning/or not mentioning the names of all prosecutors), not biased in gratuitously singling out Mr. Nifong in a negative way, and reporting more accurately and honestly (cease and desist from referring to the Duke Lacrosse defendants as “innocent” and/or “falsely accused”).

The media needs to stop misleading people who believe everything it publishes and airs, and stop insulting the intelligence of those of us who know better.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Dismissal and “innocent” are not one and the same

A recent blog commenter (who identified itself as "Whatchoo talkin' '
bout Sidney?") was kind enough to share with me the information that North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper filled out form AOC-CR-307 when disposing of the Duke Lacrosse case. The commenter also told me that the form was signed by a judge. I presume this document was tendered and signed on or around April 11, 2007, the date of the A.G.’s “Innocent Promulgation.” I have not seen the form, but I will take the commenter at his/her word.

The form AOC-CR-307 is a form used by the criminal courts in the state of North Carolina, and is officially titled, “Dismissal Notice of Reinstatement CR-307 – North Carolina.” It is a dismissal form. Since Attorney General Cooper decided to dismiss the case, one acceptable possible outcome by a special prosecutor taking over a criminal case, it stands to reason that he did, in fact, fill out the document. The presiding judge, in signing the document, agreed to grant the prosecutor’s request for dismissal, and make it final. This is what most likely transpired, and such actions seem believable.

What the blog commenter would want viewers to believe, however, is that this document is one that justifies a declaration of innocence. That the judge, by signing the document, agrees with any text within the document that may recklessly state that the Duke Lacrosse defendants are “innocent” and that “no attack occurred.” Attorney General Cooper, or one of his deputy assistant attorney generals may write whatever they want within the document, but at the end of the day, it is merely a form to dismiss the case. It is not a form to declare a verdict or to declare “innocence.” Because of the blog commenter’s bias, he wants to interpret the dismissal form as being an innocent verdict by the judge who signed off on the document. Like Cooper’s promulgation of innocent, this reasoning is an example of overreaching by the blog commenter.

I have not seen the dismissal form used in the Duke Lacrosse case by the Attorney General’s Office, and if the blog commenter has an address where I could find the document, I would be very appreciative. And I appreciate the commenter bringing this form to my attention.

Now, I have no problem with Attorney General Cooper dismissing the case against the Duke Lacrosse defendants (although I doubt that such an act was justifiable having not seen the evidence). He acted appropriately as a special prosecutor in determining whether or not to proceed with prosecuting the case, or whether or not to drop the charges and dismiss the case. However, to proclaim “innocence” or “guilt” was not within his mandate as special prosecutor to the case. What I find appalling is that the media gave Mr. Cooper’s “Innocent Promulgation of April 11, 2007” credibility instead of challenging it. Again, by doing so, the media misled the public who believed it, and insulted the intelligence of those who know better. Likewise, the blog commenter, with respect to form AOC-CR-307, is misleading readers who believe him/her, and is insulting the intelligence of those of us who know better. For us, the Jedi mind-tricks do not work.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NBC-17 News and all media need to stop misleading and insulting the public

Yesterday evening while watching Melanie Sanders deliver the evening news on NBC-17, she mentioned a story about former Governor Mike Easley retaining the services of the prominent criminal defense attorney Joseph Cheshire. She went on to state that Mr. Cheshire was well known for “representing a ‘falsely’ accused Duke Lacrosse defendant.” The statement was read as a matter of fact, and not as opinion.

This statement is totally false and misleading, and is intended to further embed in the consciousness of its weak-minded viewers that the Duke Lacrosse defendants were innocent of the charges brought by former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. It would have been accurate and responsible for Ms. Sanders to omit the adverb “falsely” and phrase the statement as follows, “…representing an accused Duke Lacrosse defendant.” But, unfortunately, accuracy and truth does not appear to be the top priority of NBC-17. If it was, the statement she made would never have been uttered.

Make no mistake about it, NBC-17 is not alone in misleading the public about this issue. In fact, I would say that the majority, if not all, of the media outlets refer to the Duke Lacrosse players as being “innocent,” “falsely accused,” and “wrongly accused”; while referring to the accuser and the alleged sexual assault as being a “hoax,” and “false accuser.”

These misleading statements have been made by the media ever since North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s “Innocent Promulgation of April 11, 2007,” in which he made the unprecedented proclamation that the Duke Lacrosse players charged with sexual assault were “innocent,” and that “nothing happened.” As has been referenced in a previous blog, the attorney general made these statements after Joe Cheshire’s underling, Brad Bannon, had a conversation with Assistant Attorney Generals James J. Coman and Mary Winstead. Mr. Bannon directed them to have the attorney general declare that the Duke Lacrosse defendants were “innocent” and that “nothing happened.” This is exactly what transpired at the attorney general’s press conference on April 11, 2007.

Now although the attorney general belongs to the executive branch of government and not the judicial branch, the media has never, to my knowledge, challenged the validity of Mr. Cooper’s proclamations. Instead it has embraced them as a basis for making statements of fact that the Duke Lacrosse defendants are innocent and that nothing happened. This is not objective reporting. It is biased reporting, and is a keystone in supporting our belief that the media is in cahoots with the anti-Nifong forces (the state of North Carolina and its agencies – such as the NC State Board of Elections and others – , the North Carolina State Bar, and the carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse players).

Unlike the conspiratorial link between the Duke Lacrosse defense team and the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office (through Brad Bannon), no smoking gun has directly established a direct relationship between the Duke Lacrosse defendants and the media. However, a reliable source does note that the father of defendant Dave Evans is an attorney who works with the media, and his position as such could give him access to the upper echelon of media bigwigs. And higher-ups in the executive offices of these media corporations have final say in the spin and propaganda used in formulating and carrying out its agenda. It is, and has been, the goal of the media, in general, to destroy Mr. Nifong, and to defend and sanitize the Duke Lacrosse defendants.

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has long challenged the legitimacy of the “innocent” proclamation by Roy Cooper. Committee President Victoria B. Peterson in a July 2009 interview on WPTF-680 AM’s “Bill LuMaye Show” challenged the validity of Mr. Cooper’s declaration of “innocent.” Likewise, Committee Lay Advocate Sidney B. Harr also called into question the propriety and legality of the “innocent proclamation” during his appearance on that radio talk show in September 2009.

NBC-17 News and all media need to begin reporting objectively and fairly on the Duke Lacrosse case. To do so would include the following when writing a factually based news story: 1) refrain from using terms such as “innocent” or “falsely accused” to describe the Duke Lacrosse defendants; 2) refrain from using terms such as “hoax” to describe the alleged crime; and 3) refrain from using terms such as “false accuser” to describe the alleged victim.

The media needs to give up the biased charade to promote the Duke Lacrosse defendants as “innocent” and stop playing Jedi mind-tricks on the impressionable public. Failure to immediately cease and desist from doing so will continue to mislead those who believe what the media says, and insult the intelligence of those who know better.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Title: ABC News plays the “Race Card” using Duke Lacrosse player Devon Sherwood

An online article by Chris Francescani of the ABC News Law & Justice Unit was posted on October 31, 2006, and titled: “Sole Black Duke Lacrosse Player Says White Teammates Stereotyped.” The sole black player, Devon Sherwood, a 19 year old, and youngest member of the team, allegedly attended the “stripper party” on March 13, 2006, and stayed through to the end of the abbreviated performance by the two African American women, according to an interview that he gave to Chris Cuomo on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Mr. Sherwood stated that his three teammate Duke Lacrosse defendants had been stereotyped (by whom, he did not say) based on their class and skin color. Sherwood claimed the stereotype used against his teammates is: “Well, their daddies are gonna buy them the big-time lawyers, and they’re gonna get off.” Well, it seems as though the stereotype turned out to be quite prophetic as their daddies did get big-time attorneys (Joseph Cheshire, James Cooney III, and Wade Smith), and they did get off… even without a trial. Attorney Brad Bannon, of Joseph Cheshire’s law firm, instructed the assistant Attorney Generals James J. Coman and Mary Winstead to direct Attorney General Roy Cooper to proclaim that the Duke Lacrosse defendants were “innocent” and to say that “nothing happened.” Which is exactly what happened. They lived up to the stereotype and reinforced it. If the stereotype fits, wear it.

But it was not just the daddies of the defendants who worked feverishly to spin the Duke Lacrosse case in favor of the defendants. Groups of boosters and supporters of the Duke lacrosse team hired powerhouse attorney Bob Bennett (who represented President Bill Clinton) as part of an aggressive public relations effort to argue that a rape did not occur at the party, even before any indictments were handed down.

And although many are quick to accuse former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong of trying the case in the media (unsubstantiated gibberish), it is the attorneys for the players (prior to any indictment being handed down) who divulged to the media that DNA failed to connect any of the 47 member team to the alleged attack. Even players’ parents had started to speak out about the case, according to USAToday online article posted April 12, 2009, titled: “Clinton lawyer joins team to represent interests of Duke lacrosse players.”

The online article about the October 31, 2006 interview is but one shameful example of ABC News’s use of the “Race Card” in order to play Jedi mind-tricks on the public in order to spin the case. Beginning with the article’s headline (“Sole Black Duke Lacrosse Player Says White Teammates Stereotyped”) which infers that the white lacrosse players have been somehow victimized… regardless that the stereotypes proved to be right on. The fact that a black lacrosse player is defending the reputation, character, and integrity of his white teammates, is suppose to be convincing evidence to the African American community that the Duke lacrosse players are decent and honorable people. However, no where in the article does it mention that fifteen (nearly one third of the 47 member team) players had prior run-ins with the law (under-aged drinking, disorderly conduct, public urination, etc.), including the captain and subsequent defendant Dave Evans. The Duke lacrosse team was notorious for hosting raucous parties, and the president of the university had even warned the lacrosse coach to rein in his players’ off field shenanigans. Devon Sherwood speaks only in glowing terms of his teammates, even though there is reason to believe that racial epithets were hurled, including the “n-word.” Mr. Sherwood does not know which of his teammates made the slurs, they have not manned up and apologized to him, nor were they pointed out to him by other teammates. Still, he considers the 46 other team members to be his “brothers.” And Devon’s reaction is that the slurs used against the two black dancers was nothing more than a mistake that he is willing to forgive. I believe such a statement is made to encourage other African Americans to overlook the racist hate-speech of Devon’s white teammates, and to forgive them, as well.

Devon also states that he believed that when the three defendants came to him (advising him not to believe what he hears) that they were showing their concern for him, when in fact their actions had more to do with protecting themselves and getting Devon’s support. Had Devon been around when the dancers were leaving, maybe some of the players might have refrained from using racial slurs within his earshot. In addition, the online article by Francescani dwells on the cotton shirt insult rather than the n-word epithets, again to minimize the malevolence of the racially charged verbal attacks on the dancers. Although Devon stated in the interview, “I believe in the character of my teammates,” I am not impressed with the character of teammates who use epithets and the n-word to maliciously demean African Americans, period.

Finally, the interviewer gets Mr. Sherwood to say that he thought Mike Nifong had used race “to his advantage to get re-elected.” It is difficult to ignore the issue of race when Duke lacrosse players shout out racial slurs at two African American women. It is also evident that the players did not want African American dancers to begin with. When using false pretenses to hire the dancers, the Duke lacrosse player using an alias, specifically requested that the escort service assign white dancers. Race was not an issue that any diligent prosecutor could ignore in prosecuting the case. As for all of the hype about prosecuting the case in order to get re-elected, that is not even a realistic premise. Although the city of Durham may consist of 40% African American population, a great majority were disillusioned and not even registered to vote. The percentage of registered African American voters who did vote was most likely extremely low, as well. On the other hand, Duke University and Duke lacrosse supporters who were at odds with Mr. Nifong for not automatically dropping the charges against the three golden boys, were very motivated to see Mr. Nifong toppled in an election. I have no doubt that Mr. Nifong detractors were more motivated in their advocacy to see Nifong lose the election than individuals sympathetic to his actions in taking on the prosecution of students from on of the city’s biggest employers. The myth bandied about by the media, North Carolina State Bar, Attorney General’s Office, and other Nifong detractors is that Mr. Nifong prosecuted the Duke Lacrosse case for political gain. The reality is that by going against the powers that be on the state level and at Duke University and prosecuting the Duke players, he severely damaged his chances to win re-election. That is why the Durham district attorney primary in 2007 ended up being as close as it was. There is no doubt in my mind that had Mr. Nifong followed the dictates of the Attorney General and Duke University (by following protocol and dismissing the charges against the Duke students) that he would have won the primary contest in a landslide.

I don’t begrudge Devon Sherwood his close friendship with his teammates, and I am proud of his academic accomplishments at such a prestigious institution as Duke. What I find appalling is the way that the media (ABC’s “Good Morning America” and its online news website) had flagrantly taken advantage of Devon Sherwood in order to push its agenda of supporting the Duke Lacrosse defendants and undermining Mike Nifong and his prosecution of the case. ABC shamefully played the race card with its interview of the Duke Lacrosse’s sole black player, Devon Sherwood.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Duke LAXer bluff against Durham fails

There is a saying that goes something as follows: “Be careful what you wish for.” Buoyed by their unimaginable success in shaking down Duke University in the amount of seven mil for each of the three Duke Lacrosse defendants, greedy attorneys representing their greedier clients, went after the cash-strapped city of Durham seeking more dinero. Their reasoning being that if a school is willing to shell out a total of $21,000,000.00 in an out of court settlement to make the notoriety of a vague complaint against it by the “alleged aggrieved” Duke student athlete party-goers go away, then surely a big city, like Durham, would have no problem turning over $30 million for a similar deal. Call it hush money, or nuisance money, if you will, but the plaintiffs obviously considered it to be easy money.

Having believed too much of the biased media’s take on the Duke Lacrosse case, they launched their civil case aggressively and with the assistance of the favorable media. However, when the attorneys realized that the city was not going to rollover, as they had expected, reality began to set in, and they had to take an objective look at their case. Their conclusion, I would bet, is that they had none. First of all, nearly a third of the lacrosse team members had run-ins with the law. They, of course, were smoothed over by an unwritten protocol the university had in place with prosecutors in the city. (The problem of the Duke Lacrosse case occurred when then Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong refused to play by those slanted unwritten rules… a major reason he was persecuted and made an example of.) Duke lacrosse team captain Dave Evans, one of the Duke Lacrosse defendants even pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. Another defendant, Collin Finnerty, had assault charges on his record for his part in the beating of a person presumed to be gay. Then, the lacrosse player who phoned the escort service seeking the services of two exotic dancers (strippers) used a false name and stated the event was a bachelor party of four or five. The pretenses under which the dancers were hired were false, especially when they knew that the event was a spring break beer party for nearly fifty young men with raging hormones. As if that is not enough, factor in the fact that the lacrosse player who made the arrangement requested two “white” dancers, and two African American dancers were showed up (the lacrosse team had only one African American player who did not attend the party). Under these circumstances, it is not hard to believe testimony from neighbors that the partygoers were hurling racial epithets at the dancers as they left.

The media did its best to downplay the negative aspects of the actions of the partygoers, but if the trial were to go to court, other negativity would surely be exposed. For example, I have it from a secondhand source that there was drug use at the party (I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy); therefore, if he case was to go to trial, this would most definitely be brought up, if it is true. Also, the evidence collected by the Attorney General’s Office would be made available; evidence of which it refuses to release copies to the accuser and her representative. Evidence presented to the media by defense attorneys, such as the time stamped photographs would come under scrutiny for signs of possible tampering, etc. And once the police were called, the partygoers scattered like cockroaches deserting a sinking ship, so the place was essentially emptied by the time authorities arrived.

In seeking damages, attorneys for the three defendants take aim at police, doctors, nurses, and practically everyone who may have spoken out against the Duke lacrosse team or its actions. But these attorneys also know, about the reputation of the Duke lacrosse team when it comes to partying. They have such a raucous history in the Duke neighborhood when it comes to hosting parties, that the president of the university had warned its team coach to rein in its players… something he was incapable of doing. Yes, the possibility of hitting the jackpot when taking the case to trial seems bleak. Especially if one is looking for a big payout. The most likely outcome of such a trial would be exposing the Duke Lacrosse partygoers for what they were… and that is not too flattering.

So, now, after so much bluster and bravado, it seems as though the attorneys for the carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants have decided to just allow things to die down. Yes, they succeeded against Duke University, but they bluffed once to often when they took on the cash-strapped city of Durham. The city is eagerly awaiting the confrontation, conversely. Stay tuned.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

D.A. Colon Willoughby fights to keep innocent man in jail in order to shield prosecutor Tom Ford

Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby, in fighting to keep Gregory Taylor behind bars, is doing his best to protect the prosecutor who unjustly put him there, Tom Ford. Currently Gregory Taylor is serving a life sentence for the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas. Recent evidence brought forth by Taylor’s attorneys state that Prosecutor Ford and a detective tried repeatedly to force Greg Taylor to falsely implicate Johnny Beck (an African American with a criminal drug record) in the murder of Ms. Thomas. They threatened to pin the murder on him if he did not cooperate to help them get an innocent (of the murder) black man off the street. Displaying more integrity, honesty, and sense of ethics than the prosecutor and detectives, Taylor refused, and as a result, the bogus case was manufactured against him, as promised. Because of his decision to do the right thing morally, Gregory Taylor has spent the last sixteen years in prison for a murder that he did not commit. And he remains in prison today.

The case against Gregory Taylor was flimsy to non-existent from the beginning. Without physical evidence tying him to the crime, he was convicted solely on the testimony of a prostitute and jailhouse snitch (both of whom received from the prosecutor a deal similar to the deal offered to Taylor). For implicating Taylor in the murder, the prosecutor gave them a break in their jail sentences; information about that prosecutorial offer was withheld from Greg Taylor’s attorneys at the time of trial. The case against Gregory Taylor really collapsed when another man, Craig Taylor (no relation) confessed to the crime. In confessing he established that he had a personal relationship with the victim, and he had knowledge about aspects of the crime that were not made public by investigators. In contrast, the witnesses who received a break for testifying against Greg Taylor, got a lot of the information about the crime wrong.

“Minister of Justice” Tom Ford, as late as 2003, asked a judge to deny Taylor’s request for DNA testing, despite the willingness of Taylor’s family to pay the costs. Fortunately for Mr. Taylor, who consistently appealed his conviction, the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission took notice of his case. After a hearing, it declared that he was innocent and recommended that a three judge panel hear the case and make a ruling. In preparing for the hearing before the Innocence Inquiry Commission, Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby requested that Tom Ford (who prosecuted Taylor and is hardly impartial about him) assist him. Also, in their preparation, no one from the prosecutor’s office bothered to interview Craig Taylor, the man who confessed to the crime.

And about Johnny Beck, the African American with a criminal drug record who Prosecutor Ford hoped to pin Thomas’s murder on by using false testimony of Greg Taylor, and who was identified by Ford as the actual murderer of Jacquetta Thomas: Ford was forced to drop charges because Greg Taylor refused to lie against Beck, and without that false testimony, there was absolutely no case against Beck.

Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe accused James Arthur Johnson of the murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery of Brittany Willis after Johnson heroically solved her murder. He did the right thing by going to the police with information about a crime, and it cost him 39 months in jail. Another innocent man, Gregory Taylor did the right thing by refusing to accept an offer by Prosecutor Ford to give false testimony against an innocent man, and he was sentenced to life in prison on trumped up murder charges. Both prosecutors have no problem with putting innocent people behind bars, and as long as they follow the state’s tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color,” they have no reason not to continue doing so when prosecuting. In both cases, the powers that be make sure to go out of their way, even at wasteful taxpayer expense, to shield them from any consequences of their unjust and abhorrent actions.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

MSNBC legal analyst needs more than a pretty face... objectivity and fairness would be a good start

Susan F. Filan, senior legal analyst for MSNBC TV, authored an online editorial in mid-June 2007, titled: "Nifong's punishment is extreme, appropriate." Although opinion pieces have a bit more leeway than news articles, they should at least consist of facts, statements should be substantiated within the text, and there should be a modicum of objectivity. In fact, the entire article is misleading, inaccurate, and flagrantly biased, beginning with her initial premise that disbarment of a lawyer is as rare as a "unicorn sighting." Nothing could be further from the truth. Since its inception in 1933, the North Carolina State Bar has disbarred thousands of attorneys. According to their own web page posted in the past, approximately 350 attorneys were disbarred during a ten year period, an average of nearly three a month. This blatantly false statement is made for the purpose of making former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong's disbarment reflect more harshly on his actions in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Had Ms. Filan stated that disbarment of prosecutors is as rare as "unicorn sightings," then that would be right on. During its 76 years in existence, the North Carolina State Bar has only disbarred one prosecutor... Mike Nifong. This, despite the fact that North Carolina lags just behind Illinois and Louisiana in the number of death row inmates who have been exonerated. Many of them, such as Alan Gell, were convicted due to prosecutorial misconduct by their prosecutor (in this particular case, David Hoke, who is now serving as assistant director of the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts). However the state, the Duke Lacrosse defense attorneys, and the media, including Ms. Filan, purposely keep the fact that Mr. Nifong is the only prosecutor to be disbarred hidden from the public. That is what makes his treatment so selective, also when you adopt our view which is that Mr. Nifong did nothing wrong in pursuing prosecution in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Ms. Filan presumptuously states that Mr. Nifong will not receive his pension and not be able to retire, which is exactly what he is doing. And, he is not starting "from scratch" as Ms. Filan again falsely predicted. The article by Ms. Filan is filled with a lot of baseless speculation (or "bs"), and misleading and false statements. Most outrageous is the accusation that Mr. Nifong used the Duke case to get re-elected. What information does she have to base this upon? The only television ad I recall appearing during the campaign season which used the Duke Lacrosse case for his/her advantage was run by Attorney General Roy Cooper... "The Duke Lacrosse Decision." In prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case, Mr. Nifong was merely doing his job. By suggest that performing his duties as district attorney while running for re-election is a conflict of interest is absurd. Does she expect Mr. Nifong to remain idle until the election returns are in? F. Lane Williamson of the State Bar also buy into this ridiculous belief, which they both know to be false. These statements are made purely to mold the impressionable minds of the lay public.

Ms. Filan really gets in the gutter when she accuses Mr. Nifong of using his son as a ploy to gain sympathy, leniency, and pity. I seen nothing wrong with a knowledgeable older teenage son wanting to show support for his father by attending his hearing. What I find reprehensible is Ms. Filan's attempt to spin this positive family gesture into something sinister. It is Ms. Filan, not Mr. Nifong, who is guilty of taking advantage of Mr. Nifong's son by needlessly bringing it up in her article in order to get in yet another cheap shot at Mike Nifong. Ms. Filan's actions here are truly shameful, and unbefitting a respectable news outlet.

One of the most ludicrous accusations penned by Ms. Filan is that Mr. Nifong damaged the reputation of Duke University. I would like to know how? She also insinuates that he damaged the reputation of the sport of lacrosse? Again, how?

I don't have a law degree, but I did take a civics class in high school, and I learned about the three different branches of government: executive, legislative, and judicial. An attorney general, who belongs to he executive branch, cannot make a judicial pronouncement. Yet the media and Ms. Filan give Roy Cooper's "innocent" proclamation the validity as that coming from a judge or jury. This is wrong, period! She also claims that Mr. Nifong damaged the lives of three "innocent" young men. How? They never spent one day in jail, they each received $7 million from Duke University in an out-of-court settlement for reasons unbeknownst to me, they are heroically depicted in books, there is an upcoming HBO movie about these wonderful lads, and individually, Collin Finnerty's celebrity moved a judge to expunge an assault charge from his record. Furthermore, they have all continued on with their lives, one graduating, the other two being offered reinstatement at Duke but deciding to enroll in other prestigious institutes of higher learning with lacrosse teams. Also, the families of these boys are currently seeking an additional $10 million from the cash-strapped city of Durham (which has already spent well more than a million dollars to defend). In the annals of North Carolina jurisprudence, there are many far more compelling instances of truly innocent people whose live have been severely damaged, and by and large, they are the disenfranchised, poor, and/or people of color.

One of the most outrageous statements made by Ms. Filan suggests that Mr. Nifong, in prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case, damaged the public's confidence in the criminal justice system (of North Carolina). Ms. Filan fails to place blame for the public's sour perception of the criminal justice system where it is due... not on Mike Nifong, but on actions of Prosecutors Hoke, Graves, Honeycutt, Brewer, Parker, Wolfe, Keith, Ford, Black, Hardin, McFadyen and a multitude of others. Hoke and Graves won a conviction by withholding exculpatory evidence which resulted in an innocent man being convicted of capital murder and spending more than nine years in jail. Bill Wolfe charged the teenager James Arthur Johnson who solved the Brittany Willis murder, rape, kidnapping, and armed robbery with those crimes based solely on the word of the killer, who implicated Johnson only after investigators told him that Johnson "snitched" on him. After the killer recanted, Wolfe brought forward two "eyewitnesses," both with connections to the police department. These witnesses disappeared when media scrutiny became a factor. Johnson served 39 months in jail without a trial before charges were finally dropped by a special prosecutor. Michael Parker charged mentally retarded Floyd Brown with murder based on a confession which experts said Brown could not possibly made. Brown was held for fourteen years without a trial for the murder, and charges were reluctantly dismissed. Prosecutor Tom Ford tried to force Gregory Taylor to falsely implicate a black suspect for a murder. Ford threatened Taylor that if he did not cooperate, then he would charge Taylor with the crime (which is what he did). Without cause and no physical evidence linking Gregory Taylor to the crime, Ford won a conviction against him based on solely on the testimony of a jailhouse snitch and a prostitute. Their testimony was given in exchange for a decrease in their jail sentence, a fact which the prosecutor willfully withheld from Taylor's defense attorney. Prosecutors were so incensed with Theodore Jerry Williams for complaining about the District Attorney, that correction guards beat him up while in custody, his face pulverized and arm broken. They then charged Williams with assaulting a guard. When the case was dismissed because the prosecution destroyed material evidence that the defendant had requested, Attorney General Roy Cooper appealed. These are only a few of the cases that shed a disfavorable light on the North Carolina justice system. Not Mr. Nifong's actions in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Mr. Nifong's actions in prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case were well within the acceptable standards practiced by other prosecutors. He did not withhold evidence, as the defense attorneys had all DNA lab evidence no later than October 27, 2006, at a time when a court date had yet to be set. In addition, the DNA evidence Mr. Nifong is accused of "withholding" was not exculpatory, as the defense attorneys and media would have the public believe. Mr. Nifong did not lie to the court when he stated that "this is the first that I have heard of this situation." He was without a doubt referring to the first he had heard that the defense attorneys had accused him of withholding evidence. Chairman of the Disciplinary Hearing Commission F. Lane Williamson is no mind reader, and a reasonable person would not accept his interpretation of Mr. Nifong's statement over Nifong's own interpretation. The statement itself was not material and should never have been given the attention it was given, however, the State Bar was so desperate to find a reason to disbar Mr. Nifong that they grasped at all straws. Finally, pre-trial statements made by Mr. Nifong were benign, made prior to indictments being handed down, and were intended to encourage witnesses to come forward. The majority of pre-trial statements made to the media were done so by the attorneys of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, yet Ms. Filan wants to accuse Mr. Nifong of going "Hollywood" and trying the case in the press.

If Mr. Nifong was guilty of any wrongdoing in his prosecution of the Duke Lacrosse case you could not tell by reading Ms. Filan's article. Never once did she explain what he did that was deserving of disbarment. She is not alone, because law professors at Duke University School of Law are unable to explain why Mr. Nifong was disbarred. I asked more than two dozen of them, and they were even afraid to discuss what has become a taboo topic. Taboo because the attorneys, and individuals with a knowledge and understanding of the issues surrounding Mr. Nifong's disbarment, know that the actions by the North Carolina State Bar are selective and unjust. Had the Bar's disbarment of Mr. Nifong been justified, attorneys and law school professors would not be hesitant to enter into dialogue about it.

I have no problem with opinion pieces that are accurate and based on facts, however I take umbrage when such statements are based on lies, rumor, unsubstiated pronouncements, and baseless speculation. In her article "Nifong's punishment is extreme, appropriate," MSNBC Senior legal analyst Susan Filan not only does a disservice to her professions in the legal and media arenas, but an even greater disservice to the impressionable media consuming public. The article is a disgrace.

That said, I believe in fair play, and I would like to offer Ms. Filan the opportunity to respond on our blog site (www.justice4nifong.blogspot.com), our website (www.justice4nifong.com), or in any other venue or forum over which the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong has control. Any response would be published in its entirety without editing or direct rebuttal. Shortly after the posting of this blog, I will send by postal mail an invitation to Ms. Filan asking for a reply not only to issues covered in her article and this blog, but on any other related or unrelated subjects upon which she may wish to expound.