Friday, January 29, 2010

Nifong’s past convictions under scrutiny?

Another online article, this one titled: “Ousted DA Nifong’s Past Convictions May Appeal,” is totally misleading and prejudicial. It is yet another arrow from the quiver of a biased media agenda to destroy former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong by misleading the malleable media consumer with outrageous lies and innuendos. Another headline patent made for pulling the wool over the eyes… another Jedi mind-trick. This ridiculous headline infers that Mike Nifong’s actions in handling the Duke Lacrosse case were not only far outside the bounds of acceptable prosecutorial practice, but that his past convictions were won using unacceptable practices. What’s worse is that it states that those who were convicted by Mike Nifong in the past are entitled to an appeal. How absurd. Again the media insults the intelligence of those who no better, while misleading those who don’t.

Steve Cron, a defense lawyer from Santa Monica, California, stated: "But his behavior in this case was so outrageous and so beyond what's required of an ethical prosecutor that everyone's going to start going back and looking." Please give me a break. Mr. Nifong acted well within accepted standards of prosecutors within the state. Mr. Cron did not mention what Mr. Nifong did that was so “outrageous.” Mr. Nifong did not withhold evidence from the defense attorneys, like prosecutor David Hoke did in winning a wrongful conviction against Alan Gell, or like prosecutor Tom Ford did in winning a wrongful conviction against Greg Taylor, or like Jim Hardin did in winning a conviction against Michael Peterson and depriving him of a fair trial. Furthermore, Mr. Nifong did not lie to the court, as the court would want everyone to believe. The court purposely misinterpreted Mr. Nifong’s statements in order to levy the cockamamie charge against him… then, used it as a basis for a contempt of court charge and a 24 jail sentence. This chain of events is totally mind boggling. Statements Mr. Nifong made to the press, which defense attorneys labeled as so prejudicial and inflammatory, were made prior to indictments being handed down. They were mild, and made for the purpose of encouraging party-goers to break from the “athletic no-snitch rule” and give truthful honest statements about what transpired during the party.

The headline is, in fact, cruel in giving false hope to those convicted under prosecutor Nifong, and it encourages those convicted by Nifong to entertain the possibility of seeking an appeal. Worst of all, the headline suggests that others convicted by Mr. Nifong were victimized by his inherent prosecutorial misconduct. The article presents nothing to substantiate its reckless, illogical, and biased headline.

If one wants to investigate past cases, then I would strongly recommend looking into convictions won by Wake prosecutor Tom Ford. His conviction of an innocent man, Gregory Taylor, should be overturned by the three judge panel at its hearing which begins on February 9, 2010. The vendetta prosecution by Ford was made against Mr. Taylor because Taylor refused to wrongfully implicate another innocent man (Johnny Beck) in a murder. Ford offered Taylor a reduced sentence if only he would implicate Beck, an African American male. When Taylor refused, he was sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. And Ford won a conviction against Greg Taylor on the testimony of two witnesses… a prostitute and a jailhouse snitch. Both had received deals, similar to the one Ford offered Taylor… testimony Ford wanted them to give in exchange for a reduction in their sentences. It was an offer which they could not refuse, because they did not have the moral values of Greg Taylor. And, it was an offer that Prosecutor Tom Ford withheld from Greg Taylor’s defense team, in violation of ethical rules.

Rather than do the right thing and get the conviction overturned, Wake District Attorney Colon Willoughby is fighting to keep an innocent man in jail in order to protect his prosecutor, Tom Ford, from complaints of prosecutorial misconduct.

From the prosecution of Gregory Taylor in 1993, Tom Ford displayed a propensity of winning convictions by making deals in exchange for testimony to suit his agenda. This type of conduct by a prosecutor is frightening, and leads one to question the testimony used by Ford to convict others in the seventeen years since. If past cases should be examined for prosecutorial misconduct in hopes of establishing grounds for appeals, then Wake Prosecutor Tom Ford is the ideal prosecutor with which to begin investigating. They should scrutinize whether backroom deals were made with witnesses in exchange for a favor from Ford, and whether the knowledge of such deals was withheld from the defense team.

Don’t expect the media to advocate such a position, however, because it operates under the PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) policy. The media wants to stir the public and those convicted under Nifong into a frenzy against a prosecutor (Nifong) who acted well within acceptable standards, yet tiptoe around the minefield of misdeeds of the truly unethical prosecutors and shield their wrongdoings from the public. This is indeed a pathetic situation.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Falsely labeling the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong

Whether through ignorance or purposefully calculated, many individuals have labeled the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong as a “political organization.” The latest incident occurred during the Martin Luther King march that was held in Raleigh on Monday, January 18, 2010. While marching with our large 4’ by 10’ Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong banner, I asked a media photographer to snap a picture of it. He refused, saying that he couldn’t because we represented a political organization. First of all, I doubt that a media photographer is restricted from photographing anything political. However, most significantly, our organization is far from political. No member of our group is running for political office. Mr. Nifong, to my knowledge, is not running for political office. Our group is not associated with a political party. And we do not promote political issues.

The Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is an organization, not unlike the Four H Club, however, instead of raising corn, we raise cane when individuals are savagely mistreated by the criminal justice system. The primary focus of our advocacy, though, is the grave injustice meted out to former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. I was told by another Committee member who was carrying the other end of the banner, that he was approached by a person who told him that because ours was a “political” organization that we could not participate in the MLK march. Talk about a bunch of nonsense. First of all, this was a blantant attempt by a Nifong antagonist to get us to drop out of the march by, again, falsely labeling us as a political group. The irony of it all is that our group, which is dedicated to the issue of social justice, is the very group that Reverend Martin Luther King would champion and encourage. There is no doubt in my mind, that had Dr. King survived today, he would be a member of the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong, and would be a leading advocate for the cause.

At the end of the march, we were fortunate enough to get a little live coverage during a report by ABC-11 News reporter Ed Crump. The coverage can be viewed by going to, and going to video. Then, select the video that covers the MLK march in Raleigh. We are shown near the end of the clip, which lasts less than three minutes.
The link is (copy and paste):

Anyway, for all future reference, it should be noted that the Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong is a social justice organization, and not a political one. Anyone attempting to adhere such a label to our organization is doing so due to ignorance or to comply with some sinister agenda.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Media’s PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) Policy is strictly adhered to

In the News & Observer, January 16, 2010 article titled “Judge won’t delay Taylor case,” staff writer Mandy Locke strictly followed the media’s PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) policy by omitting Wake County Prosecutor Tom Ford’s name from the article. Prosecutor Ford is responsible for convicting Gregory Flint Taylor for a 1993 murder that he did not commit. Mr. Taylor received a life sentence because he would not implicate another innocent man (Johnny Beck, an African American) for the crime. Even despite tantalizing offers in exchange for his testimony, Mr. Taylor refused to lie at Tom Ford’s demand, and has, as a consequence, spent sixteen years wrongly incarcerated. Tom Ford convicted Taylor solely on testimony from a jailhouse snitch and a prostitute, both of whom were offered reduced sentences in exchange for their cooperation. What is even more egregious is the fact that Prosecutor Ford withheld these backroom deals with the two false witnesses from the Taylor defense attorneys. Despite the above, Tom Ford’s name is never even mentioned in the entire article. Not once! But that is the way it is when the PAPEN policy is in place.

Now, Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby has pleaded for a delay in the Gregory Taylor case before the three judge panel which is scheduled for Tuesday, February 9, 2010. The newspaper article did not state the length of time D.A. Willoughby sought to delay the hearing. Fact of the matter is that even with a delay of an additional sixteen years from now, Willoughby would still not be ready to go before a panel of three judges. And it won’t be because he didn’t have the time to prepare, it’ll be because he doesn’t have a case. He never did, and neither did the original prosecutor Ford, who Willoughby is trying to protect. Willoughby would rather waste taxpayer resources and time and the court’s time with this charade against Gregory Taylor in order to protect the wheelin’ and dealin’ prosecutor Tom Ford than to dismiss the murder charge and allow an innocent man to go free… an innocent and honorable man who has wrongly spent sixteen potentially productive years lost behind bars.

One thing should be clear, however, and that is that Gregory Flint Taylor will be free. There is no doubt about that. Now that there is some oversight on some shaky convictions, in the form of an Innocence Inquiry Commission, prosecutors will be less likely to continually hold innocent people unjustly… all to the dismay of D.A. Willoughby. As a prosecutor, Colon Willoughby is supposed to be a “minister of justice,” seeking truth over a conviction. The fact that he voted against the recommendation of the creation of the Innocence Inquiry Commission shows Willoughby’s lack of commitment to putting truth before conviction. It is the same position taken by Attorney General Roy Cooper who retried Alan Gell in the murder case initially prosecuted by David Hoke. Cooper wasted taxpayer money by re-trying a man in which exculpatory evidence proved that he could not possibly have committed the murder for which he was sentenced to death (evidence withheld by prosecutor Hoke from Gell’s defense included information that Gell was incarcerated on an auto-theft charge during the time that the murder was committed). The jury immediately acquitted Gell at his retrial, when this exculpatory evidence was presented.

“We’re at a disadvantage. We don’t know much of anything,” Willoughby is quoted as stating with regards to not knowing the identity of witnesses Taylor’s attorneys will likely call at the February 9th hearing. The bottom line is, that if Tom Ford’s initial prosecution had merit, then Willoughby would be prepared to take on anything that Taylor’s attorneys could toss at them. The problem for Willoughby is that Ford’s case against Taylor in 1993 was merit-less. That is their disadvantage, and it is one that cannot be overcome by time or anything Willoughby does. The three judge panel will find Gregory Taylor not guilty.

And when the media covers that event on February 9th, they will talk about how Gregory F. Taylor was wrongfully incarcerated for sixteen years, the details about the hearing, and give a background history about the murder which led to this tragedy of sixteen lost years. But, in strict compliance with the PAPEN policy, the media will not mention the name of Tom Ford, the prosecutor responsible for this tremendous injustice. However, do not be surprised to see Mike Nifong’s name, through some convoluted and tortuous manner, linked to the ghastly tragedy that befell Greg Taylor… from which the mindless and misled among the media consumers will naturally attribute Mr. Taylor’s misfortune to that evil and sinister Mr. Nifong.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Responding to blog commenters: justice on a case by case basis

At times the conversation that takes place in the comment section of the blog can be stimulating, relevant, and important. Although I try to respond directly and immediately in the comment section, there are times when I feel the topics covered in the comment section should be addressed in the blog itself.

I find it absolutely amazing that a couple of blog commenters would even suggest that because I champion former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong’s case, that I would blindly support all state prosecutors. They imply that I would begrudge the wrongly incarcerated Erick Daniels compensation for his unjust conviction and incarceration for an armed robbery. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have advocated for Erick Daniels' release long before the charges against him were dismissed, and I have urged that he be declared “innocent” (he is currently seeking a pardon from Governor Bev Perdue) and that the state compensate him. The fact is that I am more likely than not going to lean in favor of justice for defendants than prosecutors. Bottom line is that I define justice based on a case by case basis.

Although I have staunchly supported Mike Nifong, I have been at odds with most prosecutors me when it comes to North Carolina justice. I have even filed complaints with the North Carolina State Bar against several, including Wake County Prosecutor Tom Ford for his withholding information from the defense about two plea deals which enabled him to win a conviction against an innocent man (Gregory Taylor), and Wilson Prosecutor Bill Wolfe for his prosecution of an innocent man (James Arthur Johnson) without probable cause. On the other hand, I was vociferously supportive of Johnston County Prosecutor Gregory C. Butler who was brought before the State Bar’s grievance panel on the flimsiest of charges. My schedule allowed me to be present throughout his hearing to lend my moral support to the embattled prosecutor, who was ultimately not charged with misconduct. Although the case against Mr. Butler should never have been brought by the State Bar to begin with, the outcome was just. Yet it is not only prosecutors against whom I have registered complaints with the State Bar. I filed a complaint against Defense Attorney Johnny S. Gaskins for his breach of attorney client privilege against his former client James Arthur Johnson. However, I wrote favorably and in support of Mr. Gaskins when articles in the media discussed that he had tried to evade federal laws when he made bank deposits just under the limit that would trigger scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. Justice is not the sole province of the prosecutor, defender, defendant, or complaintant. It is determined on a case by case basis.

Another point of contention seems to be the role of the executive branch in matters that are judiciary in nature. Blog commenters have pointed out that the governor of the state has the power to grant a pardon, thereby exercising a power that is usually held by the judiciary branch of government. Somehow, they try to convey the power to apply to the state’s attorney general. First of all, Governor Mike Easley did not grant pardons to the Duke Lacrosse defendants. Attorney General Roy Cooper proclaimed them to be innocent on April 11, 2007 (at the prompting of defense attorney Joseph Cheshire's underling, Brad Bannon). My point is that Attorney General Cooper’s proclamation carried no more legal weight than one made by me or you. What I find disturbing is that the media, which should know better, gave Mr. Cooper’s proclamation credence, instead of challenging it. The media should have known better. The media did know better, but it was working in cahoots with the carpetbagger families of the Duke Lacrosse defendants, the Duke Lacrosse defendants’ attorneys, and the state of North Carolina to ruin prosecutor Mike Nifong. The Duke Lacrosse defendants, who were indicted by a grand jury, did not go through a judicial process in which their innocence or guilt was determined. As special prosecutor, the Attorney General’s Office had only the option of proceeding with the prosecution, or dismissing the case. To make a proclamation regarding innocence or guilt was not its mandate, was overreaching in the extreme, and was inappropriate. The media, universally, made the situation all the worse by embracing the “innocent” declaration, and misleading media consumers on a broad scale.

Every time the media uses the phrase “falsely accused” and “innocent” when referring to the Duke Lacrosse defendants, it is disseminating misleading and false information… in short, playing a Jedi mind-trick on the public. Every time the media refers to the Duke Lacrosse accuser as being a “false accuser” it is, again, spreading lies.

What makes the “Roy Cooper Innocent Promulgation of April 11, 2007” all the more suspect is that, to my knowledge, such a statement by a state attorney general has never been made in the past in North Carolina or any other state in the Union. If someone is aware of a prior instance, I would certainly appreciate a reference source.

Finally, I want to thank the blog commenters for their insightful and thought-provoking comments. Our democracy is founded on the principle of vigorous and civil debate, and justice is better served when there is healthy discourse from individuals with differing points of view.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Herald-Sun writer Neil Offen misleads public

In a December 30, 2009 Herald-Sun article titled “Top 10 Stories of the Decade,” writer Neil Offen writes about the Duke Lacrosse case, which the newspaper staff evidently selected as the top story of the decade. The article is a minefield of misleading and false statements about the case; not unlike typically biased writings which have characterized the media’s approach to the topic. One line which particularly stands out is: “The lacrosse players were declared innocent.” This is the complete statement. I believe that Mr. Offen was referring to the April 11, 2007 “Innocent Promulgation” made by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. To my knowledge, he is the only one to make such a statement, and as most people who have taken high school Civics 101 know, such a proclamation made by a member of the executive branch of government carries no legal weight. The reasons Mr. Offen did not mention in his article that Mr. Cooper made the declaration of “innocent” are twofold. First and foremost he wanted to mislead the public into assuming that a judicial body had made the innocent declaration, and secondly, he was too embarrassed to actually make such a silly statement.

Another statement which I find objectionable is: “…the public downfall of District Attorney Mike Nifong, toppled by his attempt to prosecute the lacrosse players on charges for which there was no evidence.” The truth of the matter is that there are many instances in which prosecutors pursue charges in which there is no evidence. Many of those cases, like the Duke Lacrosse case, are eyewitness cases. For example, prosecutors brought rape charges against Dwayne Dail based on eyewitness identification of a twelve year old girl alleged victim. There was no evidence linking him to that crime for which he spent nearly two decades in jail. Then, there’s the case of Ronald Cotton, who was convicted by eyewitness identification only, without evidence tying him to the crime. He served a decade in prison for a crime with which he was innocent. The armed robbery case against 14 year old Erick Daniels was also based on eyewitness testimony (the shape of his eyebrows in a middle school yearbook) in a case where there was no evidence linking him to the crime. He was wrongfully incarcerated for seven years. A fourth case, Alan Gell was incarcerated at the time of the commission a murder for which he was prosecuted, and prosecutors withheld this information from his defense attorneys in order to win a death penalty conviction. He was sentenced to death and served half of his time served on death row before he was granted a new trial. There was no evidence linking Mr. Gell to the crime. His conviction was based on the testimony of a teenage girl who made contradictory statements, and was even recorded on a wiretapped conversation saying that she was forced to make statements that benefited the prosecutor’s case. Finally, there’s the case of Gregory Taylor, who was sentenced to life on a murder charge in which there was no evidence tying him to the crime. He was convicted on the testimony of a prostitute and a jailhouse snitch (both of whom received deals in exchange for their testimony – a fact which was not relayed to the defendant’s attorney). The prosecutors of these five aforementioned cases were not hauled before the North Carolina State Bar and subjected to disciplinary hearings. However, Mr. Offen would like the media consumer to believe that all cases prosecuted by the state are backed up by forensic evidence. This is misleading and far from the truth.

The reason that Mr. Nifong was charged by the North Carolina State Bar with ethics violations was to get him off the case. After the Bar filed the charges against him, Mr. Nifong had no alternative than to recuse himself from the Duke Lacrosse case.

Mr. Offen states that Mr. Nifong was found guilty of criminal contempt (a trumped up charge for which he was sentenced to 24 hours in jail). This is only part of the punishment for which Mr. Nifong was subjected because of his decision to proceed with prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case instead of dropping it initially. Because of his independence from the state in his decision to proceed with prosecution, Mr. Nifong suffered a similar fate as Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett who defied England’s King Henry II. The fact is that Mr. Nifong did not lie to the court as the State Bar and media would like the public to believe.

In his article, Mr. Offen also states that Mr. Nifong was disbarred for misconduct, but I bet that he, like the average person on the street, cannot explain what that alleged misconduct is. Mr. Nifong certainly did not withhold evidence, as all DNA evidence was submitted to the defense team no later than October 27, 2006. There was plenty of time for the Duke Lacrosse defense team to utilize the information in preparing for a defense as a trial date had not even been set at that time. Furthermore, the alleged DNA evidence that Mr. Nifong withheld was not exculpatory, as the media has suggested often in the past. This is in stark contrast to Prosecutor David Hoke who withheld 17 "exculpatory" eyewitness statements from Alan Gell’s defense attorneys (evidence which immediately led to a “not guilty” verdict in a retrial).

As far as criminal cases, Alan Gell’s case is far more important and compelling than the Duke Lacrosse case when viewed through an objective lens. Whereas Mr. Nifong acted within acceptable standards in prosecuting the Duke Lacrosse case, Mr. Hoke withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense team in winning a death penalty conviction. The Duke Lacrosse defendants served no jail time, and they each received $7 million from Duke University for reasons which are unknown to me. Alan Gell is now serving jail time on vendetta charges that the Johnston County District Attorney cannot even coherently explain. Meanwhile, the Duke Lacrosse boys have all been allowed to proceed with their lives and are benefiting from their celebrity (books have been published presenting them in a favorable light, a movie for HBO is in production, and Collin Finnerty has had an assault charge expunged from his record). And currently they are seeking an additional $10 million each from the cash-strapped city of Durham. Mr. Gell, on the other hand, has reached an out-of-court settlement against the state of North Carolina in which he was awarded four million dollars.

Even the case of James Arthur Johnson is more compelling because his actions in solving the murder case of Wilson teen Brittany Willis resulted in him being charged in the crime. The charge against Johnson was based solely on the testimony of the murderer, who implicated Johnson only after police told him that Johnson had “snitched” on him. Johnson served 39 months in jail without a trial, and charges of murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery were dropped the day the trial was to begin (long after the murder recanted testimony upon which charges were based). Again, no evidence linked Johnson to the crimes against Brittany Willis. Eventually, with the threat of additional wrongful incarceration, Johnson agreed to an Alford plea with a special prosecutor desperate for a face-saving resolution. Although James Arthur Johnson solved the crime and earned the $20,000.00 reward offered by the family and friends of Brittany Willis, it was never forthcoming. And the fact that the reward was not presented was never addressed by the media. It is doubtful whether the crime would have been solved had it not been for Mr. Johnson coming forward to the Wilson Police Department.

On its merits, the Duke Lacrosse case should not have been made the top story of the decade, but that is what happens when the media panders to the well-heeled, and becomes a bully pulpit for them. Instead of spreading propaganda to support the interests and agenda of the wealthy, powerful, and privileged, the media should concentrate on providing the media consumer with objective and unbiased reporting. The article by Mr. Offen left a lot to be desired as far as this is concerned.

I gladly offer Mr. Offen the opportunity to answer this blog, by providing him with a blog page in which I will post, in full and without editing or a direct rebuttal, his response.