Sunday, June 26, 2011

The cosmetic self-serving bill that the Guv shouldn’t’ve signed into law

In the Saturday, June 25, 2011 issue of The News & Observer is an article by staff writer Craig Jarvis titled, “Perdue vetoes bill on lawsuits.” The article makes mention of some of the other bills that Governor Bev Perdue signed into law on Friday. One bill she signed was to “protect prosecutors if police don’t give them all the material they’re supposed to in criminal cases…” This is truly a joke and it’s the kind of thing that cements into the minds of countrymen and women that North Carolina is the laughing stock of the nation when it comes to criminal justice.

The bill is one without substance, offers no benefits to the majority of Tar Heelians, and at its worst is capable of debilitating court room justice. It is self-serving in that the General Assembly, which is comprised mostly of attorneys and individuals with law degrees, in passing it is merely protecting one of its flock from civil liability. This should not even be an issue because prosecutors enjoy immunity in cases which they are prosecuting… all attorneys except former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. Because Nifong exhibited rare independence and refused to kowtow to the Power-That-Be and dismiss the Duke Lacrosse case charges, he was subjected to the most overbearing and devastating persecution by the state, including disbarment, and crucifixion in the media. The protection he was due as a prosecutor was stripped away to permit the unprecedented filing of civil suits against him. What makes this all the more tragic is that he prosecuted the case well within acceptable standards.

Other prosecutors, such as Tom Ford, who solicit and use perjured testimony, withhold exculpatory evidence from the defense, utilize hocus-pocus forensics, and have no qualms about holding “suspects” in jail for lengthy periods without bringing them to trial, are and have been protected by the laws already in place that provide them with immunity. They are protected under the umbrella of the law so long as they comply with the wishes of those in power… if not the consequences of their actions can be predicted by observing what happened to the independently thinking prosecutor seeking true justice, Mike Nifong.

With the Mike Nifong situation, the state merely bypassed the law that protected Nifong… acted as though it didn’t exist. Because the media had thoroughly poisoned the minds of the masses with its anti-Nifong reporting and opinions there was little reason to believe that the public would object this judicial indiscretion.

But, that is the way things work in the Tar Heel state. When people of privilege, power, status, and connections go afoul of the law, then the laws are bended or broken and they receive “a rare deal for the privileged.” When the disenfranchised, poor, people of color, and those who have incurred the wrath of the state bigwigs are involved in a controversy, then you can bet that the laws will be manipulated and molded in a way that is not to their advantage… a “rare deal for the not-so-privileged.” Bottom line is that this bill is totally useless. The courts and state will continue to use creative means when dealing with the law in order to obtain the results it desires.

The absence of civil lawsuits filed against prosecutors is evidence that this bill to protect them is superfluous. Prosecutor Tom Ford, who vindictively put Gregory Taylor, a man he knew to be innocent, behind bars for a life sentence is not being sued. Even though after serving 17 years wrongfully in prison Greg Taylor was exonerated and proclaimed “innocent” by a three judge panel. Prosecutor David Hoke who put Alan Gell on death row even though he possessed exculpatory evidence of his innocence, is not being sued. This, despite the fact that Alan Gell served ten years wrongfully incarcerated. These are but two of many cases where prosecutors exhibited egregious professional misconduct far worse than anything Mr. Nifong has been accused of and yet are not subjected to civil suits. This bill is unnecessary for protecting those prosecutors who tow the state’s line by following the tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.”

What the bill does is divest prosecutors of responsibility for the cases they choose to prosecute. In this way, it is a major impediment for criminal defendants who are seeking justice. It is an out for the prosecutors, allowing them to put the blame of an ill-fated and wrongful prosecution on police and investigators. If crucial evidence, records, lab results, notes, and/or documentation are found to be withheld from the defense, then prosecutors can do as they have done in the past… which is to put the blame on the investigator, police, or lab tech. This bill allows prosecutors to say, loud and clear, “Hey, it’s not my fault,” whenever an innocent person has been found to have languished behind bars for years and decades due to a prosecutorial misdeed. If anything, this bill which was just signed into law, has the propensity to ramp up the number of bad acts by prosecutors. This is an outcome that is obviously not in the best interests of Tar Heelians.

A prime example of what I’ve stated comes from an article which appeared in The News & Observer titled, “Bill critics: Hold DAs accountable.” In the news piece, by AP writer Emery P. Dalesio, it discussed an Iredell County double-murder case in which the judge declared a mistrial and barred prosecutors from pursuing the death penalty against defendant Al Bellamy. This ruling from the bench was the result of prosecutors, who three weeks into the trial and having completed presenting their case, handed defense attorneys about 1,700 pages of interview notes taken by a former narcotics detective. Although the prosecutors’ case may be in slight jeopardy, the prosecutors themselves certainly are at no risk. In accordance with the PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong), the names of the prosecutors are not even mentioned. The bill newly signed into law would have absolutely no bearing on this case.

These Iredell County prosecutors will not face sanctions, punishment, or disbarment for withholding gobs of evidence from defense attorneys well into the trial, which is an abomination when one considers that the North Carolina State Bar, in large measure, disbarred Mike Nifong for allegedly not giving defense attorneys non-exculpatory lab results fast enough… a trial date having not even been set in the Duke Lacrosse case.

Final analysis: it is the people who need protection from prosecutors, not the prosecutors who need protection from the people. However, through obfuscation, Jedi mind-speak, spin, and fancy rhetoric, the General Assembly has been able to convince many of those who do not adequately exercise their gray matter that this new law to protect prosecutors will lead to fairer criminal justice outcomes. Hah. The laugh’s on us. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More of Wake County Prosecutor Tom Ford’s handiwork…

To access flog, click on the link below:

In the Saturday, June 04, 2011 edition of The News & Observer newspaper, an article titled “Accused stepdaughter wants her life back” by staff writer Thomasi McDonald chronicled yet another chapter in the malfeasance and misdeeds of Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford.

The name “Tom Ford” probably does not sound familiar to most but it should, as Ford was the prosecutor in the botched murder investigation of Jacquetta Thomas that unfolded nearly two decades ago. As is it’s PAPEN Policy (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong), The News & Observer article never once mentioned the Gregory Taylor case or linked Tom Ford to it. It was Gregory Flynt Taylor who Prosecutor Ford saddled with that homicide… but he did so only because Taylor, who is white, would not give perjured testimony in order to convict Johnny Beck, the African American designated suspect who was Ford’s primary target.

In 1993, Taylor was convicted by the use of perjured testimony, a specialty of Prosecutor Ford, and with some hocus-pocus forensics which manipulated evidence to favor the prosecution’s scenario. In Taylor’s case, a stain on the bumper of his car was misleadingly determined to be human blood… which, in fact, it was not.

Prosecutor Ford won a life sentence against Greg Taylor because Taylor refused to implicate another innocent man with perjured testimony.

Returning to the story about the accused stepdaughter… Carletta Alston was charged in June 17, 2009 with the death of her stepfather Michael Donnell Smith. Smith, standing in his Knightdale driveway, was shot in the face during the early morning hours as he prepared to drive to work. His wife Phyllis and stepdaughter Carletta were inside the house when they heard the gunfire.

Afraid to venture outside to investigate, they placed a hysterical 9-1-1 call. Police arrived later and conducted an investigation that produced a stack of letters between the murdered victim Smith, who was also a co-pastor at a church and another woman. The correspondence pointed towards a romantic relationship between the two. Michael Smith’s wife Phyllis, denied knowledge of any affair until it was brought to her attention by the police.

Two days following the murder of Michael Donnell Smith, June 6, 2009, Wake deputies first interviewed Carletta Alston. They could not determine a motive for her to commit the murder. According to the newspaper article, police focused on the stepdaughter Carletta because her account of the shooting differed with other witnesses… specifically, police stated that the time Carletta Alston gave for hearing the shot was significantly later than the time given by neighbors.

Police did not state how much different, but surely a record of the 9-1-1 call would narrow down the timeline. Allegedly gunpowder residue was found somewhere on Alston’s nightgown, but not on her hands, or the hands of her mother. And, as Alston’s attorney, Karl Knudsen of Raleigh stated regarding gunpowder residue, “There’s always the possibility of contamination.”

Based upon Alston’s version of the time at which she heard the gunshot differing with the time given by the neighbors and the forensic report that gunpowder residue was found on Alston’s nightgown… exactly where it was never stated… Carletta Alston was charged with the murder of her stepfather Michael Donnell Smith. Police and prosecutors did not even have a motive in arresting Alston.

What is truly absurd is the statement made by Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby which fundamentally stated that there was reason enough to arrest Carletta Alston, there was reason enough for a grand jury to indict Carletta Alston for the murder of Michael Donnell Smith, but that they didn’t have a strong enough case to take it to court. Tea Party conservatives and birthers may believe this line spewed by the Wake County D.A., but Jedi mind-tricks have no affect on me and others with strong logical minds and a modicum of common sense.

Put another way, if the prosecutors did not have a strong enough case to take to court, then Alston should not have been indicted. And, if prosecutors did not have a strong enough case to indict Alston, she should have never been arrested. It’s as simple as that. To aver otherwise is what makes North Carolina justice the laughing stock of the country.

So Carletta Alston upon being arrested lost the two jobs that she held at nursing homes, and she languished in jail at costly taxpayer expense for a year. When she was unexpectedly released from custody without explanation, she had in essence served a one year sentence for not committing a crime… courtesy of prosecutor Tom Ford and the state’s selective justice system based on Class and Color.

The North Carolina justice system is one in which the well-heeled, powerful, privileged, and connected are given “rare deals.” Most of these deals substitute a small fine in place of serving jail time. Those who are disenfranchised, indigent, and people of color are dumped onto the scrap heap of despair and injustice, left to fend for themselves after losing years of their lives and their self dignity to an uncaring, inhumane, and unsympathetic system.

What happened to Carletta Alston is not an isolated incident. The following are but a smattering of examples:

James Arthur Johnson was charged with the murder, rape, kidnapping and armed robbery of Brittany Willis by Wilson County prosecutor Bill Wolfe. Despite lacking credible evidence Johnson, who solved the crimes against Willis, served a 39 month sentence before being forced to agree to an Alford plea deal for a misprision of felony. A misprision of felony charge is applied to person who has knowledge of a crime but does not go to authorities with it. Even this charge did not fit the plea deal which Johnson accepted.

Not only that, but friends and family of Brittany Willis offered a $20,000 reward upon which they reneged after Johnson identified the perpetrator of the crimes against Willis. The media has kept quiet about this.

Judge Osmond Smith III sentenced 15 year-old Erick Daniels to confinement for ten to fourteen years after he was convicted of an armed robbery in which prosecutor Freda Black offered not a shred of credible evidence. The victim of the robbery picked out the young boy’s photograph from a middle school year book based solely on the shape of his eyebrows.

Although he has been proclaimed “innocent” by a judge, the governor and her Office of Executive Clemency has refused to issue a pardon to Erick Daniels who is struggling to get a job with a false felony conviction on his record.

Crystal Gail Mangum, who was the victim and accuser in the Duke Lacrosse case, had charges trumped up against her in February 2010 after police were called to her apartment by her children out of fear for their mother’s safety. Crystal had been repeatedly punched in the face by her ex-boyfriend after she made an insulting comment.

When the responding police realized the identity of Crystal, they dropped attention from Crystal’s abuser and focused on her instead. In order to have Mangum convicted of a crime that would carry serious jail time, the Durham Police, the only ones with the motive, means, and opportunity, set fire to clothing in the bathtub, claimed it was arson, and attributed it to Crystal.

With a slew of other bogus charges, initial bail was set at $1 million. Like Carletta Alston, Crystal Mangum lost her job… but in addition lost her apartment, many of her belongings, custody of her children, was dropped from graduate school classes in which she was enrolled, and she lost her independence.

Crystal spent three months in jail before a $100,000 bail was unexpectedly satisfied by a benevolent bail bondsman. Even though her attorney, Mani Dexter, put up an almost non-existent feather-weight defense, Mangum was not convicted of the most serious arson charge, and was sentenced to time served on other frivolous charges for which she was convicted.

The system of selective justice based on Class and Color thrives in North Carolina because civil rights groups, politicians, and community leaders allow it. They remain silent while the vulnerable individuals, who look to and depend upon them for protection, are mashed under the uncaring heel of those in positions of power in the justice system.

The NAACP, under leadership of Dr. Rev. William Barber II, remained silent as a dormouse. Where was his voice, or that of the NAACP, when Carletta Alston was thrown into the slammer because her recollection of events differed from others about the time at which a gun was fired? State senators and representatives in Wake County have also remained silent when their constituent Carletta Alston languished in jail at taxpayer expense despite the fact that prosecutor Tom Ford had not built a case against her.

Clergymen throughout the state may deliver fiery sermons to their flock from within the confines of their houses of worship, but when it comes to speaking out publicly against the injustice against the very people they serve , then it is as though they have suddenly lost their voices.

Because of the deafening silence amongst community and civil rights leaders, prosecutors like Tom Ford are emboldened and have no compunction against tossing the disenfranchised, poor, and people of color in jail in order to close a case. So what if innocent people are serving time behind bars while the real culprits run free? Who cares?

And, Tom Ford can count on the media coddling up to him, in conjunction with the media’s PAPEN Policy. Duke Lacrosse Prosecutor Mike Nifong in doing his job within acceptable standards, was vilified and butchered by the media… but not so with the Greg Taylor Prosecutor Tom Ford.

Even though the Greg Taylor case received plenty of media press, the prosecutor of the case Tom Ford was rarely mentioned. SBI lab agent Duane Deaver was the designated scapegoat for the case. Well known defense attorney Joseph Cheshire, in defending Greg Taylor, was lenient when discussing the prosecutor who snatched seventeen years of his client’s best years from him. No disparaging words about Ford were uttered from Cheshire’s lips… even referring to Ford as a capable opponent. Cheshire saved his criticism for Mike Nifong only.

In fact, that was Cheshire’s strategy in the Duke Lacrosse case. Not to defend the defendants, but to attack Nifong, the prosecutor who was too independent and would not yield to the tenet of “selective justice based on Class and Color.” So with the media in tow, the Duke Lacrosse defense set out to destroy Mike Nifong, which was culminated with his disbarment, making him the only prosecutor to be disbarred by the North Carolina State Bar since its inception in 1933.

I have to hand it to The News & Observer for even having the gumption to mention Tom Ford’s name in the article. However, even in doing so, it attempted to mislead. Take the passage “Knudsen also noted that the prosecutor handling the case, Tom Ford, has a reputation for being very thorough and willing to do everything he can with the available evidence.” Ford exhibited his talents with evidence in the Greg Taylor case when he turned a bumper stain into human blood, and when he took a negative scent from a tracking hound and with a little abracadabra turned it into a positive one.

Then the article tried to define Tom Ford as a dedicated prosecutor by stating, “But he backed away from taking Alston to trial.”

“He came to the conclusion that it was not a case they wanted to move forward with,” Knudsen said.

I have not a problem with that decision, but why did it take twelve months for Tom Ford to come to the conclusion that he did not, and never did have a case against Carletta Alston? Twelve months while Ms. Alston served time without being convicted of a crime. The fact of the matter is, as was previously stated, that Carletta Alston should never have been arrested and charged with the crime.

Thanks to Tom Ford’s handiwork, the state of North Carolina owes Carletta Alston. As Ms. Alston struggles to find work and deal with other problems related to her unjust incarceration, the state needs to step in and help make her whole… as much as is humanly possible. That is what true justice demands and that is what we, as Tar Heelians, should demand.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Lock ‘em all up, and sort out the facts later… Durham Police Department Policy regarding the Not-So-Privileged?

A recent article in The News & Observer, titled “Accused stepdaughter wants her life back,” recounts how Carletta Alston, was arrested and charged with the murder of Michael Donnell Smith in June 2009. Although Wake County Prosecutor Tom Ford (who also wrongly prosecuted Gregory Taylor in the 1991 death of Jacquetta Thomas) had no credible evidence or even a motive against Ms. Alston, he held her in jail for a year before finally releasing her. It seems that in North Carolina’s justice system this practice of arresting an individual first and then working up a case against the person is not all that rare… especially amongst the poor, disenfranchised, people of color and those considered Not-So-Privileged.

This kind of arrest first, investigate later policy would not be tolerated if it was applied to the privileged, or those who were deemed to be professionals or educated. For example, Jason Young, who is currently on trial for the murder of his wife Michelle Young, was not scooped up and dumped in the slammer as soon as suspicions about him arose. Heck, no. The police and their investigators conducted a thorough investigation before making the arrest and bringing charges against him.

That is the way the justice system should work when it comes to making an arrest and bringing charges. Justice definitely was not served in the Carletta Alston case… more of which will be presented in the flog which is soon to follow.

In the past few days evidence has been unearthed, literally, which has brought media attention to yet another sad chapter of crime in the cash-strapped city of Durham. Specifically, the case of the so-called “Black Hebrews” religious cult with its leader Pete Moses Jr., who along with a half dozen others, has been charged with the murder of 28 year-old Antoinette McKoy and a five year-old boy, Jadon Higginbothan. According to media sources, a witness stated that cult leader Moses killed the little boy and ordered a follower, Vania Sisk, mother of the murdered boy, to shoot McKoy. It is believed that the deaths occurred sometime in December 2010.

Let me preface my following remarks by stating that neither Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez nor any of his investigators have shared any information about the case with me. All that I have gleaned about the case has come from the mainstream media… which is not the most reliable source. But it is the only source available to me.

I do not question the arrest and murder charges leveled against Pete Moses Jr. and Vania Sisk. From what I have read and viewed on television news, those charges seem to be warranted. Charges against five other individuals seems to be somewhat more suspect. Although Moses’s mother Sheilda Evelyn Harris rented the house nearly a year ago on Ashe Street where the bodies were found, I have seen no evidence that she was involved or had knowledge of the murders. On the television news broadcasts however, relatives of Ms. Harris claimed that she had no involvement in Moses’s religious cult or his crimes. Others arrested included Sheila Falisha Moses, 20; P. Leonard Moses, 20; Larhonda Renee Smith,40; and Lavada Quinzetta Harris, 40. Sheila and Leonard Moses are children of Ms. Harris, and siblings of cult leader Pete Moses Jr. Other than living in the house on Ashe Street, there was no information linking Sheila and Leonard in the crimes.

A newspaper article in today’s The News & Observer titled, “Site of woman’s body yields remains of child,” conveyed that Durham Police Chief Lopez stated that prior to discovery of the bodies on the Ashe Street property, Ms. Harris was not a suspect. The mere discovery of the bodies on the property does not in-and-of itself implicate Ms. Harris in the murder.

Although the five charged with murder (outside of Pete Moses and Vania Sisk), are being held without bail, the real possibility exists that they may be totally innocent… that they could have had no knowledge of the crime. It is possible that one or more may have aided or abetted Pete Moses, and possibly deserved a lesser charge of “accessory after the fact.” And, although I believe that it is highly unlikely, the five could have all taken part in the murders and be guilty as charged.

It just seems to me that when it comes to making arrests amid those who are of the Not-So-Privileged class, police and prosecutors in Durham and Wake Counties, as well as other counties within the state, have no qualms about making arrests first and investigating second. I believe that it should be the other way around.

If I were a bettin’ man, I would be inclined to believe that before the dust settles, of the five presently in custody and facing murder charges (excluding Pete Moses Jr. and Vania Sisk), most, if not all of them will have the murder charges against them reduced or dropped. Although arresting the Not-So-Privileged may be popular with conservative law and order Republicans, arresting and charging people without credible evidence is an unjust policy that results in unnecessary misery and hardship, and drains the county coffers that are maintained with taxpayer dollars.

Arrest first and investigate second policies in Durham, Wake County and throughout North Carolina should be abandoned immediately, and in its place there should be a principle that requires an investigation that yields credible evidence before an arrest takes place… in other words, the same policy that is currently in place for the Privileged class should be applied to the Not-So-Privileged.