Monday, September 26, 2011

Prosecutors value death penalty as an important tool in winning convictions

On Georgia’s death row for more than two decades after being convicted of killing an off-duty police officer, Troy Davis was finally put to death recently after a barrage of actions to stave off his execution failed. What is alarming is that Davis’ conviction was based solely on eyewitness testimony of nine individuals, seven of whom later recanted… many citing intimidation by authorities and their youth at the time of the incident as accounting for their false statements which implicated Davis.

That police use threats to elicit statements and testimony from vulnerable individuals is not disputed by most observers of the criminal justice system in North Carolina and elsewhere. Such tactics were used to convict Glen Edward Chapman of two murders for which there was no forensic evidence linking Chapman to the crimes… crimes which he stated he did not commit. Specifically, two of his younger relatives falsely told investigators that Chapman confessed to them that he committed the crimes; claims which they later admitted were untrue and the result of duress applied by law enforcement officials.

Troy Davis refused to admit to taking the life of another… something that he maintained until he was put to death by the state of Georgia. More likely than not, Mr. Davis was truly innocent of the crime, and his insistence of maintaining his innocence is what most likely was responsible for his execution. Surely the case against Davis was extremely weak, at best. However, despite the hundreds of thousands of people in the United States and around the world who wanted his execution postponed to allow for closer scrutiny, the state of Georgia acted with Draconian expediency in moving forward with taking his life.

Unfortunately, the death penalty sentence and execution was carried out to appease and satiate the family of the fallen police officer, Mark MacPhail. Circumstances surrounding MacPhail’s death are tragic, in that he was coming to the assistance of an African American assault victim when he was shot and killed. I have great sympathy for the family of the courageous man, however I do not see how taking the life of an individual who is most likely innocent can assuage the grief. When the family members thirst for blood has ebbed and logic and common sense bring to light that they had a hand in the death of a man not responsible for their loved one’s death, their grief can only be compounded.

But it is prosecutors who benefit most by the death penalty. Many studies have shown that the threat of execution does little to deter the commission of murder. However, as has been shown recently in cases of Kenneth Kagonyera and Robert Wilcoxson, the threat of facing the death penalty can be a powerful incentive for innocent people to plead guilty to a crime that they did not commit. Both men confessed to second degree murder with full knowledge that they were innocent. Not only that, but the Buncombe County prosecutor Ron Moore withheld from the defense attorneys exculpatory DNA evidence prior to Kagonyera and Wilcoxson accepting the plea deal offered by the prosecution for confessing to second degree murder. Mark Rabil, a defense lawyer and co-director of the Innocence and Justice Clinic at the Wake Forest University School of Law said that the Kagonyera/Wilcoxson case is a prime example of how much the threat of capital punishment can distort the criminal justice system.

There are many innocent people in prison who have confessed to murder and other crimes in order to avoid receiving the death penalty. In addition, there are many innocent individuals on death row who steadfastly maintain their innocence in spite of a state sanctioned execution looming over their heads.

I am currently devoting much of my time working to help a man on North Carolina’s death row who I strongly believe is innocent of any capital crime. Nearly a year’s worth of research and investigation has gone into this project, and I hope to have a compelling and comprehensive flog documentary about it posted online within the next month or two. It will be a real eye-opener, and represent the best case yet for the abolishment of capital punishment.

The death penalty should be removed from the state’s arsenal of weapons used to get innocent people to plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. The fact that the death penalty is doled out disparately based on class and color is, alone, grounds for calling for its demise… especially since its execution is a finality which cannot be reversed. Financial considerations also fall on the side of doing away with the death penalty. But perhaps the strongest reason for abolishing the death penalty is because it is morally wrong. In a nation that prides itself on being religiously Christian, how can it justify taking the life of a man or a woman? What would the Man from Nazareth think?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Governor's racist pardon policy denies compensation to wrongly incarcerated African Americans

Click the link below to view interactive flog:

Wake County prosecutor Tom Ford prosecuted Gregory Taylor for the 1991 murder of Jacquetta Thomas. Although he lacked evidence against Taylor in the death of the black woman, Ford maliciously pursued the case against Taylor because he would not implicate African American Johnny Beck, who Taylor knew to be innocent.

Ford used perjured testimony from compromised individuals, who faced their own criminal charges and jail time, along with hocus-pocus SBI lab work, to win a conviction against Taylor which carried a life sentence.

It was only after Taylor served seventeen years in prison that his case was brought before the Innocence Inquiry Commission by Attorney Christine Mumma and the NC Center on Actual Innocence, and he was unanimously declared innocent by a three judge panel. This ruling was enough to free Greg Taylor from confinement behind bars, but he required a pardon from the governor in order to receive the maximum compensation of $750,000 from the state for which he was entitled.

Governor Bev Perdue took her time, causing undo stress and anxiety for Taylor and his family, before finally issuing the pardon in May 2010.

Erick Daniels, an African American who spent more than seven years wrongfully incarcerated for an armed robbery he has adamantly and repeatedly said he did not commit, is equally deserving of a pardon so that he can receive compensation from the state as mandated by the General Assembly. In February 2011, the Office of Executive Clemency denied Erick Daniels’ request for a pardon. When I confronted the Governor’s Office about the denial, Mark A. Davis, the general counsel for the governor told me in a letter dated July 26, 2011, that they had conducted their own investigation. According to their findings, they did not definitively establish Mr. Daniels’ actual innocence, and due to “confidentiality concerns,” they could not share details of their investigation.

Mr. Davis lied in that letter, as the Governor’s Office conducted no investigation, and that is why he cannot share any details of it… and not because of “confidentiality concerns.” Furthermore, there was no forensic or scientific evidence to connect Daniels to the crime, he did not even fit the description of the armed masked perpetrator. The robbery victim fingered Erick Daniels based solely on the shape of his eyebrows in a middle school yearbook.

In addition, another man, Samuel Allen Strong, admitted to committing the crime for which Daniels served seven years. Strong not only fit the initial description of the robbery suspect, but had a past criminal record that included armed robbery, and at the time of his confession was in jail on a separate armed robbery incident.

Despite all of the above, and a declaration of innocence from Judge Orlando Hudson, Governor Bev Perdue expects the public to believe that Erick Daniels very likely was involved in the September 2000 crime.

A May 21, 2000 article in The News & Observer titled “Innocent Charlotte man spent 12 years in prison” tells of the wrongful conviction of Shawn Giovanni Massey on charges of a 1999 kidnapping and armed robbery. He served twelve years of a fourteen year sentence, convicted solely on eyewitness testimony. The only problem is that the victim went to the prosecutor with concerns that she had mistakenly identified Massey, because the perpetrator had cornrow braids and Massey did not.

A striking similarity between the cases of Massey and Daniels is that neither man fit the description of the armed robbery perpetrator, who in both instances was described as having cornrow braids. Erick Daniels and Shawn Massey each had closely cropped hair.

Mecklenburg County District Attorney Peter Gilchrist, in rare prosecutorial candor, admitted that his office botched the case by failing to disclose to the defense that the victim expressed doubt about her identification of the defendant… and eyewitness identification was all that the prosecution had with which to charge and convict Shawn Massey on the serious crimes of kidnapping and armed robbery. In other words, there was no forensic evidence tying Shawn Massey to the crime.

Gilchrist did not identify the prosecutor, and The Charlotte Observer writer Gary L. Wright, who was undoubtedly operating under the well-established media PAPEN (Protect All Prosecutors Except Nifong) policy, didn’t apparently make the effort to identify the prosecutor responsible for bringing an eyewitness case to trial and obtaining a conviction without disclosing exculpatory evidence to the defense about the victim’s own doubts about the accuracy of her identification. District Attorney Gilchrist also stated that he thought the prosecutor did not intend to withhold the information from the defense attorney, and that it was nothing more than a case of bad judgment.

It is interesting to note that The News & Observer glosses over such egregious missteps and malfeasances by prosecutors such as this that occur routinely throughout the state; yet use the least provocation to go after Tracey Cline, the African American Durham District Attorney, who worked under the former D.A., Mike Nifong, and has treated him with civility and respect. This has made her a target of Carpetbagger Jihadists… but that is another story.

On his release in May 2010, law professor James Coleman, a co-director of Duke’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project, drove Massey from the state prison in Greenville to Charlotte where he was reunited with his family.

Although Professor Coleman and I are diametrically opposed in our positions regarding the Duke Lacrosse case and Mike Nifong, I consider him a good friend, and I credit him with preventing Duke University from arresting me on a trumped up charge for being a supporter of Mike Nifong… again, that is another story.

Since being freed, Massey has been unable to land a job, and earlier this year, the governor denied him a pardon. Upon learning that his pardon had been denied, Shawn spiraled downward into a deep depression.

Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, is unsympathetic to the plight of those whose lives have been destroyed by the state through wrongful incarceration, stating, “This is not a welfare issue. The last thing we need to do is to set up a new program just for people who’ve been exonerated.” I strongly disagree as money alone will not help the wrongfully imprisoned adjust once released and not help them emotionally heal from scars inflicted by the state.

The state has a duty to make things right for these innocents. Many experience painful flashbacks and some struggle with relationships. Most all have had difficulty finding employment. As a wrongly incarcerated man for 18 years, Darryl Hunt summed it up when he said about the state, “They put you out with no help as to how to adjust.”

A September 4, 2011, article in The News & Observer by Mandy Locke titled, “Freedom is sweet, but new problems set in,” described the extraordinary challenges which face those exonerated and released after many years of incarceration… a sampling of which follows.

Darryl Hunt at 46 is battling health issues including a stroke after he spent 18 years on death row. He referred to a misconception when he stated, “Everyone assumes we are okay because we are free. There is so much more to it.”

Dwayne Dail, now 43, spent nearly two decades in jail and finds life after prison overwhelming. He suffers from panic attacks and flashbacks to abuses he sustained while incarcerated.

Leo Waters is 62 but feels decades older. He served 21 years in prison for robbery and rape. A disabling back injury sustained in prison forced him out of a job after being released because he frequently called in sick. Since his experience he now keeps to himself and feels uncomfortable around people.

Shawn Massey, now 38, said about his life and situation, “I’m just trying to keep my head above water.”

Even the compensation of $50,000 per year of a wrongful incarceration with a $750,000 maximum is inadequate. Duke University, in a shakedown, shelled out $20 million to each of the Duke Lacrosse defendants even though they never spent a day in jail. Surely the state can do better than it has.

To an objective, rational, and reasonable individual it is evident that Gregory Taylor, Erick Daniels, and Shawn Massey were all unjustly convicted and wrongly served lengthy prison sentences. Of the three, only Taylor has received a pardon and the compensation that he is entitled to as mandated by the General Assembly… which is a pittance when one considers that they were deprived of a human’s most valuable possession… freedom.

The reason for the denial of a pardon for Erick Daniels and Shawn Massey is obvious. It is because of the color of their skin… the fact that they are African Americans. Race is the determining factor in the governor’s decision regarding pardons of innocence. The onus is on the governor to prove otherwise, but to date Governor Perdue who publicly advocates for transparency in government is shielding a racist policy behind a claim of “confidentiality concerns.”

The reason Governor Bev Perdue feels at ease denying pardons to deserving African Americans who have been wrongly incarcerated is because the NAACP, black politicians, black community leaders, black religious leaders, black businesses, black organizations, and black media have remained silent about the blatant and egregious mistreatment of these people of color who are being victimized again by a Democratic governor blocking their access to the compensation to which they are entitled. The African Americans throughout the Tar Heel state are enabling the governor to proceed with carrying out her policies based on race by remaining silent.

State NAACP President William Barber, to my knowledge, has not commented on the denial of a pardon for Durham resident Erick Daniels. Neither has Durham politicians Senator Floyd McKissick, Representatives Larry Hall and Mickey Michaux, or Democratic Congressman David Price.

Prospects do not look good for another request for a Pardon of Innocence that is pending before Governor Perdue, as the petitioner is an African American named Glen Edward Chapman.

An article in the April 3, 2008 News & Observer titled “Another innocent inmate leaves state’s death row” is about Glen Chapman who spent fourteen years on death row for two slayings he did not commit. Again, information that a key witness identified someone other than Chapman was withheld from his attorneys. Furthermore, a forensic report showed that one victim most likely died from a drug overdose rather than due to foul play.

According to the article, defense attorneys stated that the only physical evidence tying Chapman to the one homicide victim was the result of consensual sex with the victim. In addition, it was never reported to defense lawyers that eyewitnesses had last seen the murder victim alive with someone with a history of violence against her in the days after prosecutors claimed she had died.

On August 15, 2011, I hand-delivered a letter to the Capitol Building for Governor Perdue requesting that she give Glen Chapman the pardon he deserves, so that he can receive compensation for the state’s injustices against him.

Later, I received a letter dated August 23, 2011, from Pat Hansen, the Governor’s Clemency Administrator who stated that my comments regarding a possible Chapman pardon would be taken into consideration. The Office of Executive Clemency’s response was appreciated; however, what I found to be extremely disturbing is that the office is apparently under the auspices of the North Carolina Department of Corrections. This seems to represent a grave conflict of interest and one that does not bode well for the interests of justice.

Odds for Glen Edward Chapman receiving a pardon of innocence from Governor Perdue are a long shot when one considers past history and the fact that Mr. Chapman is a man of color.

Equal justice for all demands that Erick Daniels, Shawn Massey, and Glen Chapman receive a pardon from Governor Perdue. That will enable them to receive compensation from the state for their wrongful incarcerations in accordance with law set forth by the state’s legislature. Tar Heelians of good conscience rooted in the principle of “equal justice for all” will accept nothing less. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Trend towards mean-spirited media reporting

Since the inglorious days of the Duke Lacrosse party of March 2006 and its aftermath, it seems to me that the media has adopted and honed to perfection the art of cruel, inhumane, and malicious reporting. Without doubt, the Duke case provided plenty of fodder for the media-types upon which to cut its teeth, especially by going after former Durham District Attorney Mike Nifong. In kowtowing to the Carpetbagger Jihadist agenda to seek-destroy-annihilate anyone on the wrong end of the Duke Lacrosse case, the media, with bloodlust relish, crucified Mike Nifong at every turn. No stone was left unturned when it came to Mr. Nifong, and truth, relevance, and objectivity presented no limitations. The worst example of a libelous attack against Mr. Nifong was by MSNBC senior legal analyst Susan F. Filan, who lied in an article by stating that Mr. Nifong asked his son to attend his hearing in an attempt to garner pity and sympathy. Then, based upon the falsehood that she had manufactured, she went to task attacking Mr. Nifong’s character. The truth of the matter is the opposite of the media-reality created by the Nifong detractor. Mr. Nifong specifically asked his son not to attend his hearing, but his son insisted upon showing support for his unjustly targeted father and was present at the North Carolina State Bar hearing; which was more a resemblance of a kangaroo court.

As stated earlier, everyone on the wrong end of the Duke Lacrosse case was fair game for the media headhunters. Brian Meehan, the lab director whose company provided DNA results for the prosecution, was ridiculed by the media after he was unjustly axed from the company he helped establish. Duke Lacrosse case investigator Linwood Wilson’s personal bickering with his wife was dredged across the headlines… a perfect example of mountain making out of molehills. Vying for the cruelest coverage of all, was the way the news portrayed incidents involving the Duke Lacrosse victim and accuser Crystal Mangum. A litany of examples are on hand, with the most recent being the Reginald Daye autopsy report. Although the media has been alerted to the criminally fraudulent and bogus April 14, 2011 Examination of Autopsy Report, it has shown no curiosity as to how or why it differed from the Investigative Report of Death from April 13th. The media was quick to announce that the autopsy report showed injury to “six major organs”… the only problem is that the media relied upon the muscle called the diaphragm to be re-classified as an organ, which it is not. Furthermore, the report of the 13th , which is the far more reliable and accurate of the two, acknowledged only the splenic flexure of the colon as sustaining any stab related injury and receiving any attention during emergency surgery on Daye. ABC-11 television news was also quick to announce that Ms. Mangum stabbed Daye multiple times (seven) which was disproved by both reports. The media is at the ready to help the state keep concealed the truth behind Reginald Daye’s death from a stab wound… trauma from he most assuredly should have fully recovered.

Another gold mine source for the media has been provided by the NCAA’s investigation of the University of North Carolina’s football program. The self anointed organization headquartered in Indiana has as its objective to create athletic-academic crises in order to justify its relevance and the seven figure annual incomes of its top tiered executives. It pretends to place a premium on academic excellence while policing collegiate sports. Using a heavy hand it smashes the opportunities of many athletes to showcase their talents by arbitrarily handing out suspensions, fines, and banishments… usually for the alleged offense of accepting “gifts.” One UNC football player was deemed to have received a fifty dollar gift and the NCAA slapped him with a one game suspension. It is so ironic that the avaricious NCAA organization with it overstaffed and overpaid workforce is so bent on depriving a few athletes from underprivileged and disenfranchised origins from making a few bucks… this, while the NCAA is raking in the dinero hand over fist. Marvin Austin and Michael McAdoo were but a few of the students athletes caught up in the media storm, with McAdoo being cited for receiving “improper academic help” from a tutor. Although he received an F grade in the class, the NCAA tacked on an additional penalty… permanent ineligibility to play college football. The NCAA actions in this case, as in many others too numerous to recount, are examples of excesses in authority with draconian rulings that are arbitrary and capricious.

The media has been especially hard on the fired coach Butch Davis and one of his assistants John Blake. It seems that Blake had a relationship with a football agent of which the NCAA did not approve. Talk about piling on… Blake was unmercifully hammered in media. The News & Observer led the media charge against McAdoo’s professor, Julius Nyang’oro, who was forced to step down from his post as the chair of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies. His alleged culpability was not informing the Dean about a hiring decision he made of a qualified instructor who happened to work as a sports agent.

The main problem at UNC is that its chancellor, Holden Thorp, is shell-shocked. The NCAA really did a number on him, as every miniscule perceived infraction that is connected with UNC college sports is immediately reported to the NCAA. It is pitiful the amount of power the NCAA has over Mr. Thorp and college sports in general. The universities and colleges should unite and force the abolishment of the NCAA which is nothing more than a parasite that is drunk with power and is running rough-shod over student athletes and college administrators.

The News & Observer sports columnist Luke DeCock wrote a truly bizarre article in the September 6, 2011 paper titled, “Withers made bad call with game ball.” Evidently, it’s not enough to just win the football game… now what you do with the game ball is what really counts? DeCock accused UNC football coach Everett Withers of “calling attention to the Tar Heels’ sullied past instead of their new future.” What does he think his article did? First, I, although not an avid sports follower, was unaware that the game ball was given to former coach Butch Davis… until I read DeCock’s column. Second, so what? Big Deal. It is evident that former coach Davis was largely responsible for recruiting many of the team’s members and helping them to develop into a force capable of defeating James Madison by the score of 42-10. The players naturally had affection towards the former coach and Davis was a friend of current coach Withers. So why not give him a game ball that the coach and players felt he deserved? Certainly such an action was not meant to embarrass an overly sensitive chancellor or serve as a detraction. More ink was given to the story about a game ball given by Withers to Davis than to the ponzi scheme which snared North Carolina State University Debbie Yow’s new basketball coach. Somehow, I do not think The News & Observer has its priorities straight.

Finally, there’s The News & Observer’s three part investigative series by J. Andrew Curliss which does a hatchet job on Durham District Attorney Tracey Cline. To summarize my assessment of the series, it was a bunch of sound and fury signifying nothing. I am not the only one to be of that opinion. It is obvious that she is coming under fire because she is a friend of her predecessor Mike Nifong, and because she has treated him with civility… and the Carpetbagger Jihadist position strictly forbids that, as they follow the dictum that “the friend of my enemy is my enemy.” Claiming that Ms. Cline is under fire is a ruse to get the public to believe that there is widespread disapproval in her work. From what I see, the only disapproval of her job performance is from The News & Observer. Alas, a review of the media treatment of Ms. Cline is worthy of a blog itself.

Instead of hyping sensational stories with the intent of ruining careers, tarnishing reputations and destroying lives, all media-types should make a conscientious effort to report the news fairly and objectively. That would be the best service they could provide for its consumers. 

Coming soon: A flog about Governor Bev Perdue and her race-based pardon policy