Monday, June 19, 2017

Dontae Sharpe Did Not Kill George Radcliffe


   
                      Dontae Sharpe Did Not Kill George Radcliffe
By Jessica Brand

He’s been in prison for more than two decades for a crime he didn’t commit. Why won’t North Carolina set him free?

In February 1994, in Greenville, North Carolina, someone fired a fatal bullet at a 33-year-old man named George Radcliffe. Police recovered Radcliffe’s truck, which had crashed into a chain-link fence, near the site of the shooting. They found Radcliffe inside the truck, slumped over in the front seat.

The murder went unsolved for two months, until a troubled teenager claimed a black man named Dontae Sharpe had committed the murder because Radcliffe, who was white, owed him money in a drug deal.

Sharpe, who was 18 when Radcliffe was killed, insisted on his innocence then and continues to insist on it today. Considerable evidence—including recantations by the state’s witnesses, signs of witness manipulation by the Greenville Police Department, and information pointing to another likely culprit—suggests he is telling the truth.

The government’s case hinged largely on the testimony of Charlene Johnson, who initially refused to come to the trial and testify; police, in turn, took her into custody and brought her to court. Johnson admitted at trial that she’d received $500 for “coming forward.”

Thirteen years old and suffering from serious drug addiction at the time of the shooting, Johnson claimed she’d noticed Sharpe and Radcliffe arguing after the latter shorted the former by $2 in a drug deal. Police, however, found a lot more than that amount—$53 to be exact—in Radcliffe’s wallet. She also claimed Sharpe fired one bullet while face-to-face with Radcliffe. An autopsy, though,
showed a wound that traveled from the victim’s left arm through his chest and into his right arm. With the help of a friend standing nearby, the witness claimed, Sharpe placed Radcliffe—who was 5-foot-10 and weighed 225 pounds—into the victim’s compact truck. She said that one of the men “probably” sat on top of Radcliffe, then drove the car until it crashed. Johnson told the jury that Sharpe got out of the car, threw down the keys and the gun, and fled. But police did not recover a gun and found Radcliffe’s keys in the ignition.

       Free Dontae Sharpe! | April 13th Caravan for Justice Promo


Beatrice Stokes, the government’s other eyewitness, claimed she saw a “scuffle” and then the spark of a gun going off. She believed Sharpe had a gun but stopped short of saying he’d fired a shot, and she never identified him as the shooter. A daily drug user, she acknowledged she could have been “high as a kite” on crack at the time of the shooting. Stokes never provided a written statement, and in a highly irregular move, police officers did not memorialize a single interview they’d had with her.

That was the extent of the government’s case implicating Sharpe. No forensic evidence linked him to the murder. Police recovered two fingerprints from Radcliffe’s car, but neither matched Sharpe’s own prints. Nonetheless, in 1995, a jury convicted Sharpe of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life in prison. Not long after, the government’s case began to unravel.

First, both Johnson and Stokes recanted their testimony. Johnson admitted just months after the trial was over that she had lied, a position she has maintained for 20 years. In a recent sworn affidavit, she wrote, “My lies have kept Dontae in prison, but they have also been a very heavy burden for me. I feel stuck in Greenville until I fix what I did and Dontae is free.”

Johnson’s medical records, which were never disclosed at trial, provide important insight into her motivation to fabricate. About six days after the shooting and at the behest of Officer Jeff Shrock, who knew her from his policing of the neighborhood, Johnson’s mother committed the 13-year-old to an adolescent psychiatric unit for several weeks. Her medical files note Johnson’s desire to “be submissive and cooperative,” her “sensitivit[y] to external pressures and demands,” and a “vulnerab[ility] to separation fears from those who have occasionally provided support.”

Enter Detective Ricky Best, who both helped run the investigation into Sharpe’s case and played a father-figure role for Johnson. Best gave Johnson and her family gifts and money, and she referred to him as “Daddy Best.”

There is reason to believe Best wanted her to pin the murder on Sharpe. Johnson says Best was frustrated with his inability to arrest Sharpe for drug dealing, allegedly telling her, “I can’t get him for drugs, but I can get him for murder.” While Best has denied making this statement, Schrock said at a hearing that he “knew Mr. Sharpe from the streets” and had “attempted to establish probable cause to arrest Mr. Sharpe for drug dealing, but had always been unsuccessful.”

Stokes recanted in May 2000, confessing she’d held “the truth inside for years.” She said this while speaking to Sharpe’s paid private investigator, a former Greenville police detective who investigated Sharpe’s case and believes he is innocent. In December 2000, Stokes reversed course when reinterviewed by the Greenville police. This time, she claimed her initial trial testimony was true, although she maintains she never saw who fired the fatal shot.

Stokes, too, had a motivation to tell the police what they wanted to hear. Unbeknownst to defense counsel, Stokes was in jail when she first identified Sharpe as the shooter and therefore was in need of police and prosecutorial assistance. It would have been easy for Stokes to point to Sharpe, who was already under arrest for the murder. And although she claimed otherwise at trial, she told Sharpe’s private investigator she was promised $200, which she received after testifying.

There is also evidence the jury never heard that points to a different culprit. At trial, defense counsel proffered Tracy Highsmith’s testimony explaining that her boyfriend, Damien Smith, had confessed to shooting Radcliffe. Highsmith said he’d told her that he “would kill himself before he [would] go to jail for killing a white man.” Later that month, Smith shot himself in the head.

The prosecutor objected to the admission of this powerful testimony, arguing that Smith’s words were hearsay—an out-of-court statement not admissible in court unless it falls within a well-established exception. Sharpe’s attorney—who in 1987, temporarily lost his law license after a conviction for drug distribution—failed to argue that this was a statement against penal interest, one that, if believed, might subject the speaker to criminal liability. Someone saying, essentially, “I am the shooter” certainly falls within that exception. The lawyer’s glaring misstep meant the jury never heard that someone else had confessed to the murder.

Perhaps most importantly, it is now clear that the police misled the judge throughout the case. At a 1997 hearing on a motion for a new trial, Detective Best testified that he believed Johnson’s identification of Sharpe because she’d passed a polygraph administered before her testimony. The results, however, were inconclusive, a fact police did not disclose until 2014. In that same hearing, Shrock testified that Johnson had identified Sharpe while she was with him at the hospital. He now admits this was false. In a 2014 interview with the Greenville police, who are reexamining the case, Shrock blamed Best for what he refers to as a “fuckin’ fiasco.”

If the events following this trial have not undermined public trust in Sharpe’s conviction, it is hard to imagine what will. The recantations, the excluded evidence, and the false statements lead to one conclusion: Dontae Sharpe should not have been convicted of this crime.

There are now petitions pending before three people: North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, and Greenville District Attorney Kimberly Robb. If Stein and Robb joined in a motion for appropriate release, Sharpe would be let out of prison immediately. Cooper could also grant a pardon of full innocence. Sharpe is otherwise out of appeals. If these three state officials decline to act, he will continue to sit behind bars, hoping to be granted parole—a scenario made less likely by the fact that he insists he is innocent.

                    Dontae Sharpe’s mother Sarah Blakely, Sharpe, and his aunt Sharon Sharpe.

The chorus demanding Sharpe’s release and a full recognition of his innocence gets louder by the day, with leaders from the Duke Law School’s Wrongful Convictions Clinic, the North Carolina NAACP, and the nonprofits Color of Change and Forward Justice holding in-person and online rallies on his behalf. Leading the charge, as she has since he was locked up more than 20 years ago, is Sharpe’s mother Sarah Blakely. “My son is innocent,” Blakely says. “I only ask that all those with power could humble themselves to imagine the living nightmare our family has experienced. We lost Dontae for every major holiday, every birth, and every death in our family, for more than two decades. Every day I pray that the governor and all those with power will finally do justice.”

         NC NAACP Launches "Free Dontae Sharpe and Kalvin Michael Smith"

 
           June 19th "Free Dontae Sharpe NOW!" Call to Action | Promo




Saturday, December 3, 2016

Kenneth Young "15 to life"


Judge Daniel H. Sleet of Florida’s 2nd District Court: Shows he has no real understanding of US law or just does not care or he is a real out right racist.
The juvenile justice system in the United States was built on the idea that an individual’s ability to understand right and wrong, as well as the consequences of his or her decisions, is not completely formed until adulthood, when psychological and physiological capacities are fully developed...

Does sentencing a teenager to life without parole serve our society well? The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida. At age 15, Kenneth Young received four consecutive life sentences for a series of armed robberies. Imprisoned for more than a decade, he believed he would die behind bars. Now a U.S. Supreme Court decision could set him free. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows Young’s struggle for redemption, revealing a justice system with thousands of young people serving sentences intended for society’s most dangerous criminals.

       Trailer for 15 TO LIFE Kenneth's Story


           Children In Prison For Life Sentence 'Kids Behind Bars
In June 2000, 14-year-old Kenneth Young was convinced by his mother’s then-24-year-old crack dealer,he had threatened to kill her unless the boy helped rob the hotels. The dealer, Jacques Bethea, who had a long criminal history, made the threat because Young’s crack addict mother had stolen drugs from him, Young said. He had to join him on a month-long spree of four armed robberies. The older man planned the Tampa, Fla. heists and brandished the pistol—and, on one occasion, he was talked out of raping one of the victims by his young partner. Fortunately, no one was physically injured during the crimes, although the trauma that resulted was immeasurable.

When they were caught, Kenneth didn’t deny his part. It was his first serious scrape with the law. But at 15, he was tried under Florida law as an adult. Astoundingly, he received four consecutive life sentences — guaranteeing that he would die in prison. 15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story follows the young African-American man’s battle for release, after more than 10 years of incarceration, much of it spent in solitary confinement. The film is also a disturbing portrait of an extraordinary fact: The United States is the only country in the world that condemns juveniles to life without parole.

Kenneth’s sentence was not a rarity. As 15 to Life shows, there are more than 2,500 juveniles serving life sentences in the United States for non-lethal crimes, as well as for murder. In the 1990s, many states reacted to a rise in violent youth crimes by amending their laws to allow more juveniles to be tried as adults. Then, in 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Graham v. Florida that life sentences for juveniles convicted of crimes other than murder were unconstitutional. That made 77 Florida inmates, including Kenneth, eligible for early release. But how would the Florida courts, historically in favor of juvenile life sentences, apply the Supreme Court decision to a decade-old case?

The cast of 15 to Life includes the legal advocates who have taken up Kenneth’s cause. Paolo Annino, head of Florida State University’s Children in Prison Project and a co-director of the Public Interest Law Center in Tallahassee, has long argued that life sentences for juveniles violate the Constitution’s ban on “cruel and unusual punishment.” His research was cited in Graham v. Florida, which opened the door for resentencing Kenneth and thousands of others.

Corinne Koeppen, a new lawyer and trainee at the Public Interest Law Center, joins Paolo Annino. They argue for Kenneth’s immediate release, contending he has shown the rehabilitation and maturity that the Supreme Court decision requires. They also set out to prove that Kenneth played much less of a role in the crimes than his adult co-defendant.

Public-interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Ala., provides perspective on the decade-long fight to win fair sentencing for children. “The United States permitted the death penalty for juveniles until 2005,” he says. “When we finally persuaded the Supreme Court to ban the death penalty for children, I was clear that that … life imprisonment without parole would still not be a just outcome for many of these kids.”

The other key character in Kenneth’s story is his guilt-ridden mother, Stephanie, who struggles to convince the court that her son deserves the help she never gave him. Although she is clean and sober now, she was a crack addict for 19 years and largely absent as a mother after Kenneth’s father died. “I know the judge has a heart,” she says. “I’ve prayed and I asked for forgiveness on behalf of me and my son.”

At the core of the story, of course, stands Kenneth, now 26, who is candid about his crimes. He says he has followed a path of self-improvement and is remorseful for what he did, even as he remains flabbergasted about his punishment. (Oddly enough, in a separate trial, Jacques Bethea, the older man who organized the robberies and who carried the gun, received a single life sentence.)

At his hearing for a reduced sentence, Kenneth tells the court, “I have lived with regret every day … I have been incarcerated for 11 years and I have taken advantage of every opportunity available for me in prison to better myself … I am no longer the same person I used to be. First Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 11 says: ‘When I was a child I thought as a child. When I became a man I put away all childish things.’ I want to turn around and apologize to my victim for what I did.”

Kenneth’s plight elicits mixed reactions. While some of his victims are inclined to see him let go, others, along with the prosecutor, defend the original punishment. Kenneth’s contention that the older man coerced his cooperation by threatening his mother is dismissed, because he didn’t speak up as a 15-year-old at his original trial. And arguments that Kenneth’s new sentence should take into account his rehabilitation may not convince this Florida court.

15 to Life is an eye-opening portrait of the American justice system as it stands today, putting an indelibly human face on its policies concerning children.

“Few of us would question whether our 13- or 14-year-old needs guidance,” says director Nadine Pequeneza. “As parents we recognize that our children are easily influenced, that they can be impulsive and that empathy and cruelty are both learned behaviors. Given what we know, I was shocked to learn that kids as young as 12 years old are being sentenced to die in prison.

“As I began to research, reading articles, reports and studies from individuals and groups on both sides of this argument, I discovered some shocking statistics: 60 percent of children sentenced to life without parole are first time offenders and every 13 and 14-year-old sentenced to life without parole for a non-homicide crime is a child of color.

“When children commit crimes, should rehabilitation take precedence over punishment? Can children be ruled to be adults, based on a single action? Can children who commit violent acts be rehabilitated? By focusing on Kenneth’s story, we find the answers.”


Judge Daniel H. Sleet of Florida’s 2nd District Court: Shows he has no real understanding of US law or just does not care or he is a real out right racist.
The juvenile justice system in the United States was built on the idea that an individual’s ability to understand right and wrong, as well as the consequences of his or her decisions, is not completely formed until adulthood, when psychological and physiological capacities are fully developed.

The Graham and the Miller decisions by the US Supreme Court really make the same point — that is, that children are different than adults physically, mentally and emotionally and that has to be taken into account when you’re sentencing them. There’s so many things that we restrict children from doing because we recognize that they don’t have the same maturity as adults and the same capacity for decision-making and understanding of the consequences of their actions. So they can’t drive until a certain age, they can’t drink, they can’t vote. But for some reason, when they commit a crime that we feel is serious enough to move them into an adult court, there’s no protection for children anymore, and so that disconnect is something that I think needs to be addressed.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Darryl Hunt - A Innocent Man



"We Live" | A Tribute to Darryl Hunt by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber, II


Darryl Hunt 1965 – March 13, 2016 was an African American man from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, who, in 1984, was twice wrongfully convicted of the rape and murder of a young white newspaper copy editor, Deborah Sykes, but was later exonerated by DNA and other forms of evidence. He served 19-and-one-half years in prison before he was freed after review and exoneration.

After 19 years in prison, Hunt was exonerated in February 2004 after DNA evidence led police to Willard Brown, who confessed to the killing. After he was exonerated, Hunt was pardoned by then-Gov. Mike Easley. He was awarded a settlement of more than $1.6 million in 2007 and founded the Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice, an advocacy group for the wrongfully convicted.

But Hunt was also haunted by his experiences, said those who knew him. He would use ATMs daily, not so much to get money but so he could create a time-stamped receipt and an image recording his location.

“Even after all this time – he still carries this kind of fear and anxiety,” said Phoebe Zerwick, who in 2003 as a reporter for the Winston-Salem Journal, wrote an eight-part series on Hunt’s case.

Zerwick now teaches at Wake Forest University and regularly asked Hunt to speak to classes. His last spoke to a group of her students in late January.

“Anybody I’ve ever met who has met him has been deeply touched by him,” she said. “He’s really moving to college students.”

Mark Rabil is an attorney who represented Hunt from his first trial through to his civil settlement with Winston-Salem more than two decades later.

Rabil said he knew Hunt was innocent the first time they talked. “He was very open and trusting,” Rabil said. “There didn’t seem to be any question about it.”

Rabil and Hunt recently traveled together to the University of Virginia for a program at its public policy school.

Hunt often talked about the problems of people released from prison, Rabil said. Hunt called it “homecoming.”

The trauma of wrongful convictions, years in prison, and the responsibilities he took on after he was free wore Hunt down, Rabil said.

“In the long run, he eventually got the death penalty,” Rabil said.

A modern cause célèbre, his case was said to have "helped define race relations in Winston-Salem for 20 years."
 
Darryl Hunt became a Muslim and involved in the Innocence Project, as well as his own group called The Darryl Hunt Project for Freedom and Justice. This project is devoted to "educating the public about flaws in the criminal justice system, advocating for those wrongfully incarcerated as a result of those flaws, and providing resources and support for those trying to rebuild their lives."

Darryl Hunt died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his torso in Winston-Salem, NC, after a battle with Stage IV cancer.

    Darryl Hunt Interview @ Community Mosque of Winston-Salem, NC

    Darryl Hunt (1965-2016) Last Public Speech at Kalvin Michael Smith Rally

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Invisible Man - CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling




 Judith Ehrlich and RootsAction  - Amplify a whistleblower's voice

I’ve directed several documentaries -- including the Oscar-nominated film about Daniel Ellsberg, “The Most Dangerous Man in America” -- but I’ve never seen one take off faster online than “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.”

Several hundred thousand people saw our film within days of the courtroom sentencing, when the judge announced a prison term of three and a half years.

The good news is that Jeffrey’s voice is being heard -- and you can amplify it.

Please click here to help make “The Invisible Man” visible to many more people.
Predictably, the big networks haven’t aired any of our film. Some TV viewers did see it, thanks to Democracy Now!

Today, we’re launching a campaign to share the film far and wide --showing that the CIA cannot silence the voice of Jeffrey Sterling.

For the first time since his indictment more than four years ago, “The Invisible Man” makes Jeffrey visible and audible.  We want millions more people to see and hear him.

Click here to provide support with a donation (tax-deductible for taxpayers in the U.S.) so that the nonprofit ExposeFacts and RootsAction Education Fund can make this film go viral across the USA and around the world.

Please let others know about this film via the Twitter and Facebook buttons on the right.

Below you will find links to articles about the CIA’s vendetta against Jeffrey Sterling for being a brave whistleblower.
To help amplify Jeffrey’s voice -- to show that the government can lock up his body but not his voice -- click here.

After taking action, please share this email with friends who care about whistleblowers, independent journalism and democracy.

And if you haven’t already watched “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,” click here.

Thank you!

Judith Ehrlich

Background:
>>  Marcy Wheeler, ExposeFacts: “Sterling Verdict Another Measure of Declining Government Credibility on Secrets”
>>  Norman Solomon, The Nation: “CIA Officer Jeffrey Sterling Sentenced to Prison: The Latest Blow in the Government’s War on Journalism”
>>  John Hanrahan, ExposeFacts: Whistleblowers vs. “Fear-Mongering”
>>  ExposeFacts: Special Coverage of the Jeffrey Sterling Trial

 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling


          CIA Pushes to Demolish Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling

A jury on Monday found former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling guilty on nine counts of unauthorized disclosure of national security information. Though many view Sterling as a whistleblower for reportedly leaking to New York Times reporter James Risen classified information about an agency scheme to give faulty nuclear weapons plans to Iranian agents, government prosecutors brought in high-profile witnesses such as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to bolster their arguments that he committed espionage and severely damaged national security.

 The Obama administration, despite promises to be “the most transparent administration ever,” the executive branch has led an unprecedented crackdown on whistleblowers and those who leak information about national security matters to journalists without government approval.

While prosecutors showed that Risen and Sterling contacted one another dozens of times, Pollack said that nothing the government presented to the jury showed that the two had discussed any classified information. Defense attorneys argued that Capitol Hill staffers who had been briefed on the operation were more likely to be the source of the leak because some of the information in Risen’s book addressed things that happened after Sterling left the CIA, the Washington Post reported.

Earlier in the trial, a CIA manager testified that more than 90 people in the government knew about the covert Iran mission.


 
Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993-2002 and served as a case officer on the Iran Task Force. Sterling left Iran in 1999 after his supervisor failed  to assign him any new cases because according to Sterling, he was told that as “big black guy,” he “stuck out.” In April 2000, he filed  a complaint with the CIA’s Equal Employment Opportunity office. In January 2002, his contract was terminated while the CIA fought to reject his discrimination lawsuit under the doctrine of state secrets privilege. “The federal district court in New York rejected  the government’s assertion of the privilege; but, once the case was transferred to Virginia [per the government’s request], the government reasserted the privilege and prevailed.”

Obama administration’s Department of Justice arrested ex-CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling on January 6, 2011, for leaking information about the agency’s botched attempt under President Clinton to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. He is charged with passing the information to New York Times’ reporter James Risen, continuing, as the Washington Post  put it, “the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on the flow of government secrets to the media. Sterling was charged with 10 felony counts, including obstruction of justice and unauthorized disclosure of national defense information.”

The Obama administration has faced criticism from First Amendment and whistleblower groups for dramatically ramping up such prosecutions, which were exceedingly rare before President Barack Obama took office.

Obama’s “change.gov” website praises  whistleblowers. “Such acts of courage and patriotism,” it says , “should be encouraged rather than stifled.” Yet in April 2010, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder renewed  Risen’s subpoena, asking for the same information. U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema granted  Risen’s motion to quash the subpoena (without  public explanation). Nonetheless, the Justice Department arrested  Sterling on January 6, 2011. In February, federal prosecutors turned over evidence to the defense, which included an orgy of surveillance on James Risen, including his bank, credit, telephone, and even airline records. Politico reported :

The CIA seems virtually obsessed with trying to refute the negative portrayal of Operation Merlin — the CIA’s effort 15 years ago to provide a flawed nuclear weapon design to Iran — in James Risen’s 2006 book State of War.

In February 2000, the CIA hired a Russian scientist to deliver flawed blueprints for a nuclear weapon to the Iranian government. The CIA hoped that the blueprints contained enough real information to fool Iran into building an inoperable weapon. Unfortunately for the CIA, the Russian noticed the flaws. Rather than call off the mission, the CIA allowed him to move forward. He became so nervous, however, that he included a note with the plans alerting the Iranians to the flaw. In other words, due to the real information included in the blueprints, the plan may have completely backfired and actually helped Iran’s nuclear program.

Everyone agrees that Sterling went through proper channels to share his concerns and classified information with Senate Intelligence Committee staff in early March 2003. But the prosecution, armed with a 10-count felony indictment, alleges that he also went to Risen and disclosed classified information. Sterling says he’s innocent on all counts.

Judging from testimony at the trial, the harshest investigative spotlight shines on those seen as malcontents. The head of the CIA press office, William Harlow, indicated  that Sterling (who is African American) became a quick suspect in the Operation Merlin leak case because he’d previously filed a suit charging the agency with racial bias.

Sterling’s other transgressions against a de facto code of silence included his visit to Capitol Hill when he spilled classified beans to Senate oversight committee staffers.

“In the Sterling case, federal prosecutors seem to want to have it both ways,” McGovern observed. “They want to broaden the case to burnish the CIA’s reputation regarding its covert-op skills but then to narrow the case if defense attorneys try to show the jury the broader context in which the ‘Merlin’ disclosures were made in 2006 — how President George W. Bush’s administration was trying to build a case for war with Iran over its nuclear program much as it did over Iraq’s non-existent WMDs in 2002-2003.”

Along the way, the CIA is eager to use the trial as much as possible for image damage control, trying to ascend high ground that has eroded in part due to high-quality journalistic accounts of the sort that Risen provided in his State of War  reporting on Operation Merlin.

The CIA is on a quest for more respect — from news media, from lawmakers, from potential recruits — from anyone willing to defer to its authority, no matter how legally hypocritical or morally absent. Demolishing the life of Jeffrey Sterling is just another means to that end.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Hanging Death of Lennon Lacy




              Hanging Death of Lennon Lacy



The image of a black boy hanging from a rope is in the souls of all of us

report by Ed Pilkington 
Friday 29 August was a big day for Lennon Lacy. His high school football team, the West Bladen Knights, were taking on the West Columbus Vikings and Lacy, 17, was determined to make his mark. He’d been training all summer for the start of the season, running up and down the bleachers at the school stadium wearing a 65lb exercise jacket. Whenever his mother could afford it, he borrowed $7 and spent the day working out at the Bladenboro gym, building himself up to more than 200lbs. As for the future, he had it all planned out: this year he’d become a starting linebacker on the varsity team, next year he’d earn a scholarship to play football in college, and four years after that he’d achieve the dream he’d harboured since he was a child – to make it in the NFL.

“He was real excited,” said his Knights team-mate Anthony White, also 17, recalling the days leading up to the game. “He said he was looking forward to doing good in the game.”

The night before the game, Lacy did what he always did: he washed and laid out his football clothes in a neat row. He was a meticulous, friendly kid who made a point of always greeting people and asking them how they were doing. Everybody in his neighbourhood appears to have a story about how he would make a beeline to shake their hand, or offer to help them out by moving furniture or anything else that needed doing. “He was in the best sense a good kid,” said his pastor, Barry Galyean.

His brother, Pierre Lacy, said that football was the constant that ran through Lennon’s life since he started out as a Pee Wee: “He was very serious about being a professional, very passionate about it. He never changed his mind or wavered from the course.”

But Lacy never made it to the game that night. At 7.30am on Friday – exactly 12 hours before the game was scheduled to start – he was found hanging from a swing set about a quarter of a mile from his home. The Knights had lost one of the most promising players; his tight-knit family was thrown into despair; and a question echoed around the streets of the tiny town of Bladenboro, North Carolina: what had happened to Lennon Lacy?

The last person known to have seen Lacy alive was his father, Larry Walton. Around midnight on the night before the game, he came out of his bedroom to fetch a glass of water and saw his son preparing his school bag for the following morning. “I told him he needed to get to bed, the game was next day, and he said ‘OK, Daddy’.” A little later Walton heard the front door open and close; Walton assumed Lacy must have stepped out of the house, but thought no more of it and went to sleep.

Next morning there was no sign of Lacy, and Walton and Lacy’s mother, Claudia, thought he’d gone off to school. Later that morning, Claudia noticed he’d left some of his football gear on the line, so she called the school to say she’d bring it to him before the game. She was surprised to be told that her son hadn’t turned up at school. Just as she put the phone down, there was a knock on the door, and the Bladenboro police chief, Chris Hunt, was standing in front of her.

“I need you to come with me,” he said.

Claudia was led to a trailer park a short walk from her home, where an ambulance was parked on the grass next to a wooden swing set. Even before she had got to the ambulance she saw police officers clearing away the crime scene tape that had been placed around the swing.

Then she saw Lennon’s body lying in the ambulance in a black body bag, and on top of the immense shock and grief of seeing her son lifeless in front of her, the bewilderment intensified. “I know my son. The second I saw him I knew he couldn’t have done that to himself – it would have taken at least two men to do that to him.”

She noticed what she describes as scratches and abrasions on his face, and there was a knot on his forehead that hadn’t been there the day before. In a photograph taken of Lacy’s body lying in the casket, a lump is visible on his forehead above his right eye. “From that point on it was just not real, like walking through a dream,” she said.

Five days after Lennon Lacy was found hanging, the investigating team – consisting of local police and detectives from the state bureau of investigation – told the family that it had found no evidence of foul play. There was no mention of suicide, but the implication was clear. In later comments to a local paper, police chief Hunt said: “There are a lot of rumours out there. And 99.9% of them are false.”

The Lacys were left with the impression that, for the district attorney, Jon David, and his investigating team, the question of what had happened to Lennon Lacy was all but settled just five days after the event. But it wasn’t settled for them.

As the Rev William Barber, head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in North Carolina, put it at a recent memorial service for Lennon Lacy held at the family’s church, the First Baptist in Bladenboro: “Don’t ask these parents to bury their 17-year-old son and then act as though everything is normal. Don’t chastise them for asking the right questions. All they want is the truth.”

Barber was careful to stress that that truth was elusive – no one knows what happened to Lennon Lacy, he said, beyond the bald facts of his death. If a full and thorough investigation concluded that the teenager had indeed taken his own life, then the Lacy family would accept that.

But Barber also talked about the chilling thought that lingered, otherwise unmentioned, over the scores of black and white people attending the packed memorial. “The image of a black boy hanging from a rope is in the souls of all of us,” he told them. “It is in the DNA of America. In 2014, our greatest prayer is that this was not a lynching.”

In Bladenboro, a town of just 1,700 people – 80% white, 18% black – the bitter legacy of the South’s racial history is never far from the surface. The African Americans have a nickname for the place: they call it “Crackertown” in reference to its longstanding domination by the white population.

The events of 29 August have become entangled in that historical narrative, inevitably perhaps in a state in which 86 black people were lynched between 1882 and 1968.

While America debates whether it is moving into a post-racial age, the truth in Bladenboro is that the past is very much here and now, and that the terrible image of “strange fruit” will hover over this town for as long as the truth about Lennon Lacy’s death remains uncertain.

Which is paradoxical, because Lacy had joined a multiracial youth group across town at the Galeed Baptist church where he went for weekly services and basketball ministry, and his friends were black and white, in almost equal measure.

For several months before he died, he was also in a relationship with a white woman, Michelle Brimhall, who lives directly opposite the Lacy family home. The liaison with Brimhall raised eyebrows because, at 31, she was almost twice his age. (The age of consent in North Carolina is 16.)

“Everybody was going on to me because he was 17 and I am 31,” Brimhall told the Guardian. “We told people we weren’t seeing each other so they would stop giving us trouble.”

The Lacy family said that Brimhall had split up with Lacy a couple of weeks before he died and that she had a new boyfriend. But she denied that. “We were still together, I did not break up with him,” she said. “I had never had a man treated me as good as he did, and I probably will never find another.”

Brimhall said she did not notice any hostility towards them as a mixed-race couple. But she is convinced that Lennon did not take his own life. “No, Lennon did not kill himself. He loved his mother so much, he would never put her through that.”

She added: “I want to know who did it. I want them to suffer.”

Brimhall’s close friend, Teresa Edwards, lives a few doors down from the Lacys. Edwards said that she was desperate to find out the truth, particularly as Lacy was such a good person. “For him to be black – I’m not stereotyping or anything, I’m not racist, I love everybody – but he was a very well-mannered child.”

A white couple, Carla Hudson and Dewey Sykes, live in a trailer home right behind the Lacy house. Soon after Lennon died his family learned that a few years ago Sykes and Hudson had been instructed by police to remove from their front lawn a number of Confederate flags and signs saying “Niggers keep out”.

The Guardian asked the couple why they had put up the signs. Sykes said that it was his idea. “There were some kids who ganged up on our kid and I put some signs up.” Asked whether he now regretted doing so, he replied: “Yeah, I regret it now.”

Carla Hudson said she had begged her husband to take the signs down. “I told him he had to stop that. It wasn’t how I saw things – there’s not a racist bone in my body.”

There is no evidence to suggest that either Hudson or Sykes had anything to do with Lacy’s death. Asked about the teenager, Hudson said: “Lennon was like a son to me, and this was his second home. He was nothing like the people we have trouble with. In my eyes he was just perfect.”

About a week after Lacy died, his family, with the help of the NAACP and their own lawyer, put together a list of questions and concerns that they presented to the district attorney. First, there was the overriding sense that Lennon was simply not the kind of boy to harm himself. He had no history of mental illness or depression, and was so focused on his future it was inconceivable he would intentionally cut it short.

The day before Lacy was found hanging, there had been a funeral service for his great uncle Johnny, who had died a couple of weeks previously. Lacy had been close to his uncle, and was visibly upset, but not to an extreme degree, his family said. He grieved “as a normal person would”, Claudia said.

Then there were those facial marks on his body. Even the undertaker, FW Newton Jr, who has worked as a mortician for 26 years, was taken aback by what he saw.

Newton told the Guardian that when he received Lacy’s body two days after he died, he was struck by the abrasions he saw across both shoulders and down the insides of both arms. He also noted facial indentations over both cheeks, the chin and nose. Though police have told the Lacy family that ants were responsible for causing the marks, to Newton the state of the body reminded him of corpses he had embalmed where the deceased had been killed in a bar-room fight.

The Guardian asked the local Bladenboro police department, the district attorney and the state bureau of investigation to respond to the allegation that they had conducted an inadequate investigation. They all declined to comment on the grounds that the investigation was ongoing.

In a statement posted on the Bladenboro town website, the district attorney, Jon David, said that the “victims [sic] family, and the community, can rest assured that a comprehensive investigation is well underway. All death investigations, particularly those involving children, are given top priority by my office. Investigations are a search for the truth, and I am confident that we have a dedicated team of professionals, and the right process, to achieve justice in this matter.”

David said that his team was keeping the Lacy family and its representatives closely apprised of the investigation, and had met community leaders to explain to them the current state of affairs. But he added that “to date we have not received any evidence of criminal wrongdoing surrounding the death”.

The family have many other questions that they still want answered. Who desecrated Lennon Lacy’s grave a few days after the burial, dumping the flowers 40 feet away beside the road and digging a hole in one corner of the plot? Why didn’t forensic investigators take swabs from under Lacy’s fingernails and DNA test them to see if he had been in physical contact with anybody else before he died? Have the police probed deeply enough into Lacy’s wider group of friends and acquaintances; the family were disturbed to find, for instance, that one white associate of Lennon’s had a Confederate flag as the backdrop to his Facebook page.

They also want to know why it is it taking so long for the autopsy report to come through, with still no date set for its public release five weeks after the event. So far only the toxicology report has come back, showing that Lacy had no drugs, alcohol or other chemicals in his bloodstream.

The location where Lacy was found, the mobile home park at the Cotton Mill, has also caused the family great difficulty. The swing set from which he was hanging is one of eight such sets standing in a line in the middle of a rectangle of 13 mobile homes. The spot is desolate and vulnerable, overlooked as it is by so many trailer homes, like a sports field surrounded by grandstands.

“If my brother wanted to take his own life, I can’t understand why he would do it in such an exposed place. This feels more like he was put here as a public display – a taunting almost,” Pierre Lacy said.

Lacy was found wearing a pair of size 10.5 white sneakers, with the laces removed, which no one in his family recognised. A few days before he died, he had bought himself a new pair of Jordans for the start of school year. They were grey with neon green soles, size 12, and have been missing ever since.

The family also wonders why the former husband of Michelle Bramhill and the father of her children, whom she left in February before relocating to Bladenboro, has yet to be interviewed by detectives. There is no evidence to implicate him in the circumstances surrounding Lacy’s death, but the family would still like to know why detectives have yet to speak to him.

Allen Rogers, a Fayetteville lawyer with 20 years’ experience in criminal cases who is representing the Lacy family, said there were too many questions still unanswered. “I don’t believe that a thorough investigation has been done, and within that investigation, the evidence the police has compiled is not sufficient to rule out foul play. The concern is that there’s been a rush to judgment – a desire quickly to settle any issue over the cause of death,” he said.

Rogers conceded that it was hard for any family to accept a suicide in its midst, and that it would be natural in those circumstances to search for alternative explanations, to clutch at straws. But he said that in this case the clutching at straws appeared to have been on the part of “elected officials who can’t deal with the realities of race. Given the sensitivity of the issues here, it’s much easier to put this in a box marked ‘suicide’ than ask the tough questions. I’m afraid that politics have held back the investigation.”

A few hours after Lacy’s body was discovered, the coach of the West Bladen Knights called the team together to break to them the tragic news. He asked them what they wanted to do. They voted unanimously to play on, dedicating the game to their lost brother, Lennon Lacy. They won, 57-22.

     NC NAACP Requests Federal Investigation of Teenage Hanging Death  



FBI Will Investigate Lennon Lacy’s Hanging Death in North Carolina

At the family’s request and ahead of an “awareness” march this past Saturday meant to drum up attention, the FBI has agreed to investigate the hanging death of a black 17-year-old high school football player. Lennon Lacy was found this August hanging from a wooden swing set in the middle of a trailer park in Bladenboro, North Carolina. Lacy’s family had requested that the feds step in after local officials ruled his death a suicide and closed the case within five days. The family, aided by the local chapter of the NAACP and bolstered by findings of their own private forensic investigation, strongly disagrees.

“We don’t know what happened to my son three months ago, and suicide is still possible. But there are so many unanswered questions that I can’t help but ask: Was he killed? Was my son lynched?” Lennon’s mother Claudia Lacy writes in a Guardian op-ed .

Lacy’s ex-girlfriend, according to CNN , was a 31-year-old white woman (age of consent in the state is 16*) and a local Klu Klux Klan rally had taken place in a nearby town in the weeks before his body was found. Some speculate that Lacy’s interracial relationship with an older white woman could be motive in this small North Carolina town.

        Family still searching for answers after death of Lennon Lacy


        Teen’s death brings up painful past in South


Kenneth Young received four life sentences







Eleven years ago Kenneth Young received four life sentences. He was 15 years old. The United States is the only country in the world that routinely condemns children to die in prison. This is the story of one of those children, now a young man, seeking a second chance in Florida - one of the most punitive states in the country. For over a decade Kenneth believed he would die behind bars, until in 2010 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled life without parole sentences for children who haven't killed unconstitutional. In Tampa, Florida we follow Kenneth Young's legal battle for release. Recruited by his mother's crack dealer to rob hotels, Kenneth needs to prove that he is rehabilitated and that the judge who sentenced him to life was wrong to throw away the key. "15 to life" weaves the unfolding story of Kenneth's resentencing with the story of his difficult childhood, and the circumstances that lead to a 30-day crime spree that changed his life forever. Of the more than 2,500 children sentenced to life in prison, Kenneth's story is both exceptional and universal. Like most children who receive death-in-prison sentences, Kenneth is African American, indigent and neglected. What makes his case extreme is the brutality of his punishment - four life sentences for armed robberies in which no one was injured.

Cops Gone Wild: Domestic Terrorist Edition [Full Documentary] 2014

Samuel L Jackson Just Challenged Celebrities to Call Out the "Violence ...




Who would have believed that Samuel Jackson could even sing at ALL!  And for a GREAT CAUSE!  More power to you, Samuel Jackson.  Let's see how many celebrity FRIENDS will follow him. . . .


Friday, December 5, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Eyes Of The Rainbow - a documentary film with Assata Shakur


Assata Shakur, Political Prisoner, abducted from prison in NJ and fled to Cuba for safety.  She still is at large even today but is considered the most-wanted woman by FBI status. Many believe she was railroaded into prison along with another revolutionary person, even though there was not sufficient evidence to warrant it.  She continues to be a beacon of light because of her brave, revolutionary conviction.  She has written and published at least one book on her status, and has spoken out in several magazine articles; she is elevated and held high by those who comprehend her aims and appreciate the revolutionary spirit. Assata Olugbala Shakur (born July 16, 1947), as JoAnne Deborah Byron, married name Chesimard is an African-American activist and escaped convicted murderer who was a member of the Black Panther Party (BPP) and Black Liberation Army (BLA). Between 1971 and 1973, Shakur was accused of several crimes and made the subject of a multi-state manhunt.
In May 1973, Shakur was involved in a shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike, in which she was accused of killing New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster and grievously assaulting Trooper James Harper. BLA member Zayd Malik Shakur was also killed in the incident, and Shakur was wounded. Between 1973 and 1977, Shakur was indicted in relation to six other alleged criminal incidents—charged with murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, bank robbery, and kidnapping—resulting in three acquittals and three dismissals. In 1977, she was convicted of the first-degree murder of Foerster and of seven other felonies related to the shootout. In 2013, the FBI announced it had made Shakur the first woman on its list of most wanted terrorists. Shakur was incarcerated in several prisons in the 70s. She escaped from prison in 1979 and has been living in Cuba in political asylum since 1984. Since May 2, 2005, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has classified her as a domestic terrorist and offered a $1 million reward for assistance in her capture. On May 2, 2013, the FBI added her to the Most Wanted Terrorist. On the same day, the New Jersey Attorney General offered to match the FBI reward, increasing the total reward for her capture to $2 million. Attempts to extradite her have resulted in letters to the Pope and a Congressional resolution. Her life has been portrayed in literature, film and song. Assata: In her own words My name is Assata ("she who struggles") Olugbala ( "for the people" ) Shakur ("the thankful one"), and I am a 20th century escaped slave.
  Because of government persecution, I was left with no other choice than to flee from the political repression, racism and violence that dominate the US government's policy towards people of color. I am an ex political prisoner, and I have been living in exile in Cuba since 1984. I have been a political activist most of my life, and although the U.S. government has done everything in its power to criminalize me, I am not a criminal, nor have I ever been one. In the 1960s, I participated in various struggles: the black liberation movement, the student rights movement, and the movement to end the war in Vietnam. I joined the Black Panther Party. By 1969 the Black Panther Party had become the number one organization targeted by the FBI's COINTELPRO program. because the Black Panther Party demanded the total liberation of black people, J. Edgar Hoover called it "greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and vowed to destroy it and its leaders and activists.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Cyntoia Brown's Story



In 2004, Cyntoia was already a veteran of Middle Tennessee's juvenile justice system. Back then, she was living out of a room at a South Nashville extended-stay dive. Her companion was a 24-year-old drug dealer and armed robber known as "Cut-throat," who had her out on a Murfreesboro Road red-light district turning tricks for coke money.

                
   

"The 16 Year Old Killer" 
Cyntoia's Story (full documentary)

In 2004, Cyntoia Brown was arrested for the murder of a 43-year-old man. Cyntoia was prostituting and he was her client. 

Film-maker Daniel Birman was granted unique access to Cyntoia from the week of her arrest, throughout her trial and over a period of six years. His documentary explores the tragic events in her life that led up to the murder, and Cyntoia's biological mother meets he daughter for the first time since giving her up for adoption 14 years earlier. 

The film explores the history of abuse, violence, drugs and prostitution back through three generations. As Cyntoia faces a lifetime in prison, the programme asks difficult questions about her treatment by the American justice system.

By Judith Yates   Nashville True Crime Examiner May 28, 2013
Cyntoia Brown found herself standing near a Nashville street, sobbing from a beating she just received from her boyfriend/pimp when 43-year-old Johnny Allen pulled up to ask her, “Are you alright?” Seeking refuge, her story of fear, abuse, and addiction spilled out to the stranger. So he solicited her: “Are you up for some action?” The 16-year-old girl’s life took a dramatic change hours later.

She had been working as a prostitute to pay the bills and for a twenty-four-year-old boyfriend’s drug habit, smoking marijuana and snorting cocaine when life got too harsh. Cyntoia had hit the street at thirteen, a chronic runaway. “I wasn’t running from; I was running to,” she explains now. The streets of Nashville gave her “what I thought was freedom” versus what she felt was a cloistered life in Clarksville, where a Viet Nam veteran stepfather drank excessively and meted out punishment whenever. Her biological mother worked the streets prostituting to support a drug addiction. She and another teen runaway relied “on the kindness of strangers” who were aware of their runaway status, but did not care or used her youth to their own advantage. “I could pick up (marijuana) and smoke it whenever, I could stay out late or sleep, I was infatuated with older men who were twenty-five, twenty-six” she thought were boyfriends, but in reality were abusive pimps. She lived from seedy apartment to hotel room. The flotsam life had to end badly, and for Cyntoia Brown it did: in September 2006 she was sentenced to life in prison for killing Johnny Allen hours after he had picked her up. She will be eligible for parole when she is 67.

Today, Brown is a 25 year old, juxtaposing of street-wise youth and educated philosopher who is scoring high collegiate marks and enjoying work as a tutor, assisting inmates obtain their GED. “I’m always moving forward. I have the stigma of being an inmate,” Brown says. “But I try not to get caught up in the negative. I have to stay positive to survive.” She does not see incarcerated women following her lead. “It’s like they’ve given up. On everything, and everyone.” Outside prison, the legal jousting continues on her case: being tried as an adult, her history of mental illness and childhood abuse, the victim’s intentions, and a documentary made on her life. But inside, all she has is “to keep working to inspire people in here.”

Brown is philosophical on her life story. “Nothing bad affected me from my childhood,” she says. “I was thirteen and thought I knew it all. You don’t know half of what you think you know. You don’t think of the future consequences of your actions. But things (from childhood) stick with you. It affects your self esteem, yourself, how you view relationships.” Pimps, she says, “have a way of getting into your mind and you believe everything they say. They can mold you, shape you, break you until you’re like a puppy mill puppy, shirking and scared of everyone else.” She encourages young people to “listen to adults. They’re here for a reason. I missed getting a driver’s license, going to a prom. I wish I would have listened to people in my life that were positive.” Now that she is sentenced to life behind bars, her worries have changed: “If someone feels like something is wrong, do something about it. Write a letter. Speak out. Don’t just be outraged.” What would her victim’s family say? “I don’t know. They said (during victim impact statements) at my trial they hated me.” She ponders the question. “To hope they’ve forgiven me is naïve.” She looks away, thinking of the victim. “He was a Sunday school teacher, sang in the choir.” Then she frowns. “But he knew how old I was (16). I told him. And he still did it (solicited her for sex). I don’t get it.” Sex crimes against underage girls continue to baffle her.

Despite a youth that spun out of control, constant issues with prison rules, mental illness, and prostituting when most girls worried over school sweethearts, Cyntoia Brown pushes on. She is verbose, thoughtful, and polite. She has also proven to be combative, argumentive, and manipulative. She was one of the seventeen percent of Nashville students who did not complete high school, and one of 500,000 to 2.8 million kids living on the U.S. street (one in four of these runaways are approached for commercial sexual exploitation within 48 hours of leaving home), one of 2,250 U.S. juveniles sentenced to life without parole for an offense committed as a child. She is a statistic, an inmate, a murderer, and an example of juvenile delinquency in this state. However, “I have to remind people that I’m a person,” she explains. “I’m naïve, but I believe, somehow, I can make a difference.”



Please note that Cyntoia was moved by the Tennessee Dept. of Corrections to a different prison. She is no longer at the Tennessee Prison for Women in Nashville.

Her new address is:
Ms. Cyntoia Brown, #410593
MLCC-D South, Lower 2
Mark H. Luttrell Correctional Center
6000 State Road
Memphis, Tennessee 38134