Holding Rogue Prosecutors Accountable:
It’s past time to prosecute their crimes
A View From the Battlefield
By Jamala Roberts
Black Commentator Board Member
Last week seemed to be yet another perfect storm for making the case that rogue prosecutors should not be above the law.
As the nation recognized the 1st anniversary of the Troy Davis execution, the evidentiary hearing for Reggie Clemons was coming to a close. Immediately following the hearing came the news that John Edward Smith was exonerated by a Los Angeles Judge.
On September 21, 2011, the state of Georgia executed Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail. He was convicted on the testimony of nine key witnesses; over the years all but two recanted their statements to police. The case was riddled with problems and gained international support but it was not enough to save Troy’s life.
At the top of the apex of problems with the system are professional criminals who supposedly are ridding our communities of crime and criminals.
Reggie Clemons is on Missouri’s death row for the now infamous Chain of Rocks Bridge case where two young white girls, Julie and Robin Kerry, were allegedly raped and thrown off the bridge into the raging Mississippi River. Their cousin, Tom Cummins, visiting from out of state, had originally confessed to the accident, however, when police discovered that Reggie and his crew were also on the bridge that night, the spotlight shifted to them. The sole white youth with their crew turned state’s evidence against the three black youth who were all convicted and sentenced to death. Marlin Gray was executed in 2005. Tony Richardson’s sentenced was overturned. Twelve days before Reggie’s execution date in 2009, a massive outcry by the community that had been escalating since Gray’s execution was finally heeded. In an unprecedented move, the Missouri Supreme Court appointed a special master to review the case.
John Edward Smith was only 18 years old in 1993 when he was identified by Landu Mvuemba as the shooter in a gang-related drive-by shooting. Mvuemba was only 16 years old at the time and had been coerced by police to finger an innocent man. Smith was at his grandmother’s house at the time of the shooting and maintained his innocence throughout the ordeal.
Having worked on wrongful conviction cases for many years, the jubilance of exoneration generally blurs the criminality of the system even when it’s the exposure of its failures that sometimes lead to exonerations. There is rarely any back-tracking to hold police and prosecutors accountable for tortured confessions, intimidation of witnesses, destruction or suppression of evidence and a host of other tactics used to get a conviction in the theatre of Tough on Crime.
In most states, prosecutors are immune from prosecution under the pretense that they shouldn’t’ have to worry about being sued while doing their job. Time and time again, the collusion between police and prosecutors has led to innocent people being caught in their twisted snare. This is a double injustice because you have an innocent person losing 15-30 years of their lives. It also means there was no justice for the victim or their families.
Juries are moving away from giving the death penalty because of this perversion of justice. Some jurors have expressed doubt that the prosecutor is giving all the evidence of a particular case. The single most cited reason for reluctance in giving the death penalty is the growing number of exonerations across the country.
Nels Moss was the prosecutor in the Chain of Rocks Bridge case and started off by separating the three cases to maximize the publicity. After all, he was running to be the top prosecutor in the St. .Louis office at the time. His career is rife with misconduct and contempt of court citations along with having at least 20 convictions overturned. He operated in the prosecutor’s office for over 30 years with impunity. He is now in private practice.
The jubilance of exoneration generally blurs the criminality of the system even when it’s the exposure of its failures that sometimes lead to exonerations.
Michael Nifong became the first sitting district attorney in the history of North Carolina to be disbarred after his attempt to prosecute the Duke University lacrosse team for rape. The wealthy parents of the lacrosse team members made an example of Nifong for their own self-interests. Nifong and others like him have always been over zealous prosecutors when dealing with vulnerable populations like the poor and people of color.
Poor people and people of color are a vast majority of the two million people incarcerated and the 6 million people on parole or probation. That’s more than enough to begin a movement to sweep clean the criminal justice system which is supposed to be about truth and justice. At the top of the apex of problems with the system are professional criminals who supposedly are ridding our communities of crime and criminals. The people who are charged with upholding the law should be held to a higher standard. It is our duty to send cops and prosecutors who break the law to jail along with the other real criminals.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member and Columnist, Jamala Rogers, is the leader of the Organization for Black Struggle in St. Louis and the Black Radical Congress National Organizer. Additionally, she is an Alston-Bannerman Fellow. She is the author of The Best of the Way I See It – A Chronicle of Struggle. Click here to contact Ms. Rogers.