Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Back from Virginia

This past weekend I attended the annual conference of Virginians Against the Death Penalty. While I was there, I got to hang out with a guy named Alan Gell, who was the 113th person freed from death row after newly discovered evidence of innocence. This was maybe the sixth or seventh death row exonoree I've had the pleasure of meeting; and I really can't imagine any of them committing any crime, much less murder.

Alan was freed by the state of North Carolina after it was discovered that prosecutors withheld evidence from the defense -- evidence that would have completely cleared him and prevented him from spending nearly ten years in prison, half of which was on death row.

Here's what one newspaper, the Winston-Salem Journal, had to say about Alan's case:

Wronged Again

It's hard to blame Alan Gell for his reaction to the news last week that
the 2 former prosecutors who withheld evidence that could have cleared him
of a 1995 murder got only a slap on the wrist for their actions.

"Here I am again with the system letting me down," Gell said last week.

Indeed. Gell got sucked into a case that underscores much of what's wrong
with this state's criminal-justice system, a case that reaches all the way
to the governor's office. Earnest efforts at reforming the system are too
often outweighed by lip service to the idea, as happened when the N.C.
State Bar took up the case of David Hoke and Debra Graves, 2 former
prosecutors with the state attorney general's office.

A 3-member panel of the bar ruled that Hoke and Graves violated three
ethical standards by withholding witness statements and a tape recording
in which the state's star witness said she had to "make up a story" for
officers investigating the shotgun slaying in Bertie County of which Gell
was convicted. Hoke and Graves also failed during Gell's 1998 trial to
turn over eight witness statements indicating the slaying occurred while
Gell was in jail for an unrelated crime, and told the trial judge they had
handed over all such witness statements, according to The Associated
Press.

Yet all the panel gave Hoke and Graves was a reprimand. The panel could
have stripped them of their law licenses, but instead said that the former
prosecutors made an unintentional mistake.

"It was an honest mistake on our part," Hoke said in testimony read at the
bar hearing. "Nobody is more sorry about that than Debra and I."

That "mistake" cost Gell nine years in prison, including half of that time
on death row. Finally, he won a second trial, and was quickly acquitted
this past winter. The whole time, Hoke and Graves did nothing to help him,
nor have they ever personally apologized to him, so it's hard to take
Hoke's expression of remorse seriously.

Hoke and Graves said in their state bar filing that they hadn't read
Gell's complete file, but relied on an SBI investigator to tell them what
was in the file, according to the News & Observer of Raleigh. Their boss
at the time, Gov. Mike Easley, said in March that he wasn't familiar with
the details of the case. While he wasn't directly involved in the case,
the buck stopped with him as the attorney general. He should apologize to
Gell in the name of the state and as the supervisor for Hoke and Graves.
He should also encourage widespread reform of the system, the kind of work
the N.C. Actual Innocence Commission is already doing.

Graves is now an assistant federal public defender. Hoke is the No. 2
administrator in the state court system. Roy Cooper, the current attorney
general, rightly called on North Carolina prosecutors to share all
1st-degree murder-case files with defense attorneys after prosecutors
under him lost in Gell's second trial. A new state law that takes effect
today requires prosecutors to share their entire files with defense
attorneys before felony trials, a welcome 1st step in what should be a
long process of criminal-justice reform.

These days, Gell travels the state, lobbying against the death penalty and
pushing for criminal-justice reform. Unfortunately, he's still got a long
fight ahead of him.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The family of Debra Graves has many ethical problems. She has two sisters. One(Elvira Howell) works for IBM. As far as is known, she is "legally" bringing in $130K+ dollars/year. However, her husband (Dexter Howell) can't hold down a job. He has had numerous jobs, but had a 2004 AGI of only $1.6K - a far cry from his wife's $130K. He battles a drug addiction (cocaine and marijuana). His son (Sean) has followed in his foosteps, with at least the marijuana. His oldest daughter (Delia) has been known to smoke marijuana and, on at least one occassion, sell it. She is also sexually promiscuous...has engaged in adultery, and every kind of sexual act you can think of. Debra Graves' other sister, Janice Graves, has committed identity theft, using her niece's (Delia)social security number to obtain credit. Screwed up family. I was told these things by Calvin Henderson, Jr. He was once engaged to Delia. He expressed his gratitude that he is no longer foolishly associated with this family.

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